“Honey, I’m Here to Listen”


Children react to upsetting stories and images in many ways. To help your child deal with a scary event she’s seen in the news, lend her your ears.

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“At first, children may need up to 20 minutes to process their reaction to something stressful,” says Dehra Harris, MD, a Washington University pediatric psychiatrist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “They may try to avoid the subject if they’re feeling overwhelmed.”

During this time, help your child feel better with lots of hugs and comfort, and tell her that she’s safe.

Upset feelings can last for several weeks, and that’s OK.  But you might need a doctor’s help if you notice she is:

  • avoiding friends
  • becoming more attached to you or another caregiver
  • eating more or less than normal
  • not sleeping well

Question and Answer

If you notice your child is upset by something he’s seen in the news, wait until he’s ready to talk about the event before you bring it up. And before you talk—listen.

“Parents often want to say the right thing,” Dr. Harris says. “Listen first. Then ask questions to understand what your children feel. This way, you can tell them what they really want to know.”

Dr. Harris suggests sitting down with your child in a quiet place with your phone off. Tell her you know an event has upset her. Ask her what she thinks and how she feels about it. Answer her questions as best you can. If you can’t answer something right away, tell her you’ll think about it and get back to her. Importantly, ask her what you need to do to let her know she’s safe.

“You want to set yourself up as a source of information,” Dr. Harris says. “With support from you, your child can grow from the experience.”

A pediatrician or pediatric psychiatrist can help your child deal with trauma. For help finding a doctor, call St. Louis Children’s Hospital at 314.454.KIDS (5437) or toll-free at 800.678.KIDS.