PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — Real life can be scary for kids, especially when they are exposed to gun violence. It’s important to know how your kids are processing the violence they’re seeing, whether it’s real or in video games or movies.
10 On Your Side sat down with a mental health expert from Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters to help parents understand how to treat what their kids are seeing.
“Really young children are still learning to tell the difference between fantasy and reality,” said Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Katlin Ternes.
When kids, or even adults, are exposed to violent or traumatic images and events, stress hormones increase and the heart may be really fast. Ternes said children may react immediately.
“You may instantly see they don’t want t go to school, they’re feeling scared to sleep in their own bed, they’ve changed their habits.”
If this behavior persists for more than a few weeks, talk to your pediatrician.
Chronic exposure to violence, she said, may affect behavior more gradually overtime.
“Getting more desensitized feelings like this is just the way the world is and so then they are just developing this more negative world view or negative view of people.”
Children may startle easily, become jumpy and not want to do things they used to for fear of what might happen.
A child’s best protection is a trusted adult.
Ternes said the best thing a parent can do is talk to their kids. Ask, ‘What do you think about the images you’re seeing?” and “How does it make you feel?”
“Start to create those norms that we’re a family who talks about hard stuff, we can process when we’ve seen things that maybe aren’t helpful,” she said.
Communication is key and if the child’s response is “I’m fine” or “I don’t want to talk about it,” Ternes said that’s OK. Just remind them that you are there and ready to listen anytime.