Helping Children and Youth Cope with Trauma

November 16, 2018

Resources for parents and teachers to help children cope in the wake of tragedy. | Published: 2013, Updated: 2019

Whenever a traumatic event or anniversary of a disaster or crisis event occurs,  parents and teachers must both comfort children and explain the realities to them in language that is age- and developmentally-appropriate, with an eye to helping them cope with long-lasting trauma.

Even with the healing passage of time, children can have trouble handling the emotions of fear, anger and grief left in the wake of difficult events. The resources below were originally collected in the aftermath of the Columbine school shooting, then updated after September 11, 2001, and further updated in 2012 and 2013 after Hurricane Sandy, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the Boston Marathon bombing. They are designed to help you start the important conversations, and find resources to address the complex aftermath of trauma.

We hope these resources will help your entire family or your communities cope.

See Also: For preparation and coping resources for other trauma such as natural disasters, see this comprehensive resource list from the UCLA Center of Mental Health in Schools  and More Help with Healing.

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Helping Kids Cope With Trauma


Little Listeners: Helping Young Children Cope after Exposure to a Traumatic Event
A resource is designed to help parents navigate this very challenging time for young children ages zero to three.

Talking to Kids about Terrorism or Acts of War
Kids ask lots of tough questions, but questions about acts of terrorism or war are some of the hardest to answer. This guide from The National Center for Children Exposed to Violence (NCCEV) at the NYU Child Study Center helps answer some common questions and concerns parents and professionals have about talking to children about terrorism and war.

Supporting Our Children
All of us who care for children work hard to help them make sense of their world. Now, as adults and kids struggle to come to terms with the seemingly senseless attacks in New York and Washington, D.C., we need to find other ways to help them feel safe. SparkAction contributing editor Jan Richter and  Susan Phillips share some thoughts.

Children, Terrorism and Disasters
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers this site for "Disaster Preparedness to Meet Children's Needs." Here you'll find information on biological and chemical agents, disaster planning, facts, links and readiness kits.

Helping Children After a Disaster
This article from the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has suggestions for post-disaster response to children following catastrophes such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, fires and violent acts.

Parenting in the Wake of Terrorism
The Purdue University Extension, Purple Wagon, offers advice to help families as we continue to cope with the aftermath of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Helping Kids Cope in an Uncertain World
This article explores research presented in the wake of 9/11 and other tragedies that point to ways to help heal and build resilience among children who have experienced trauma.

Will They Fly A Plane Into Our House?
This free downloadable book (in PDF format) was published in response to the 9-11 terrorist attacks to help children deal with their fears and anxiety. The book, for parents and adults who work with children ages 5-12, includes a answers to kids' questions and activities for kids.

Helping Kids With Special Needs
Children with a learning disability or ADHD may feel especially vulnerable in the wake of this tragedy. LDOnline has guidelines for age-appropriate help.

Coping During Deployment or When a Crisis Occurs
In response to the tragic events on September 11, 2001, Zero to Three has ideas in addressing death, terrorism, and deployment with toddlers.

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Loss and Grief

Children and Grief
When a family member dies, children react differently from adults. Adding to a child's shock and confusion at the death of a brother, sister or parent is the unavailability of other family members, who may be so shaken by grief that they are not able to cope with the normal responsibility of child care.

VIDEO: Helping Kids Deal with Scary News
Words of advice from Mr. Rogers: help children feel secure, limit TV and listen.

How Are We Now?
This booklet from Mercy Corps helps adults understand how children often react to trauma, grief and anniversaries, and how they can support the children in their care in the ongoing work of healing.

Helping Children Cope with Loss, Death, and Grief: Tips for Teachers and Parents
The National Association of School Psychologists has provided parents and teachers with a variety of resources, including how to identify anxious children and how to talk to them, links and articles available in English, Spanish, Urdu, Korean, Arabic, Farsi, Vietnamese and Turkish.

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Guidance for Adults

Remembering 9/11: Guides for Teachers and Parents
The NYU Child Study center provides parents, teachers, and other caretakers with important information and guidelines regarding dealing with the anniversary of 9/11.

Preparing to Handle Disaster
The American Academy of Pediatrics Family Readiness Kit offers concrete advice for what families can do in advance to prepare for the disruptions and possible dangers presented by a tornado, hurricane, or terrorist attack.  Also available in Spanish.

Crisis Communication Guide
The National Education Association has posted resources and tools from its guide, which addresses parent and community concerns, as well as those of teachers in the classroom.

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Anti-Discrimination Resources

Teaching Tolerance is a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a national non-profit civil rights organization that promotes tolerance and diversity and combats hate and discrimination through education, investigation and litigation. This online resource is designed for easy access to news and engaging exercises that promote personal soul-searching.

When Hurt Leads to Hate
As adults we need to be aware of and stand up to physical and emotional hate and empower our children to do the same. This article has ideas for how parents can help children deal with this crisis without becoming prejudiced, stereotyping specific groups, or retaliating with acts of bias.

Responding to Incidents of Discrimination in Schools
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination committee offers resources for anti-discriminatory curriculum and how to deal with discrimination in schools.

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Lesson Plans for Teachers

School-Wide Curriculum on Peace and Tolerance
The District of Columbia Public Schools has a comprehensive online resource for teachers on teaching peace, tolerance, service, and remembrance.

Dealing with Crises and Teaching About Traumatic Events
Educators for Social Responsibility provides publications focused on developmentally appropriate ways of discussing global issues with students.  Here they have assembled guides for helping children express themselves, deal with trauma, and build community (PDF).

National Council for the Social Studies
The National Council for the Social Studies provides articles and resources designed to create a forum for issues regarding the teaching of social studies relating to September 11.

PBS Plans
PBS has a variety of lesson plans: "A World at Peace" for elementary grades, and "Tolerance" and "Emergency Preparedness" for older students.

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