Supporting children and young people with distressing events

We understand that our education communities may be affected by the tragedy in New Zealand on Friday March 15, and our thoughts go out to everyone in Christchurch at this time. 

Some members of our communities will have watched the footage and may be impacted by the images. Others may need reassurance and to be supported to feel safe. 

For resources that can help support children and young people, see: 

Tips for supporting children and young people

Common reactions

It is common to think about safety and predictability of the world when tragedies such as the Christchurch incident occur.

Reactions are influenced by many factors:

  • Knowing someone impacted.
  • Identifying with the victims and survivors.
  • Seeing and hearing terrifying images and discussions. 

The developmental age of the person influences what they understand and how they respond. Some may be unaware, others will be following all the discussions and media coverage, looking for understanding.

What to say and how to care

Here are some ways you can make children and young people feel safe:

  • Give reassurance that the incident is over.
  • Keep to routines, as they are reassuring.
  • Have time to listen and talk. Listen to concerns and worries and discuss strategies for feeling safe, dealing with worry and being able to take action. This helps in repairing safety and calm.
  • Give a calm response to their concerns.
  • Keep your explanations appropriate for their age and development. Start at their starting point: ask what the child/young person understands about what has happened and what their key worry is. Each child will have a different understanding and will find different parts of what has happened frightening or worrying. Very young children need simple, factual information balanced with assurances of safety. Older children will be appraising their own, and loved ones, safety. They may need help with separating reality form fantasy, and to dispel rumours.
  • Reduce exposure to media coverage and conversations that are distressing and not age-appropriate.
  • Monitor their emotional state. Changes in behaviour, appetite and sleep can be an indicator of anxiety or worry. Young children often express worry through bodily aches and pains.