Talking to Children About Tragedies & Other News Events

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After any disaster, parents and other adults struggle with what they should say and share with children and what not to say or share with them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents, teachers, child care providers, and others who work closely with children to filter information about the crisis and present it in a way that their child can accommodate, adjust to, and cope with.

Where to Start – All Ages
No matter what age or developmental stage the child is, parents can start by asking a child what they’ve already heard. Most children will have heard something, no matter how old they are. After you ask them what they’ve heard, ask what questions they have.

Older children, teens, and young adults might ask more questions and may request and benefit more from additional information. But no matter what age the child is, it’s best to keep the dialogue straightforward and direct.

Avoiding Graphic Details & Exposure to Media
In general, it is best to share basic information with children, not graphic details, or unnecessary details about tragic circumstances. Children and adults alike want to be able to understand enough so they know what’s going on. Graphic information and images should be avoided.

Keep young children away from repetitive graphic images and sounds that may appear on television, radio, social media, computers, etc.

With older children, if you do want them to watch the news, record it ahead of time. That allows you to preview it and evaluate its contents before you sit down with them to watch it. Then, as you watch it with them, you can stop, pause, and have a discussion when you need to.

Children will generally follow good advice, but you have to give them some latitude to make decisions about what they’re ready for. You can block them from seeing the newspaper that comes to the door, for example, but not the one on the newsstand. Today, most older children will have access to the news and graphic images through social media and other applications right from their cell phone. You need to be aware of what’s out there and take steps in advance to talk to children about what they might hear or see.

Talking to Very Young Children
The reality is that even children as young as 4 years old will hear about major crisis events. It’s best that they hear about it from a parent or caregiver, as opposed to another child or in the media.

Even the youngest child needs accurate information, but you don’t want to be too vague. Simply saying, “Something happened in a faraway town and some people got hurt,” doesn’t tell the child enough about what happened. The child may not understand why this is so different from people getting hurt every day and why so much is being said about it. The underlying message for a parent to convey is, “It’s okay if these things bother you. We are here to support each other.”

Talking to Gradeschool Children & Teens
After asking your child what they have heard and if they have questions about what occurred during a school shooting, community bombing, natural disaster, or even a disaster in an international country, a parent can say something such as:

“Yes. In [city], [state]” (and here you might need to give some context, depending on whether it’s nearby or far away, for example, ‘That’s a city/state that’s pretty far from/close to here’), there was disaster and many people were hurt. The police and the government are doing their jobs so they can try to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

A parent can follow-up as needed based on the child’s reactions and questions.

Talking to Children with Developmental Delays or Disabilities
Parents who have a child with a developmental delay or disability should gear their responses to their child’s developmental level or abilities, rather than their physical, age. If you have a teenage child whose level of intellectual functioning is more similar to a 7-year-old, for instance, gear your response toward her developmental level. Start by giving less information. Provide details or information in the most appropriate and clear way you can.

Talking to Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
What’s helpful to a child with an ASD may be different. For instance, the child may find less comfort in cuddling than some other children. Parents should try something else that does calm and comfort their child on other occasions. Ask yourself, “Given who my child is, his personality, temperament, and developmental abilities, what might work for him?”

Signs a Child Might Not Be Coping Well
If children don’t have a chance to practice healthy coping, a parent may see signs that they’re having difficulty adjusting. Some of things to look for are:

  • Sleep problems: Watch for trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, difficulty waking, nightmares, or other sleep disturbances.
  • Physical complaints: Children may complain of feeling tired, having a headache, or generally feeling unwell. You may notice your child eating too much or less than usual.
  • Changes in behavior: Look for signs of regressive behavior, including social regression, acting more immature, or becoming less patient and more demanding. A child who once separated easily from her parents may become clingy. Teens may begin or change current patterns of tobacco, alcohol, or substance use.
  • Emotional problems: Children may experience undue sadness, depression, anxiety, or fears.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a child is reacting in a typical way to an unusual event or whether they are having real problems coping, and might need extra support. If you are concerned, talk to your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional or counselor.

Don’t wait for the signs. Start the discussion early, and keep the dialogue going.


Adapted from an eHealthMD interview with David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, Director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement and member of the AAP Disaster Preparedness Advisory Council. The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


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Your Family Rituals

Every family should have activities that they enjoy together and that become a regular, predictable, and integral part of their lives. Some can be serious pur­suits, like attending community functions or religious services as a family; oth­ers can be more lighthearted, like going fishing. Whatever they are, they can help bond a family together. These are some rituals that many families have made parts of their lives:

Important Conversations
Communication between parents and children should be a top priority in your family. Set aside time to talk, discussing the day’s and the week’s activities, sharing feelings and really listening to one an­other.

Respect the privacy of each of your youngsters as they begin to assert their independence during these middle years; they may have certain problems and difficulties they may not want to divulge to their brothers and sisters. You should be able to have a one-on-one conversation with each child without all the other children listening to it. If you honor his wishes for confidentiality, this can build trust between you.

Some families establish a weekly time for a family meeting. When everyone is present, family issues, relationships, plans, and experiences are discussed, and everyone from the youngest to the oldest gets a chance to be heard and to participate.

Recreation and Cultural Activities
Family recreation is an important way to strengthen the family. Sports (participation and spectator), games, movies, and walks in the park are good ways to increase cohesiveness and reduce stress.

Cultural activities can be valuable too. Visits to museums, libraries, plays, musicals, and concerts can expand the family’s horizons and deepen appreci­ation for the arts.

Shopping
Shopping trips can provide regular opportunities for parents and children to spend time together. Whether you are grocery shopping or buying birthday gifts, these excursions can be fun and exciting for youngsters in mid­dle childhood. Let your children make lists, find items in the store, carry the bags to the car, and unpack them once you return home. Allowing your child some choices and assigning some meaningful responsibilities can help build his self-confidence.

Reading and Singing Aloud
Reading and singing aloud as a family promotes feelings of closeness and an appreciation for music and books. Parents should find out what stories their children like to read, and what music they like to lis­ten to. It is lots of fun to take turns reading aloud, and to let the children hear the stories and songs you enjoyed when you were growing up.

Holiday Traditions
These are another source of fun family activities. By learning about the history, significance, and rituals of a particular holiday, chil­dren will feel a greater sense of involvement in the holiday preparations and celebrations.

Spiritual Pursuits
For many families, religion plays an important role in pro­viding a moral tradition, a set of values, and a network of friends and neigh­bors who can provide support. Attending services is something family members can do together.

You do not necessarily need to go to a church, synagogue, or other place of worship regularly, however, to share moral values with your children and help them develop a sense of their history and the continuity of the family. Many families develop a strong spiritual life without the formal structure of orga­nized religion.


Source: Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12 (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Constantly Connected: Adverse Effects of Media on Children & Teens

​Today’s children and teens are growing up immersed in digital media. They are exposed to media in all forms, including TV, computers, smartphones, and other screens.

Media can influence how children and teens feel, learn, think, and behave.
What We Know:

Here are facts about digital media use.

  • Almost 75% of teens own a smartphone. They can access the Internet, watch TV and videos, and download interactive applications (apps). Mobile apps allow photo-sharing, gaming, and video-chatting.
  • 25% of teens describe themselves as “constantly connected” to the Internet.
  • 76% of teens use at least one social media site. More than 70% of teens visit multiple social media sites, such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram.
  • 4 of 5 households (families) own a device used to play video games.

Why It’s Good to Unplug:
Overuse of digital media and screens may place your child or teen at risk of

Obesity. Excessive screen use, as well as having a TV in the bedroom, can increase the risk of obesity. Teens who watch more than 5 hours of TV per day are 5 times more likely to be overweight than teens who watch 0 to 2 hours. Watching TV for more than 1.5 hours daily is a risk factor for obesity for children 4 through 9 years of age. This is in part due to the fact that viewers are exposed to advertising for high-calorie foods. Viewers are also more likely to snack or overeat while watching screen media.

Sleep problems. Media use can interfere with sleep. Children and teens who spend more time with social media or who sleep with mobile devices in their rooms are at greater risk for sleep problems. Exposure to light (particularly blue light) and stimulating content from screens can delay or disrupt sleep, and have a negative effect on school.

Problematic internet use. Children who overuse online media can be at risk for problematic Internet use. Heavy video gamers are at risk for Internet gaming disorder. They spend most of their free time online, and show less interest in offline or “real-life” relationships. 4% to 8% of children and teens may have problems limiting their Internet use, and almost 10% of US youth 8 to 18 years of age may have Internet gaming disorder. There may be increased risks for depression at both the high and low ends of Internet use.

Negative effect on school performance. Children and teens often use entertainment media at the same time that they’re doing other things, such as homework. Such multi-tasking can have a negative effect on school.

Risky behaviors. Teens’ displays on social media often show risky behaviors, such as substance use, sexual behaviors, self-injury, or eating disorders. Exposure of teens through media to alcohol, tobacco use, or sexual behaviors is associated with earlier initiation of these behaviors.

Sexting and privacy and predators. Sexting is sending nude or seminude images as well as sexually explicit text messages using a cell phone. About 12% of youth age 10 to 19 years of age have sent a sexual photo to someone else. Teens need to know that once content is shared with others they may not be able to delete or remove it completely. They may also not know about or choose not to use privacy settings. Another risk is that sex offenders may use social networking, chat rooms, e-mail, and online games to contact and exploit children.

Cyberbullying. Children and teens online can be victims of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can lead to short- and long-term negative social, academic, and health issues for both the bully and the target. Fortunately, programs to help prevent bullying may reduce cyberbullying.

Children today are growing up in a time of highly personalized media use experiences, so parents must develop personalized media use plans for their children. Media plans should take into account each child’s age, health, personality, and developmental stage. All children and teens need adequate sleep (8-12 hours, depending on age), physical activity (1 hour), and time away from media. Put together your family media plan today!


Source: Digital Media and Your Children and Teens: TV, Computers, Smartphones, and Other Screens (Copyright © 2016 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Healthy New Year’s Resolutions for Children & Teens

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The start of the new year is a great time to help your children focus on forming good habits. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) provides the following list of ideas for you to talk to your children about trying, depending on their age.

Preschoolers

  • I will try hard to clean up my toys by putting them where they belong.
  • I will let my parents help me brush my teeth twice a day.
  • I will wash my hands after going to the bathroom and before eating.
  • I will learn how to help clear the table when I am done eating.
  • I will be friendly to all animals. I will learn how to ask the owners if I can pet their animal first.
  • I will do my best to be nice to other kids who need a friend or look sad or lonely.
  • I will talk with my parent or a trusted adult when I need help or am scared.

Kids, 5 to 12 years old

  • I will drink reduced-fat milk and water most days. Soda and fruit drinks are only for special times.
  • I will take care of my skin by putting on sunscreen before I go outdoors on bright, sunny days. I will try to remember to stay in the shade whenever possible and wear a hat and sunglasses, especially when I’m playing sports.
  • I will try to find a sport (like basketball or soccer) or an activity (like playing tag, jumping rope, dancing or riding my bike) that I like and do it at least three times a week!
  • I will always wear a helmet when riding a bike, scooter or skateboard.
  • I will wear my seat belt every time I get in a car. I’ll sit in the back seat and use a booster seat until I am tall enough to use a lap/shoulder seat belt.
  • I’ll try to be friendly to kids who may have a hard time making friends by asking them to join activities such as sports or games.
  • I will tell an adult about bullying that I see or hear about to do what I can to help keep school safe for everyone.
  • I will keep my personal info safe and not share my name, home address, school name or telephone number on the Internet. Also, I’ll never send a picture of myself to someone I chat with on the computer without asking my parent if it is okay.
  • I will try to talk with my parent or a trusted adult when I have a problem or feel stressed.
  • I promise that I’ll do my best to follow our household rules for videogames and internet use.

Kids, 13 years old and older

  • I will try to eat two servings of fruit and two servings of vegetables every day. I will drink sodas only at special times.
  • I will do my best to take care of my body through fun physical activity and eating the right types and amounts of foods.
  • When I have some down time for media, I will try to choose educational, high-quality nonn-violent TV shows and video games that I enjoy. I will spend only one to two hours each day – at the most – on these activities. I promise to respect out household rules for videogames and internet use.
  • I will do what I can to help out in my community. I will give some of my time to help others, working with community groups or others that help people in need. These activities will make me feel better about myself and my community.
  • When I feel angry or stressed out, I will take a break and find helpful ways to deal with the stress, such as exercising, reading, writing in a journal or talking about my problem with a parent or friend.
  • When faced with a difficult decision, I will talk about my choices with an adult whom I can trust.
  • When I notice my friends are struggling, being bullied or making risky choices, I will look for a trusted adultso that we can attempt to find a way to help.
  • I will be careful about whom I choose to date. I will treat the other person with respect and not force them to do something they do not want to do. I will not use violence. I will expect to be treated the same way in return.
  • I will resist peer pressure to try tobacco-cigarettes, drugs, or alcohol. I will also avoid the use of e-cigarettes.
  • I agree not to use a cell phone or text message while driving and to always use a seat belt.

From HealthyChildren.org. Published 12/13/16.


12 Tips for Teaching Children Gratitude

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Tired of bickering, jealousy, and selfishness? Kids are naturally materialistic and self-serving, but the good news is that gratitude can be taught. And from gratitude flows joy.

Tricks for Teaching Children Gratitude and Creating a More Joyful Home:

  • Surprise them! Avoid too many choices: Surprises help children see something as a gift, not an entitlement. Having too many choices breeds unhappiness– you are always wondering if you could have something better. One night, we tried to have a conversation with our children about where we might go for our summer vacation. Within five minutes, Disney World was not good enough. Everyone had a better idea, and no one was going to be happy with whatever we came up with. I put a prompt end to that conversation, and about a week later, I announced that I had a big surprise– we were going to Mt. Rushmore! I showed off my plans for our national park camping vacation, and they couldn’t have been more excited. Our low-budget road trip turned out to be a fabulous success.
  • Talk about the best parts of your day: Find some time each day to talk about what you are thankful for– perhaps at the dinner table, before bed, or while you are driving in the car. Ask your children, “What was the best part of your day?” For older children, try keeping a gratitude journal. Gratitude journals have been shown to be an effective approach to helping children be happier: One study had 221 sixth- and seventh-graders write down five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks. Three weeks later, these students had a better outlook on school and greater life satisfaction compared with kids assigned to list five hassles.
  • Teach your children their past: What are your family stories of hardship and perseverance? My husband’s great-grandmother ironed for a living– her iron is now a bookend in our house, reminding our children what hard work really means. As a child, my grandmother washed dishes for ten cents per week during the depression. We keep her picture in our study, and tell our children her story. Not sure of your past? Just take a family trip to the history museum, a battlefield, or other historic site. You will return home grateful.
  • Help your children serve someone who does not “need” charity: It’s great for kids to participate in scout food collections and other community charity programs, but these events only occur a few times per year and you rarely meet the people you are serving. Find someone in your everyday life for your children to serve regularly, even if this person doesn’t really need charity. We have a neighbor who lives alone and appreciates our left-overs so she doesn’t have to cook for one person. Our kids love to bring her food. One night they were all griping about how they didn’t like the dinner I made, until I asked them to bring a plate to our neighbor. Suddenly all the complaining stopped and they were out the door with her food, eager to have the opportunity to serve her.
  • Focus on the positive, all day: I tell my children several times each day, “Attitude is a choice.” Choosing to have a positive attitude is actually our #1 house rule. It’s an all-day effort to constantly turn around the whining, jealousy, and complaining and instead focus on positive. “I’m thirsty!” needs to become, “Mommy, may I please have a drink?” “Where are my shoes?!” has to change to “Daddy, can you please help me find my shoes?”
  • Say “Thank you:” Teach young children to say “thank you” as part of a full sentence, for example, “Thank you, Daddy, for making dinner.” Encourage school-aged kids to say thank you throughout the day, especially when you help them get ready for school or drive them to activities. Have them thank coaches for practice and music teachers for lessons. Struggling to get your children to say “thank you” without reminders? For ten years I reminded my children to say “thank you” when they were served at a restaurant, but I just couldn’t get them to do it without prompting. Now, if they forget to say “thank-you” they have to seek out their server and personally thank them before leaving. No more reminders necessary…
  • Lead by example: How many times per day do you say “thank you”? Have you told your children what you are thankful for today? Our children are watching our every waking move. We can’t ask them to be grateful if we are not. Come home and talk about the happy parts of your day, making a conscious choice not to complain.
  • Teach “‘Tis better to give than to receive.” Even toddlers can buy or make gifts for others: Take young children holiday shopping at the dollar store. Challenge them to pick out gifts for others without buying something for themselves. It’s hard! See How to Inspire Generosity in Children.
  • Make time for chores: Most children have about four hours between the time they get home from school and bedtime. During those four hours, they have to accomplish homework, extracurricular activities, dinner, bath, and bedtime. It’s hard to find time for chores. Without chores, children just can’t understand what it takes to run a household– they will take clean laundry and dishes for granted. Find age-appropriate chores for your children, even just 5-10 minutes per day. Consider leaving time-intensive chores for the weekend, such as yard work, bathroom cleaning, and linen changing.
  • Let big kids take care of little kids: They say you can’t really understand what it takes to raise a child until you have your own children. Perhaps, but giving big kids responsibilities for little kids will start to help them have an attitude of gratitude towards their parents. Pair up big kids with little kids to get chores done or get through homework. School aged children can read books to toddlers or help them get dressed. Your older children will gain self-confidence and a sense of responsibility, and the relationship they build with their younger siblings will last a lifetime.
  • Give experiential gifts, not stuff: Too many toys? How about gifting a membership to the children’s museum, a soccer registration fee, or a camping trip? Experiential gifts build relationships, not materialism.
  • Monitor your children’s media: Our children are bombarded with age-targeted marketing that they are too young to resist or understand. Media fuels materialism. It is our job to carefully monitor their media so that they aren’t dragged into marketing and made to feel incomplete or unfulfilled.

Kathleen Berchelmann, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine, and an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Kathleen is the co-founder and director of ChildrensMD.org, a blog written by five dynamic mom-pediatricians who share their true confessions of trying to apply science and medicine to motherhood. Kathleen and her husband are raising five children.

Poor School Performance: How Parents Can Help

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“It doesn’t matter how hard I study, I just can’t seem to get the hang of geometry. I guess I must be dumb or somethin’.”

At least one in five students will have trouble keeping up academically at some point during junior high and high school. School slumps require our immediate attention, before the damage to self-esteem is irreparable or a youngster develops an aversion to attending school.

While the root of the problem may be school related and nothing more, a drop in grades can be a warning sign of one of the underlying causes below:

  • Physical ailments: undiagnosed sleep disorders, anemia, infectious mononucleosis, thyroid conditions, impaired vision or hearing, others
  • Emotional disorders: depression, anxiety, eating disorders, others
  • Learning disabilities/developmental disabilities: dyslexia, central auditory-processing disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), others
  • Substance abuse: a drastic decline in grades may be a tipoff that a child is experimenting with alcohol or illicit drugs

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Talk to your teenager. After all, she’s the ultimate authority on what’s behind her academic difficulties. But this should be a conversation, not a confrontation. Let her know that you’re on her side and want to help her get back on track:

“Honey, this is the fourth test in a row that’s come back with a C or a D. You’re usually a B-plus student. Is there anything going on in school or other areas of your life that you’d like to tell us about? We’re concerned and we want to help.”

Arrange a meeting with the teacher(s). Even the most involved parent doesn’t truly know what goes on in school. Adolescents sometimes reveal sides of themselves at school that they keep under wraps at home—or vice versa. So a teacher’s observations can provide invaluable clues to the cause of a child’s academic troubles.

In the days leading up to a parent-teacher conference, write down questions addressing the areas that most concern you. You may not be pleased to hear everything the teacher has to say once you get to the conference. But try to keep in mind that with rare exceptions, less-than-glowing feedback is not a personal attack on your youngster’s character or your competence as a parent. If your son’s home economics teacher says that he disrupts her class with his wisecracks, accept that what she says contains at least a shred of truth.

Ask her to be more specific and listen politely to what she has to say. For instance: “Could you please give me an example of what you mean? How frequently does he act up in class?” Then work together to come up with a solution. Perhaps you decide to warn your son that any future incidents of misconduct will result in the loss of a privilege, such as one week’s allowance or use of the family car.

“And,” you can add, “we’ve asked Mrs. Jackson to call us immediately if you should ever disrupt her class again.”

Memo to Mom and Dad: After a conference, always dash off a thank-you note to the teacher.

Consider hiring an after-school tutor. One-on-one sessions with a private tutor can work wonders with students who just weeks ago seemed unable to grasp the subject matter. Learning in a pressure-free environment probably has as much to do with that success as does the one-on-one instruction. Another advantage of letting a tutor work with your child, says Dr. Coleman, is that “it gets parents off their kids’ backs.”

Private tutors, listed in the Yellow Pages under “Tutoring,” generally charge between twenty dollars and forty dollars an hour. If that’s beyond your budget, you may be able to locate help through your teen’s school. “A lot of high schools,” says Dr. Coleman, “have study-buddies programs where teachers assign a peer-aged student or an older student to tutor a child at home or at school.” The cost is nominal—four or five dollars an hour—or sometimes free. Local colleges and organizations such as the YMCA may also offer tutoring.

Tutors can also help bridge the gap of time that teens are out of school because of a brief illness, extended family trip, and so on. Instead of falling behind during these short but crucial periods, tutors can make sure students stay caught up and on track until they return to the classroom.

Chronic complaints of feeling either bored or overwhelmed at school may be an indication that a youngster is trudging along on the wrong academic track. The student who yawns at schoolwork that leaves most of his classmates scratching their heads is more likely to thrive if his day includes some more challenging courses, while the perennial D student who has never shown much interest in school may be best served by a vocationally oriented program.

In the past, boys and girls belonging to the latter group might have been written off as lost causes destined to drop out. Since the 1970s or so, the educational system has made a greater effort to reach out to these youngsters. Some schools have implemented policies specifically designed for high-school freshmen with histories of academic failure, truancy and misconduct. As we noted earlier, ninth grade is a critical fork in the road for such students, who are considered high risks for quitting before the end of the year. According to the U.S. Department of Education, strategies like those below have been successful at helping them achieve school success:

  • Allow students to delay some required courses that may prove too difficult and discourage them to the point of dropping out. In their place they may take more courses that interest them.
  • Assemble these students into small groups, who then go from class to class together, offering one another support.
  • Establish alternative schools and mini schools for alienated students, either within the school building or off-campus. Youngsters who function poorly in a conventional school environment may find the less-structured, less demanding environment to their liking and be able to graduate.

If you believe that school could be made more enjoyable and fulfilling for your teen, arrange to meet with the guidance counselor or principal. Find out what accommodations could possibly be made in your child’s educational plan so that it better meets his or her needs.


Source: Caring for Your Teenager (Copyright © 2003 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Talking to Children About Tragedies & Other News Events

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After any disaster, parents and other adults struggle with what they should say and share with children and what not to say or share with them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) encourages parents, teachers, child care providers, and others who work closely with children to filter information about the crisis and present it in a way that their child can accommodate, adjust to, and cope with.

Where to Start – All Ages
No matter what age or developmental stage the child is, parents can start by asking a child what they’ve already heard. Most children will have heard something, no matter how old they are. After you ask them what they’ve heard, ask what questions they have.

Older children, teens, and young adults might ask more questions and may request and benefit more from additional information. But no matter what age the child is, it’s best to keep the dialogue straightforward and direct.

Avoiding Graphic Details & Exposure to Media
In general, it is best to share basic information with children, not graphic details, or unnecessary details about tragic circumstances. Children and adults alike want to be able to understand enough so they know what’s going on. Graphic information and images should be avoided.

Keep young children away from repetitive graphic images and sounds that may appear on television, radio, social media, computers, etc.

With older children, if you do want them to watch the news, record it ahead of time. That allows you to preview it and evaluate its contents before you sit down with them to watch it. Then, as you watch it with them, you can stop, pause, and have a discussion when you need to.

Children will generally follow good advice, but you have to give them some latitude to make decisions about what they’re ready for. You can block them from seeing the newspaper that comes to the door, for example, but not the one on the newsstand. Today, most older children will have access to the news and graphic images through social media and other applications right from their cell phone. You need to be aware of what’s out there and take steps in advance to talk to children about what they might hear or see.

Talking to Very Young Children
The reality is that even children as young as 4 years old will hear about major crisis events. It’s best that they hear about it from a parent or caregiver, as opposed to another child or in the media.

Even the youngest child needs accurate information, but you don’t want to be too vague. Simply saying, “Something happened in a faraway town and some people got hurt,” doesn’t tell the child enough about what happened. The child may not understand why this is so different from people getting hurt every day and why so much is being said about it. The underlying message for a parent to convey is, “It’s okay if these things bother you. We are here to support each other.”

Talking to Gradeschool Children & Teens
After asking your child what they have heard and if they have questions about what occurred during a school shooting, community bombing, natural disaster, or even a disaster in an international country, a parent can say something such as:

“Yes. In [city], [state]” (and here you might need to give some context, depending on whether it’s nearby or far away, for example, ‘That’s a city/state that’s pretty far from/close to here’), there was disaster and many people were hurt. The police and the government are doing their jobs so they can try to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

A parent can follow-up as needed based on the child’s reactions and questions.

Talking to Children with Developmental Delays or Disabilities
Parents who have a child with a developmental delay or disability should gear their responses to their child’s developmental level or abilities, rather than their physical, age. If you have a teenage child whose level of intellectual functioning is more similar to a 7-year-old, for instance, gear your response toward her developmental level. Start by giving less information. Provide details or information in the most appropriate and clear way you can.

Talking to Children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
What’s helpful to a child with an ASD may be different. For instance, the child may find less comfort in cuddling than some other children. Parents should try something else that does calm and comfort their child on other occasions. Ask yourself, “Given who my child is, his personality, temperament, and developmental abilities, what might work for him?”

Signs a Child Might Not Be Coping Well
If children don’t have a chance to practice healthy coping, a parent may see signs that they’re having difficulty adjusting. Some of things to look for are:

  • Sleep problems: Watch for trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, difficulty waking, nightmares, or other sleep disturbances.
  • Physical complaints: Children may complain of feeling tired, having a headache, or generally feeling unwell. You may notice your child eating too much or less than usual.
  • Changes in behavior: Look for signs of regressive behavior, including social regression, acting more immature, or becoming less patient and more demanding. A child who once separated easily from her parents may become clingy. Teens may begin or change current patterns of tobacco, alcohol, or substance use.
  • Emotional problems: Children may experience undue sadness, depression, anxiety, or fears.

Sometimes it can be hard to tell if a child is reacting in a typical way to an unusual event or whether they are having real problems coping, and might need extra support. If you are concerned, talk to your child’s pediatrician or a mental health professional or counselor.

Don’t wait for the signs. Start the discussion early, and keep the dialogue going.


Adapted from an eHealthMD interview with David Schonfeld, MD, FAAP, Director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement and member of the AAP Disaster Preparedness Advisory Council. The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.


Teaching Gratitude

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In her article “12 Tips for Teaching Children Gratitude,” Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann offers ways to teach children gratitude and create a more joyful home. “Kids are naturally materialistic and self-serving,” she explains, “but the good news is that gratitude can be taught. And from gratitude flows joy.”

Here are a few of her suggestions:

  • Surprise them! Avoid too many choices: Surprises help children see something as a gift, not an entitlement. Having too many choices breeds unhappiness– you are always wondering if you could have something better.
  • Talk about the best parts of your day. Find some time each day to talk about what you are thankful for– perhaps at the dinner table, before bed, or while you are driving in the car. Ask your children, “What was the best part of your day?”
  • For older children, try keeping a gratitude journal. Gratitude journals have been shown to be an effective approach to helping children be happier: One study had 221 sixth- and seventh-graders write down five things they were grateful for every day for two weeks. Three weeks later, these students had a better outlook on school and greater life satisfaction compared with kids assigned to list five hassles.
  • Help your children serve someone who does not “need” charity. It’s great for kids to participate in scout food collections and other community charity programs, but these events only occur a few times per year and you rarely meet the people you are serving. Find someone in your everyday life for your children to serve regularly, even if this person doesn’t really need charity. We have a neighbor who lives alone and appreciates our left-overs so she doesn’t have to cook for one person. Our kids love to bring her food. One night they were all griping about how they didn’t like the dinner I made, until I asked them to bring a plate to our neighbor. Suddenly all the complaining stopped and they were out the door with her food, eager to have the opportunity to serve her.
  • Say “Thank you.” Teach young children to say “thank you” as part of a full sentence, for example, “Thank you, Daddy, for making dinner.” Encourage school-aged kids to say thank you throughout the day, especially when you help them get ready for school or drive them to activities. Have them thank coaches for practice and music teachers for lessons.
  • Teach “‘Tis better to give than to receive.” Even toddlers can buy or make gifts for others: Take young children holiday shopping at the dollar store. Challenge them to pick out gifts for others without buying something for themselves. It’s hard!

Kathleen Berchelmann, MD, FAAP, is a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine, and an official spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. Kathleen is the co-founder and director of ChildrensMD.org, a blog written by five dynamic mom-pediatricians who share their true confessions of trying to apply science and medicine to motherhood. Kathleen and her husband are raising five children.

Click here to read her complete article on fostering gratitude in your home.


Last Updated 11/23/2015. Source Copyright © 2015 Kathleen Berchelmann M.D., FAAP. The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

A Parent’s Guide to Teen Parties

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As a parent, you know the importance of your teen’s social life and that parties are a way to socialize and relax. But an unsupervised or poorly planned party can result in unwanted or even tragic consequences. However, parental responsibility is the key to a fun and safe party.

The following is important information from the American Academy of Pediatrics about teen parties.

Facts about Teen Parties

  • Guest List. When a teen plans a party, news spreads very quickly via social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. Because of these new media, teen parties can grow too large for parents to control.
  • Time and Place. Teen parties often start late at night and move from house to house.

Facts about Alcohol and Drugs

Teens often expect alcohol and marijuana at parties. Some parents believe that it is better to allow teens to drink in their home so they can keep them safe. While this idea may be well intentioned, it is simply misguided. Parents cannot keep impaired teens safe.

Alcohol and other drugs impair judgment. Teens are more likely to have sex, be involved in a violent incident, or suffer an injury after using drugs or alcohol. All too frequently teens die from violence, unintentional injuries, or overdoses related to alcohol and other drugs.

Alcohol affects teens differently than adults. For example, compared with adults, teens are more likely to remain awake, to wander about, or to drive a car while having a much greater degree of mental impairment.

What Parents Need to Know

Communication and honesty are important to keep your teen safe. Teens whose parents talk with them regularly about drugs and alcohol are 42% less likely to use substances than those whose parents don’t. Tell your teens that you expect them not to use alcohol or other drugs at parties.

Parent networking is the best prevention tool to combat underage drinking. Get to know your teen’s friends and their parents. If your teen is planning on going to a party, call the parents to ensure that they will be home and that they will not allow drugs or alcohol. If this is not possible, don’t let your teen go.

Parents are legally responsible for anything that happens to a minor who has been served alcohol or other drugs in their home. If anyone brings alcohol or other drugs to your home, be prepared to contact their parents. And if someone comes to your home already intoxicated, make sure that they get home safely. Help your teen feel responsible for this as well.

Parents may be criminally or civilly liable if…

  • Alcohol is provided to a minor at a party they have organized.
  • Someone’s property is damaged.
  • Someone is injured.
  • Someone leaves and gets into a car accident and/or injures someone else.
  • Someone dies.

Understand the local laws about alcohol and other drugs. Laws about alcohol and drug use vary from state to state, so make sure you know what the laws are in your state.

If You Are Hosting a Teen Party…

  • Plan in Advance. Go over party plans with your teen. Encourage your teen to plan non-alcohol-related group activities or games.
  • Keep parties small. Ten to 15 teens for each adult. Make sure at least one adult is present at all times. Ask other parents to come over to help you if you need it.
  • Set a guest list. The party should be for invited guests only. No “crashers” allowed. This will help avoid the “open party” situation.
  • Set starting and ending times for the party. Check local curfew laws to determine an ending time.
  • Set party “rules” and your expectations. Discuss them with your teen before the party. Rules should include the following:
  • No tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs.
  • No one can leave the party and then return.
  • Lights are left on at all times.
  • Certain rooms of the house are off-limits.
  • Have plenty of food and non-alcoholic beverages available. Also, put your alcohol and any prescription or over-the-counter medicines in a locked cabinet.
  • Be there, but not square. Pick out a spot where you can see what is going on without being in the way. You can also help serve snacks and beverages.

If Your Teen Is Going to a Party…

  • Know where your teen is going and how long he will be there. Have the phone number and address of the party. Ask your teen to call you if the location of the party changes. Be sure to let your teen know where you will be during the party.
  • Call the parent of the party host to make sure a parent will be home the entire time and supervising the party. Make sure that tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs will not be allowed.
  • Talk with your teen beforehand about how to handle a situation where alcohol is available at a party.
  • Make sure your teen has a way to get to and from the party. Make it easy for your teen to leave a party by making it clear that he can call at any time for a ride home. Discuss why he might need to make such a call. Remind your teen NEVER to ride home with a driver who has been drinking or using other drugs.
  • Be up to greet your teen when he comes home. This can be a good way to check the time and talk about the evening.
  • If your teen is staying overnight at a friend’s house after the party, verify this arrangement with the friend’s parents and that they will be home.

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The AAP Committee on Adolescence and AAP Section on Adolescent Health would like to thank the AAP Committee on Substance Abuse and AAP NY Chapter 2 Committee on Adolescence for their assistance in developing this publication. Last Updated 5/5/2015. Source A Parent’s Guide to Teen Parties (Copyright © 2010 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.

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Shyness in Children

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My child is shy and does not make friends easily. Should I be worried?
Although childhood shyness is commonplace, it concerns many parents, especially those who place great value on sociability. Some children become shy because of harsh life experiences, but most are born that way. For some middle-years children, social situations and interactions can be terrifying. When they come in contact with new children, they rarely feel at ease. Typically, they are unwilling or unable to make the first move, preferring to abandon a potential friendship rather than reach out to the unfamiliar. A few of these timid children may be emotionally distressed, but they are in the minority. In fact, some children are just naturally withdrawn and slow to warm up in new situations.

Severe Shyness
In some cases, shyness can be disabling. Extremely shy children often do not adapt as well as most of their peers in the classroom and on the playground. The longer this pattern exists, the more difficult it is for children to change. Shyness can increasingly lead to purposeful avoidance of social settings and withdrawal, and ultimately create an inability to function effectively as a social adult. If your child’s shyness becomes debilitating, it may be caused by an anxiety disorder or a temperament pattern; then an evaluation by a child mental-health professional would be helpful.

Time to Adjust
Most shy children, however, do well in relationships and in social settings once they are past an initial period of adjustment. Children who have difficulty establishing and maintaining relationships even after the ice-breaking period merit more concern and attention. Eventually, many (and perhaps most) children who are shy learn to conquer their tendency. They function in ways that are not obviously timid or reticent, although inside they may still feel shy. Parents can gently guide or direct their children into social situations in which they can learn to successfully interact.

Rejected Children
Most children want to be liked, yet some are slow in learning how to make friends. Others may long for companionship but might be excluded from one group or another, perhaps picked on because of the way they dress, poor personal hygiene, obesity, or even a speech impediment. Youngsters are often rejected by peers if they exhibit disruptive or aggressive behavior. Still other children may hover on the fringes of one clique or another but never really get noticed. These neglected children spend most of their time alone.

Rejected youngsters are overtly disliked by their peers and are constantly made to feel unwelcome. They often tend to be aggressive or disruptive and very sensitive to teasing. They may be bullies and rule-violators, or they may be so unsure of themselves that they invite the rejection of others. They might also be rejected because of their impulsive and disruptive behavior. Some of them may have attention deficits or hyperactivity.

Neglected Children
Neglected children, on the other hand, are not overtly rejected and teased but are often just ignored, forgotten, not invited to parties, and are the last ones picked for a team. These youngsters may be perceived as loners but might be passive and detest their isolation. Others may actually prefer to be alone. This latter group might be respected and admired by others but simply feel more comfortable in solitary pursuits or in spending time with parents, siblings other adults, or even pets. They may also lack the social skills and self-confidence necessary for them to enter social arenas, often because of limited social experiences. Or they may be more shy, quiet and reserved than most of their peers.

How Parents Can Help
Successful peer interactions require a variety of skills and special ways of interacting. Parents should look for these skills in their children and help develop and model them.

  • Coping with failure and frustration
  • Coping with success
  • Coping with change and transitions
  • Coping with rejection and teasing
  • Managing anger
  • Using humor
  • Forgiving
  • Apologizing
  • Refusing to accept a dare
  • Thinking up fun things to do
  • Expressing affection
  • Avoiding dangerous situations
  • Defending himself
  • Comforting someone
  • Sharing
  • Making requests
  • Self-disclosure
  • Giving a compliment
  • Expressing appreciation
  • Coping with loss
  • Sticking up for a friend
  • Doing favors
  • Asking for help
  • Helping others
  • Keeping secrets

Last Updated 5/5/2015. Source Caring for Your School-Age Child: Ages 5 to 12. (Copyright © 2004 American Academy of Pediatrics). The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.