Call: 1-202-476-5000

About Us
What We Do
Our Resources
Ask an Expert
How to Support ICHOC
Contact Information

this page Email This Page
Print this page Print This Page

  Join Us On:
  Follow Children's on Facebook  Facebook
  Follow Children's on Twitter  Twitter
  Watch Children's on YouTube  YouTube

The International Center to Heal Our Children: Articles

Children and the News
Children and Grief
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Helping Teenagers with Stress
Helpful Websites
Articles Published by ICHOC Staff

The below information was excerpted from the "Fact for Families" series created by the The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry .

Children and the News

Children often see or hear the news many times a day through television, radio, newspapers, magazines, and the Internet. Seeing and hearing about local and world events, such as natural disasters, catastrophic events, and crime reports may cause children to experience stress, anxiety, and fears.

There have also been several changes in how news is reported that have given rise to the increased potential for children to experience negative effects. These changes include the following:

  • Television channels and Internet services and sites which report the news 24-hours a day
  • Television channels broadcasting live events as they are unfolding, in "real time"
  • Increased reporting of the details of the private lives of public figures and role models
  • Pressure to get news to the public as part of the competitive nature of the entertainment industry
  • Detailed and repetitive visual coverage of natural disasters and violent acts

While there has been great public debate about providing television ratings to warn parents about violence and sex in programming, news shows have only recently been considered in these discussions. Research has shown, however that children and adolescents are prone to imitate what they see and hear in the news, a kind of contagion effect described as "copy cat" events. Chronic and persistent exposure to such violence can lead to fear, desensitization (immunity), and in some children an increase in aggressive and violent behaviors. Studies also show that media broadcasts do not always choose to show things that accurately reflect local or national trends.

For example, statistics report a decrease in the incidence of crime; yet, the reporting of crime in the news has increased 240%. Local news shows often lead with or break into programming to announce crime reports and devote as much as 30% of the broadcast time to detailed crime reporting.

The possible negative effects of news can be lessened by parents, teachers, or other adults by watching the news with the child and talking about what has been seen or heard. The child's age, maturity, developmental level, life experiences, and vulnerabilities should guide how much and what kind of news the child watches.

Guidelines for minimizing the negative effects of watching the news include:

  • Make sure you have adequate time and a quiet place to talk if you anticipate that the news is going to be troubling
  • Ask the child what he/she has heard and what questions he/she may have
  • Provide reassurance regarding his/her own safety in simple words emphasizing that you are going to be there to keep him/her safe
  • Look for signs that the news may have triggered fears or anxieties such as sleeplessness, fears, bedwetting, crying, or talking about being afraid

Parents should remember that it is important to talk to the child or adolescent about what he/she has seen or heard. This allows parents to lessen the potential negative effects of the news and to discuss their own ideas and values. While children cannot be completely protected from outside events, parents can help them feel safe and help them to better understand the world around them.

Back to Top

Children and Grief

When a family member dies, children react differently from adults. Preschool children usually see death as temporary and reversible, a belief reinforced by cartoon characters who "die" and "come to life" again. Children between five and nine begin to think more like adults about death, yet they still believe it will never happen to them or anyone they know.

Adding to a child's shock and confusion at the death of a brother, sister or parent is the unavailability of other family members who may be so shaken by grief that they are not able to cope with the normal responsibility of child care.

Parents should be aware of normal childhood responses to a death in the family, as well as signs when a child is having difficulty coping with grief. According to child and adolescent psychiatrists, it is normal during the weeks following the death for some children to feel immediate grief or persist in the belief that the family member is still alive. However, long-term denial of the death or avoidance of grief can be emotionally unhealthy and can later lead to more severe problems.

A child who is frightened about attending a funeral should not be forced to go; however, honoring or remembering the person in some way, such as lighting a candle, saying a prayer, making a scrapbook, reviewing photographs, or telling a story may be helpful.

Once children accept the death, they are likely to display their feelings of sadness on and over a long period of time, and often at unexpected moments. The surviving relatives should spend as much time as possible with the child, making it clear that the child has permission to show his or her feelings openly and freely.

The person who has died was essential to the stability of the child's world, and anger is a natural reaction. The anger may be revealed in boisterous play, nightmares, irritability, or a variety of other behaviors. Often the child will show anger toward the surviving family members.

After a parent dies, many children will act younger than they are. The child may temporarily become more infantile; demand food, attention and cuddling, and talk "baby talk." Younger children may believe a parent, grandparent, brother or sister died because he or she had once wished the person dead when they were angry. The child feels guilty or blames him or herself because the wish came true.

Children who are having serious problems with grief and loss may show one or more of these signs:

  • An extended period of depression in which the child loses interest in daily activities and events
  • Inability to sleep, loss of appetite, prolonged fear of being alone
  • Acting much younger for an extended period
  • Excessively imitating the dead person
  • Repeated statements of wanting to join the dead person
  • Withdrawal from friends, or
  • Sharp drop in school performance or refusal to attend school

These warning signs indicate that professional help may be needed. A child and adolescent psychiatrist can help the child accept the death and assist the survivors in helping the child through the mourning process.

Back to Top

Helping Teenagers with Stress

Teenagers, like adults, may experience stress everyday and can benefit from learning stress management skills. Most teens experience more stress when they perceive a situation as dangerous, difficult, or painful and they do not have the resources to cope. Some sources of stress for teens might include:

  • School demands and frustrations
  • Negative thoughts and feelings about themselves
  • Changes in their bodies
  • Problems with friends
  • Unsafe living environment/neighborhood
  • Separation or divorce of parents
  • Chronic illness or severe problems in the family
  • Death of a loved one
  • Moving or changing schools
  • Taking on too many activities or having too high expectations
  • Family financial problems

Some teens become overloaded with stress. When it happens, inadequately managed stress can lead to anxiety, withdrawal, aggression, physical illness, or poor coping skills such as drug and/or alcohol use.

When we perceive a situation as difficult or painful, changes occur in our minds and bodies to prepare us to respond to danger. This "fight, flight, or freeze" response includes faster heart and breathing rate, increased blood to muscles of arms and legs, cold or clammy hands and feet, upset stomach and/or sense of dread.

The same mechanism that turns on the stress response can turn it off. As soon as we decide that a situation is no longer dangerous, changes can occur in our minds and bodies to help us relax and calm down. This "relaxation response" and other stress management skills feel less helpless and have more choices when responding to stress.

Parents can help their teen in these ways:
  • Monitor if stress is affecting their teen's health, behavior, thoughts, or feelings
  • Listen carefully to teens and watch for overloading
  • Learn and model stress management skills
  • Support involvement in sports and other pro-social activities

Teens can decrease stress with the following behaviors and techniques:

  • Exercise and eat regularly
  • Avoid excess caffeine intake, which can increase feelings of anxiety and agitation
  • Avoid illegal drugs, alcohol and tobacco
  • Learn relaxation exercises (abdominal breathing and muscle relaxation techniques)
  • Develop assertiveness training skills. For example, state feelings in polite, firm and not overly aggressive or passive ways: ("I feel angry when you yell at me," "Please stop yelling.")
  • Rehearse and practice situations that cause stress. One example is taking a speech class if talking in front of a class makes you anxious
  • Learn practical coping skills. For example, break a large task into smaller, more attainable tasks
  • Decrease negative self -talk: challenge negative thoughts about yourself with alternative neutral or positive thoughts. "My life will never get better" can be transformed into "I may feel hopeless now, but my life will probably get better if I work at it and get some help"
  • Learn to feel good about doing a competent or "good enough" job rather than demanding perfection from yourself and others
  • Take a break from stressful situations. Activities like listening to music, talking to a friend, drawing, writing, or spending time with a pet can reduce stress
  • Build a network of friends who help you cope in a positive way

By using these and other techniques, teenagers can begin to manage stress. If a teen talks about or shows signs of being overly stressed, a consultation with a child and adolescent psychiatrist or qualified mental health professional may be helpful.

Back to Top

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

All children and adolescents experience stressful events, which can affect them both emotionally and physically. Their reactions to stress are usually brief, and they recover without further problems. A child or adolescent who experiences a catastrophic event may develop ongoing difficulties known as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The stressful or traumatic event involves a situation where someone's life has been threatened or severe injury has occurred (ex. they may be the victim or a witness of physical abuse, sexual abuse, violence in the home or in the community, automobile accidents, natural disasters (such as flood, fire, earthquakes), and being diagnosed with life threatening illness). A child's risk of developing PTSD is related to the seriousness of the trauma, whether the trauma is repeated, the child's proximity to the trauma, and his/her relationship to the victim(s).

Following the trauma, children may initially show agitated or confused behavior. They also may show intense fear, helplessness, anger, sadness, horror or denial. Children who experienced repeated trauma may develop a kind of emotional numbing to deaden or block the pain and trauma. This is called dissociation. Children PTSD avoid situations or places that remind them of the trauma. They may also become less responsive emotionally, depressed, withdrawn and more detached from their feelings.

A child with PTSD may also re-experience the traumatic event by:

  • Having frequent memories of the event, or in young children, play in which some or all of the trauma is repeated over and over
  • Having upsetting frightening dreams
  • Acting or feeling like the experience is happening again
  • Developing repeated physical or emotional symptoms when the child is reminded of the event

Children with PTSD may also show the following symptoms:

  • Worry about dying at an early age
  • Losing interest in activities
  • Having physical symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches
  • Showing more sudden and extreme emotional reactions
  • Having problems falling or staying asleep
  • Showing irritability or angry outbursts
  • Having problems concentrating
  • Acting younger than their age (for example: clingy or whiny behavior, thumbsucking)
  • Showing increased alertness to the environment
  • Repeating behavior that reminds them of the trauma

The symptoms of PTSD may last from several months to many years. The best approach is prevention of the trauma. Once the trauma has occurred, however, early intervention is essential. Support from parents, school and peers, is important. Emphasis needs to be placed upon establishing a feeling of safety. Psychotherapy (individual, group, or family) which allows the child to speak, draw, play or write about the event is helpful. Behavior modification techniques and cognitive therapy may help reduce fears and worries. Medication may also be useful to deal with agitation, anxiety, or depression.

Child and adolescent psychiatrists can be very helpful in diagnosing and treating children with PTSD. With the sensitivity and support of families and professionals, youngsters with PTSD can learn to cope with the memories of the trauma and go on to lead healthy and productive lives.

Back to Top

Helpful Websites:

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry website contains many helpful resources, including its downloadable “Facts for Families” series.

The American Academy of Pediatrics website contains numerous AAP publications and links to other child health resources.

The National Mental Health Information Center is a federal resource through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Hurricane Preparedness Information

Kids will be thinking about 9/11- Here's how to help them- resource offered by the American Academy of Pediatrics

Disaster Preparedness

AAP urges Congress to focus on children in disaster planning

Articles Published by ICHOC Staff

Joshi, P.T. and O'Donnell, D. (2003). "Consequences of Child Exposure to War and Terrorism." Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, Vol. 6 (4), 275-292.

Joshi, P.T., and Lewin, Shulamit. (2004). "Disaster, Terrorism, and Children." Psychiatric Annals, Vol 34 (9), 710-716.

Back to Top

Back to ICHOC Homepage


Quick Links
Visiting and Staying at Children's
Refer a Patient to Children's
Find A Doctor at Children's
Request an Appointment at Children's
Online Bill Pay
Give to Children's
Get Involved at Children's
Subscribe to Children's RSS Feed