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Monday, 15 December 2014

Supporting children in response to the Sydney siege

The siege that we are seeing unfold in Sydney today will be having, and will continue to have a significant impact on many people around Australia. There has been building anxiety  that there will be deliberate harm done to people in public and the threat that this siege poses will touch on the fears of individuals, families and children. 

The nature of events, such as this siege, is that they are seemingly random, unexpected and take place in places where people go about their daily business with the belief that they are safe. And this is one of the factors that makes an event such as this trigger our fear. It threatens one of our core beliefs that we are essentially safe. 

Media coverage at times like this is important in providing people who are affected with news and information about loved ones, about where to go and when it is safe. Reading and watching the media coverage and following what is happening on social media leads to feelings of worry, anxiety and distress for most of us. It is normal to feel anxiety and sadness for those who are involved, their loved ones and others that are affected. We know, though, that for some people, this ongoing media coverage has the potential to lead to some more significant feelings of anxiety, worry and sadness. This can be especially true of children, who do not always have a good understanding of what they are reading about or witnessing in the media, and to some extent need to be protected from some of this ongoing coverage. 

When distressing events, such as this siege, are shown on TV, or covered on the radio or internet, parents need to be mindful of how much exposure their child has to this. The media can tend to focus on some of the more frightening aspects and images. Seeing this type of media coverage can cause distress or worry for children and young people. Children may also discuss these events amongst themselves, so even though children may not see images on TV, they may still be exposed through their conversations with others. 

Some of the ways this sort of media coverage can affect children and young people includes: 

  • It can lead to children and young people thinking a lot about the event, which can impact on their sleep and can also impact on their concentration when they are at school. 
  • It can cause worry and anxiety that the same thing may happen to them or their family. 
  • It can lead them to feel generally unsafe and worried and that some other bad event may happen to them or their family. 
Families can help to support children at this time by: 
  • Restricting the amount of media coverage children see of the event. 
  • Watching media coverage with your child so that you are there to answer any questions they may have. 
  • Helping to remind your child that they are safe and that you are there to answer any questions for them if they feel unsafe. 
  • Giving support to your child if they are upset and comforting them. 
Many children may feel worried or anxious over the days to come, but for most this will settle. If your child has worries or sadness about this event that continues over the days and weeks, then it is good to speak with a health professional about how your child is going. 

The Trauma & Grief Network: Supporting Families website has lots of helpful information for families on helping children with the impact of trauma. Some helpful resources include: 

Signs of possible trauma in children and adolescents

The Australian Child & Adolescent Trauma, Loss & Grief Network website also has an extensive range of resources on the impact of trauma for people working with children.