Parents and caregivers often do whatever they can to protect their children from experiencing traumatic events in their own lives. But recently, we’ve seen an increase in race-related violence in the media – and our children are very much exposed to it.

Learn how your children might respond to these events based on their age group as well as the best ways to offer support and guidance.

How Can Media Coverage of These Events Affect My Child?

Children can be affected differently depending on their stage of development:

  • Children between 3-5 years old may interpret events literally and think the sights and sounds they hear are happening repeatedly.
  • Children between 6-11 years old may view media coverage personally and worry that similar events can happen to them or their family.
  • Older children and adolescents may become anxious and fixate on events to cope.

What Should I Consider If I Am Raising a Child of Color?

  • Children of color in particular, can experience increased anxiety and worry following incidents of racial violence.
  • Witnessing incidents of racial violence can lead to increased feelings of threat or suspicion.
  • Children of color may also worry about the future and fear their life will be shortened.
  • Remember, behaviors such as aggression, sadness, difficulties paying attention and sleep problems can be signs of trauma in response to witnessing racial violence.

What Can I Do to Help My Child?

  • Try to limit their exposure to media coverage. Anxiety and depression can increase with repeated viewing.
  • Talk to children at their developmental level and encourage them to verbalize their feelings. Ask them questions to understand what they’re thinking (“What makes you think that?” “What happened that made you feel that way?” “Why do you think that is?”)
  • For teens, spend time watching and discussing with them. Ask about what they are thinking and feeling. Ask what they have seen. It may be an opportunity to clear up confusion or misunderstanding.
  • Read books that may help them understand similar situations.
  • Remember to monitor you child’s emotions before, during and after discussions.
  • Remind children they are in a physical safe space, and support predictability and routines to the extent that is possible for your family. (We know for many families, circumstances may not make this possible).
  • Show examples of “helpers” in their community who are taking care of others.
  • Take care of your own feelings and stress surrounding the events. That way you will be more able to manage the complex emotions your child may be feeling.

If you are concerned about your child’s ability to cope, reach out to a school guidance counselor or mental health professional.

WATCH: Caring for Children After Exposure to Race-Related Violence in the Media

Exposure to violent events can be traumatic and can negatively affect multiple factors in children such as development, academic functioning, coping skills and relationships. Kids are not only being exposed to violence within their communities at a much higher rate, but also through technology. Watch this video to learn ways you can talk to your child and offer support.

Video Transcript

Everyone in Gina McDonald here today. I am joined by Dr. Jacqueline Doxy King, who is a neuropsychologist here at our hospital. Jacqueline will be covering an extremely important topic that is interest to many of our parents caring for children after exposure to race related violence in the media. Caregivers often do whatever they can to protect their children from experiencing traumatic events in their own lives but our children are very much exposed to violence that is reported in the media and recently we've seen a significant amount of race related violence in the media and its helpful for our caregivers to know how their children might respond to these events and what are the best ways is something that they can do to support. So, Jacqueline, thank you so much for joining us. I really appreciate you being here.

Thanks for having me, Gina.

Let’s start with the media in general. How can media coverage of violent events affect our children?

Well, we want to keep in mind that children are impacted differently depending on their age. So, if you have young children there more concrete and more literal. They may think that things are happening in their immediate environment or things are happening repeatedly. So that's more for those kids that are ages three to five. School age children may worry that similar events can happen to them or to their family and then we look at teens they may become more anxious or more fixated. And they may fixate on the events in order to cope so then they're watching things maybe even more repeatedly than other kids their age.

Makes since kind of depends on that age and developmental level and where they're at. So, let's think about our families who are raising a child of color. What are some things that they should consider as well?

So, for children of color we want to keep in mind that they're witnessing these things happen in a lot of cases to people that look like them so they may have increased anxiety and worry. They may have a lot of fears that their life will be shortened, or that they may be victims of similar violence and they may start to feel more threatened and more suspicious in their everyday life. We also want you to keep in mind that things like aggression and sadness, difficulties with attention or even sleep problems can be a sign that they're being impacted by their trauma and witnessing racial violence.

This is surely important things to keep an eye out for and to just to be aware of that these can pop up. So, what should a caregiver do if their child has been exposed to race related violent events in the media. I think this is something that they know that has happened, what are some steps that they can take?

So, I would for the younger children particularly try to limit their exposure to further media or racial violence as much as you can. Just because we know that anxiety can increase with repeated viewing. Also, it's really important to monitor their feelings and encourage them to express their feelings and Thoughts with you. That can help them to get anything off of their mind that might disturbing them from the videos. Books are a great way to introduce conversations but also help the child to relate. There's a book called, “Something Happened in Our Town”, which is about racial injustices. So that's a good one for parents especially in this situation to share with their child.

This is a great resources for our little kids and you mentioned earlier teens tend to respond differently just giving their developmental level so what are some things that caregivers can do to support or respond to their teens who might have been exposed to violence in the media?

Yeah, so it’s important to talk to them about what they’ve seen. Spend time maybe watching things with them so you guys can have discussions and clear up any misunderstandings or confusion that they might have about what's going on because you can probably provide more historical context to what they're saying. Especially for children of color, we want to make sure that we're checking in overtime and throughout so what if they're still okay one week and then the next week it might have been it might be too much for them. And so, we want to make sure that we're continually checking in about what they seen. What their peers are talking about online just to make sure they're able to express what they're feeling if they need to.

That’s a great point about checking into clearly up miscommunications or misunderstandings and confusion because teens really do rely on social media to get a lot of their news. Whether it's they’re reading it from reputable sources or they're seeing that things that people are posting and there can be a lot of confusion and maybe some just like even mixed messages too. And all of that depending on if it's a reputable Source or not so I think it's a really good opportunity for caregivers and say like what you said you know provide some more historical content and its some more data behind it. I'm just more other trusted resources that they might be able to look to as well.


So, if a caregiver starts to notice that their child or teen is becoming more anxious or worrying more or even might even seem more depressed after witnessing these events in the media. What should they do? What are some things that they should do to support a child?

Especially for younger kids remind them that they're in a physically safe space. Try to the extent possible maintain predictability and routines. We realize that that's hard for some families, but you know just keeping things on routines is always something that helps to comfort kids. Showing them examples of helpers in their community. People that are helping clean up or helping to give back is something that shows that there's not just the violence but that there's also people to help you and community support. If you have noticed that they're particularly stressed or anxious teaching and practicing relaxation techniques is helpful for kid. So, things like the deep breathing would be nice. On Our Sleeves has some videos that talk a little bit more about this that parents can access. We also want to encourage you know families if they feel like they're trying to and not coping day to day with these difficulties to reach out to professional counselor or therapist that can help you work out and give the child more coping skills for what they've been witnessed. I also think it's important that we as parents take care of ourselves and make sure that we take care of our own feelings and stress surrounding these events because that will equip us better to be able to manage the emotions of our kids.

Definitely! Caregivers are going through this themselves as well and I think it's really important that to point that out. I love that I just hear your own self care is also as much of a priority as your child. So great point to make to continue to take out time for yourself as well. This is all such valuable information for our families. Thank you so much for joining us today. I really truly appreciate it.

You're welcome, thank you.

So, you guys at home for more information on this topic check out the blog post below some additional just tips and resources for you. That is all we have for you today as always don't forget to like us and subscribe and we will see you next time.