Photo: Emma MacDonald, 21, left, is comforted by Rachael Semplice, 22, center, as Juliana Hudson, 23, looks during a vigil for the victims of the Boston Marathon explosions at Boston Common, Tuesday, April 16, 2013. Twin explosions near the marathons finish line Monday killed three people, wounded more than 170 and reawakened fears of terrorism. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez) http://bigstory.ap.org/article/hundreds-gather-vigil-boston-common
How to help children cope with trauma
Everyone from the youngest person to the oldest is affected by traumatic events like the bombings in Boston, MA on Patriot’s Day. In the aftermath of this horrific event, parents may be wondering how to help their children cope with trauma. Incidences such as terrorist attacks can be quite traumatic for children. Children do feel pain, they do understand much of what is happening and they pick up on the fear and pain of the adults and peers around them. Children rely on their world as being a predictable and safe place. When this stability is upset, children get upset that such incidents may reoccur and they can become very afraid and anxious. How parents or guardians react after traumatic events makes a difference in a child’s recovery. In the wake of a traumatic event children will turn to their caregiver to provide the stability that was disrupted by the event. Here are a few tips to parents and caregivers about how to help their children cope with traumatic events.
Tips on helping children cope after a traumatic event:
You do not need to elaborate on all of the details but be direct and do not try to smooth over the situation.
Children’s fear, pain and anxiety are very real. Try to understand how they feel because children may have different ways of expressing their feelings and concerns.
Do not be shocked
Do not be surprised if your child shows no emotions or reactions at all. Some children, particularly preoperational young children do not understand fully the permanence of death. They may not understand the severity of the situation and may think that the consequences are reversible. Some children may understand the concepts but be unable to express their emotions and may seem cold or indifferent to the traumatic event. Children are different and showing no emotions in the wake of a traumatic event is a possible outcome. Children may recreate the traumatic event in their play. Some children may want to talk about the traumatic event in great detail.
Children may physically react to traumatic events. Some children may get stomachaches, headaches, have trouble concentrating, and be easily distractible, confused or disoriented.
Children may fear abandonment. Reassuring your child that you are staying and they will not be left alone can sooth your child’s fears.
Be careful with your children watching television. Some children may be mature enough to watch some of the coverage on the traumatic event. Try having your child view a clip you have already seen on the Internet instead of watching the television to avoid unexpected traumatizing footage.
Time and routine
Children may need extra attention and care for a period of time. Be sensitive to their needs and provide extra attention when needed. At the same time, try to keep your regular routine in place to the best of your ability to create a sense of stability.
Talk to your child
Listen to your child
Answer questions as simply as possible
You may wish to seek professional help from a trained counselor who can provide a safe place for your child to work through issues regarding the traumatic event. Taking your child to see a counselor does not mean that he/she is mentally ill or that you are not a good parent. Many children require the support of a counselor from time to time. Some signs your child may need professional help could be: angry outbursts, problems at school, withdrawal, persisting physical problems, intense anxiety, hopelessness, depression, substance abuse, risk taking behavior, persisting nightmares, persisting worry about the traumatic event that has taken a primary focus in your child’s life.