Talking with Kids About Events in Ferguson

August 20, 2014

ST. LOUIS - Below Dr. Ujjwal Ramettkar, Mercy Kids child psychiatrist, discusses how parents can talk with kids about the events in Ferguson. These tips also translate to any crisis getting heavy news coverage.

by Mercy Kids' Dr. Ujjwal Ramettkar

The recent events in Ferguson have impacted all walks of life in Missouri and across the country. Due to the extensive coverage of these events, words like shooting, death, violence, riots, curfew and protests have dominated media reports. Children may get frightened, confused and worried about their safety if they’re repeatedly exposed to the news and graphic images. Those who already struggle with emotional issues are at high risk for long-term psychological consequences. Parents play a crucial role in supporting children by providing timely support and helping them restore a sense of safety.

It’s important for parents to closely monitor children for signs of significant distress such as nightmares, decreased appetite, increased anxiety, difficulty separating from caregivers, irritability without apparent reason and sudden decrease in communication. Depending on age, patients may provide support in various ways:

  • Open communication: Make yourself available to answer any questions. Ask your kids open-ended questions about what they see, hear, think and feel about the events. If your child has become less talkative or is avoiding the topic, encourage him to speak about his worries by normalizing the feeling of anxiety. Use the opportunity to educate and dispel any misconceptions.
  • Restore safety:  Reassure your child that adults are able to protect and provide a safe environment for children. By providing the realistic scenarios, it’s also important to communicate that the caregivers are not at risk of harm. This is a good time to review safety procedures in case of emergency.
  • Stay calm: It’s important to monitor and control our own behavior around children. Provide modeling by being calm, objective and tolerant to disagreement in opinions. Even if you have strong views, it’s best to express those to adult peers and family members away from children. Avoid controversial and complex subjects until after the crisis is resolved.
  • Monitor media: Limit the exposure to graphic images and reports on television for younger kids. With teens, parents may elect to watch the news together and discuss the relevant information in a constructive manner. 
  • Keep a normal routine: Minimal to no change in daily routine helps restore sense of safety. In addition, adequate sleep, nutrition, exercise and relaxation help reduce the effects of stress.
  • Get support: If there are any concerns for worsening emotional disturbance or increase in anxiety, it’s important to seek immediate help for further evaluation and safety. 

Media Contacts