Watching media reports about the deadly suicide bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, may have left some Canadian children and teens feeling anxious – especially about attending a similar event in the future – but psychologists say parents can take steps to mitigate their fears.
Feeling anxious or fearful are normal and even healthy reactions to such a traumatic event, said Dr. Phil Ritchie, a clinical psychologist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario.
“This was a concert where it really appealed to teens and even some children, and they’re included among the victims,” Ritchie said Tuesday from Ottawa.
“So that’s going to be upsetting for kids even here in Canada watching it.”
The attack occurred Monday night following Grande’s performance at the Manchester Arena as concertgoers, many of them young children and teens, were leaving the venue. At least 22 people were killed – including an eight-year-old girl – and close to 60 were wounded.
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Dr. Katy Kamkar, a clinical psychologist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, said children and adolescents may respond to the bombing with anxiety but also with feelings of helplessness and fear for their safety, which can manifest as distressing and intrusive thoughts, nightmares and changes in behaviour.
“It could be trying to self-isolate for safety, having difficulty focusing, difficulty engaging in routines. It could be crying. These are all very normal reactions,” said Kamkar.
“But it’s important to get the support that we need to normalize the symptoms and fear and gradually, hopefully, it gets easier and better.”
Parental and family support that allows kids and teens to feel safe, protected and connected is especially important – including talking to children about their fears, she said.
“Sometimes children want to know what happened. They’re trying to make sense out of it,” said Kamkar. “Opening a dialogue … having that openness really helps to strengthen that connection. It helps to reduce the fear.”
Ritchie agreed, saying parents should make sure they spend extra time with their child or teen, especially if they are exhibiting anxiety about the event or experiencing problems with sleeping or appetite, becoming withdrawn or changing their normal activities.
“I think this will get worse if parents feel a need to avoid discussing it or if they react with a kind of knee-jerk ‘Well, that’s it, you’re never going to a concert again in your life’ kind of thing,” he said.
“I think that we need to be more measured in our response.
“We want to deal with facts more than just that fury or knee-jerk response that can happen.”
Dealing in facts could include looking at what increased security measures are being put in place for future concerts both in Canada and around the world, Ritchie said, to prevent “another Manchester” and so people who attend can feel safe.
“If there’s a concert here in Ottawa or in Toronto, what measures are there going to be in place? Because people will be talking about this, and see if there are additional things you can do as a parent to reassure them or help them feel safer.”
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Kamkar said that if parents witness their child or adolescent continuing to be anxious or having persistent problems with disturbed sleep, being less talkative or remaining withdrawn from their usual activities, it’s time to consider getting professional advice.
“Obviously, if over time the symptoms increase to the point that it interferes with their functioning – so let’s say their daily routine, their school functioning, their social functioning – then it’s very important to seek help.”