Protecting Children From Disturbing Media Reports During Traumatic Events

As the details filter in about the horrific violence that occurred in a Connecticut elementary school, we can only shake our heads in disbelief. There are no words to express the deep sadness that we feel for the victims and their families. Hopefully this article (previously posted) will help parents get a grip on how to talk with their children about this devastating event.

When a tragic event  happens, the media are all over it. The airwaves are flooded with frightening images and dire reports of people dying and suffering. We are captivated by the non-stop news because we need and want to know what’s going on.

What we don’t often stop and think about is how all that news coverage is impacting our kids, who are watching either with us or from the background. It is extremely important to understand that kids take this information in differently than we do. Depending on their age (and ability to understand) they can be traumatized by what they see and hear.

This excellent guide (from lays out how each age group is impacted by exposure to news media’s coverage of traumatic events and helps parents assess how much is too much. Watch your kids carefully during this difficult time. And if you feel they may be having a hard time coping call 1-800-LIFENET, a 24-hour, free and confidential hotline providing mental health information and referrals.


Ages Six and Younger

  • Believe that what they see on television is happening live; while they are watching it.
  • Think that a traumatic event is happening over and over again when they see repeated images of it.
  • Find images of people suffering, crying, or being attacked very upsetting.

Ages Seven to 12

  • Understand that the news is only made up of reports about events that have already happened.
  • Find disturbing media images upsetting.
  • May become anxious for their own and their family’s safety.

Ages 13 and Older

  • They can be scared and horrified by the same things as younger children.
  • They can become deeply worried and anxious for their own and their family’s safety and future.
  • They may want to know why the bad things they see on the news are happening.


Be aware of signs suggesting that the news images may have disturbed your
children. Children may complain of headaches, stomach aches and chest pain without
actually being sick. In addition, their appetite may change. They may have sleeping
problems or nightmares. The event can make them afraid, anxious, or sad, and their
behavior may change. They can become clingy (especially the younger ones),
aggressive, and have problems with their school work and peers. Your children may
express a variety of these age-specific feelings and behaviors.


Try to limit the amount of news they watch, as exposure to too much news
about a disaster or other traumatic events on TV, in the papers, or on the Web
can make children worried and confused.

  •  Limit their exposure to TV, Internet and newspapers coverage of traumatic events, especially before bedtime.
  •  Do not let your children watch TV coverage of disasters or other traumatic events alone.
  • Do not leave newspapers with disturbing images in sight.
  • Encourage your children to participate in other activities.
  • Limit your own exposure to disturbing stories and images. That may also help you to cope better with these events.


After watching news about disasters and other traumatic or violent events,
your children may feel confused and afraid, and may have many questions.
Don’t ignore their worries. Spend extra time with them. Answer their questions
and explain the facts in a way that they can understand. To reduce their

  • Watch the news with them and explain what they are seeing.
  • Explain that some images may be shown repeatedly, but that the event happened only once.
  • Talk to your children about the event but tell them only as much as they need to know, in a way that they can understand.
  • Answer their questions and correct any misunderstandings about the event.
  • Be aware of their fears and assure them that they are safe.
  • Explain to them that the news is often about bad things, but most people are good.


If your children are having difficulty coping, call 1-800-LIFENET, a 24-hour, free and
confidential hotline providing mental health information and referrals.
You are not alone. Help is available!
1-800-543-3638 (English)
1-877-298-3373 (Spanish)
1-877-990-8585 (Chinese)
1-212-982-5284 (TTY)

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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One response to “Protecting Children From Disturbing Media Reports During Traumatic Events”

  1. News U Can Use: A Safe Space for Children in Newtown

    […] to feel … well, safe. Read about it here, and note the tips that echo those in our post, Protecting Children During Traumatic Events.  Email This […]

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The Mama ButtonThe information provided by MamasOnCall is not intended as a substitute for professional advice, but is for information purposes only. You assume full responsibility for the health and well-being of your family. Talk with your healthcare provider about any questions you may have regarding a medical or psychiatric condition.