Friday, September 11, 2015

Trauma: How to Help Children Cope

 The morning of September 11th, I was getting ready for school when my Mom received a call from my aunt in New York telling her to turn on the news. We started watching just as the second plane hit. I remember seeing panicked people running down the street and news reporters describing the horrible events. As a seven year old, I didn’t understand everything I was seeing. Afterwards I thought that planes were hijacked on a regular basis, which gave me great anxiety each time my dad left for business or when we took a family vacation. I also thought that all big cities were attacked by terrorists, which made our trip to Chicago months later, terrifying. Luckily, I had parents who noticed I was anxious and who were able to listen to my fears and help me better understand the events of 9/11.

News and media today are often full of traumatic and violent events. While, as adults, we understand that there is still good in the world and the motives behind some of these events, often children lack understanding. They can have a wide range of responses which vary from developing anxiety, having nightmares, seeming to be disinterested in what’s going on, or can even develop eating disorders. Many children will be increasingly afraid about their own personal safety. The more directly a child experienced the trauma (i.e. having a distant relative vs. a close friend die), the longer-term reactions kids can have. That being said, be understanding of children struggling with these things, but don’t ignore it if serious issues arise, such as behavior problems or other concerning trends.
Everyday hassles can take a toll on children as well. Whether it be that the family is in poverty, experiencing a stressful home life, or other stressors, these can have a great negative effect on children.

Jamie Howard, PhD tells us that whether it be a major traumatic event, or an everyday stressor, children have a difficult time knowing how to cope and that it can become difficult for them to manage their responsibilities as children. These include learning and going to school, making and keeping friends, and discovering what they enjoy.

It’s important to remember to consider each child’s personality, age, and circumstances as you help them through a difficult event.

Tips for discussing the event with your child
  • Be the one to explain the event to your child when possible, so that they don’t overhear it from media or other children. Explain the event as brief and accurately as possible, without including graphic details or giving more information than your child needs or asks for.
  • Be honest and tell them the truth about what happened.
  • Encourage them to express their feelings and fears - Some will be afraid for their own safety even if the tragic event didn’t happen in their own state.
  • Let them know that you’ll do everything you can to keep them and your loved ones safe.
  • Don’t project your own fears onto your children.

Tips for helping them cope with a stressor
  • Keep a normal routine.
  • Allow children to use pretend play to cope.
  • Correct inaccurate conclusions that they have made base of the traumatic event.
  • Limit media exposure.
  • Help your child come up with a “coping toolkit” of activities and strategies they can use when they become anxious.

For more tips and information about this and other topics, contact Help Me Grow Utah at 801-691-5322.

- Help Me Grow Team

Sources: Talking with Children about the News, The Dougy Center, Help Your Child Manage Traumatic Events

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