Through television and other media, four- and five-year old children can be exposed to violent and disturbing images of war, terrorism, disasters and tragic accidents. Preschoolers are not affected by these images in the same way as adults are, because they don't fully understand their meaning. However, young children are very sensitive to their parents' and caregivers' reactions. If you and your spouse are upset, or if your child's regular caregiver or teacher is upset, chances are good your child will become distressed too.
It is a good idea to limit young children's exposure to violence in the news. It is even more important to limit your own exposure, if it is preoccupying you or distressing you. Turn the TV and radio off. Reassure your child that you are basically all right, even if you are sad. If it is important for you to keep track of what is happening during a traumatic event, then turn on the TV or radio at key news moments to catch up. But turn it off again, and re-connect with your child.
It is also important to limit the time you spend worriedly talking about the event to others, and give your child some quality attention. Some children are very sensitive, and if you are anxiously talking to teachers, grandparents, neighbours and others, even four- and five-year olds can become quite disturbed themselves.
If your child does see some news event that upsets him, or upsets you, talk about it. It is not necessary to explain it in detail. You can simply say that a sad and terrible thing happened, and some people got hurt and died. In many cases you can tell your child that the event happened far away, and that you and your family are safe. Don't forget to tell him that the people in charge are doing everything they can to protect you against the danger, and to make sure this doesn't happen again. It may also help some children feel better if they help out in some way. For example, they can send drawings or letters to the communities touched by the event.
If your young child is still anxious over an event that happened more than one month ago, consult your child's physician. If you are in Canada, and you wish to speak to a counsellor about this, contact Parent Help Line, 1-888-603-9100.