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AAP Offers Advice on Communicating with Children About Disasters

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In response to the tragic events unfolding in New York and Washington, DC, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) would like to offer some advice on how to communicate with children and adolescents during times of crisis.

* It’s important to communicate to children that they’re safe. Given what they may have seen on television, they need to know that the violence is isolated to certain areas and they will not be harmed. Parents should try to assure children that they’ve done everything they can to keep their children safe.

* Adolescents in particular can be hard hit by these kinds of events and parents might want to watch for signs such as: sleep disturbances, fatigue, lack of pleasure in activities enjoyed previously, and initiation of illicit substance abuse.

* Overexposure to the media can be traumatizing. It’s unwise to let children or adolescents view footage of traumatic events over and over. Children and adolescents should not watch these events alone.

* Adults need to help children understand the significance of these events. Discussion is critical. It should be stressed that the terrorist acts are ones of desperation and horror — that there are “bad” people out there, and bad people do bad things. But not all people in a particular group are bad. Children should know that lashing out at members of a particular religious or ethnic group will only cause more harm.

The following AAP documents can be found at: - How Pediatricians Can Respond to the Psychosocial Implications of Disasters (AAP Policy statement) publications/allpubs/SMA95-3022/SMA3022.htm - Psychosocial Issues for Children and Families in Disasters: A Guide for the Primary Care Physician (Joint publication between AAP and US Center for Mental Health Services) - The Pediatrician’s Role in Disaster Preparedness (AAP policy statement) advocacy/disarticle.htm - Child Deaths Hit Communities Hard: Disasters Demand Psychological Triage (AAP News article)

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has suggestions for “Helping Children publications/factsfam/disaster.htm