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  • Traumatic Events and Children- How to Cope
    09/12/2001 

    A doctor friend sent this to me and I want to share it with you....He says
    it ok to pass it on.....

    Dear Friends,

    Yesterday I was sitting with my young daughter Hannah-Rose watching CNN. At
    first she was fine, but when she saw the wounded people and my shock
    reaction, she began to react herself. After a while she asked me to switch
    it off. At 4.00am this morning I awoke with a desire to do something so
    produced this document from an excellent NIMH website, and have adapted it
    for children who are experiencing the tragedy through the media. I have
    first hand experience gained during the South African crisis of helping to
    design programs to assist children in post trauma situations.

    My prayer is that it will be of some help to you and those you love who have
    been affected by this horrific tragedy. Please feel free to send it to
    anyone who could benefit from these guidelines.

    Dr. John Radford

    HELPING OUR CHILDREN DEAL WITH TRAUMATIC EVENTS
    John Radford Ph.D. (Psychology)

    Here are some guidelines to help our children deal with the possible trauma
    associated with the tragic events this week. This summary is focused on
    children who have observed the media coverage of this horrific event and
    simultaneously experienced the shock and disbelief expressed by their
    parents. The guidelines are taken with some editing and adaptation form the
    National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) which has excellent information
    and further resources on this subject. Note: If a child has experienced the
    loss of a relative or friend it is essential to review the full text of the
    fact sheet, which can be found at:
    http://www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/violence.cfm

    PSYCHOLOGICAL TRAUMA-WHAT IS IT?
    Psychological trauma, or emotional harm, is essentially a normal response to
    an extreme event. It involves the creation of emotional memories about the
    distressful event that are stored in structures deep within the brain. In
    general, it is believed that the more direct the exposure to the traumatic
    event, the higher the risk for emotional harm. But even second-hand exposure
    to violence can be traumatic. For this reason, all children and adolescents
    exposed to violence or a disaster, even if only through graphic media
    reports, should be watched for signs of emotional distress.

    Children take their cues as to how to respond and what is an "acceptable"
    response from significant adults (parents and teachers) and their peers.
    What will most likely differentiate children's experience of this event from
    everyday news is the extent of the shock expressed by their parents. This
    combined with the vivid nature of the media coverage has the potential of
    making this event very real and immediate for our children.

    HOW CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS REACT TO TRAUMA

    Reactions to trauma may appear immediately after the traumatic event or days
    and even weeks later. Loss of trust in adults and fear of the event
    occurring to them are responses seen in many children and adolescents who
    have been exposed to traumatic events. Reactions vary according to age.
    Some youngsters are more vulnerable to trauma than others, for reasons
    scientists don't fully understand. It has been shown that the impact of a
    traumatic event is likely to be greatest in the child or adolescent who
    previously has been the victim of some other form of trauma, or is
    experiencing stress, or a change in normal routine.

    HELPING THE CHILD OR ADOLESCENT AFTER EXPOSURE TO A TRAUMATIC EVENT

    After violence or a disaster occurs, the family is the first-line resource
    for helping. Among the things that parents and teachers can do are:

    Explain the episode of violence or disaster as well as you are able.
    Encourage the children to express their feelings and listen without
    passing judgment. Help younger children learn to use words that express
    their feelings. However, do not force discussion of the traumatic event.
    Let children and adolescents know that it is normal to feel upset after
    something bad happens.
    Allow time for the youngsters to experience and talk about their feelings.
    However, return to routine can be reassuring to the child.
    If your children are fearful, reassure them that you love them and will
    take care of them. Stay together as a family as much as possible.
    If behavior at bedtime is a problem, give the child extra time and
    reassurance. Let him or her sleep with a light on or in your room for a
    limited time if necessary.
    Reassure children and adolescents that the traumatic event was not their
    fault.
    Do not criticize regressive behavior or shame the child with words like
    "babyish."
    Allow children to cry or be sad. Don't expect them to be brave or tough.

    When violence or disaster affects a whole school or community, teachers and
    school administrators can play a major role in the healing process. Some of
    the things educators can do are:

    If possible, give yourself a bit of time to come to terms with the event
    before you attempt to reassure the children.
    Give the children or adolescents time to talk over the traumatic event and
    express their feelings about it.
    Respect the preferences of children who do not want to participate in
    class discussions about the traumatic event. Do not force discussion or
    repeatedly bring up the catastrophic event; doing so may re-traumatize
    children.
    Offer art and play therapy for young children in school. What this means
    is give the children opportunity to express their feelings about the
    traumatic event through art, writing, etc.
    Be sensitive to cultural differences among the children. In some cultures,
    for example, it is not acceptable to express negative emotions. Also, the
    child who is reluctant to make eye contact with a teacher may not be
    depressed, but may simply be exhibiting behavior appropriate to his or her
    culture.
    Encourage children and adolescents to feel in control. Let them make some
    decisions about how they might help the children and families affected by
    the tragedy. Examples could be prayer, collecting money, writing letters,
    etc.
    Take care of yourself so you can take care of the children. Talk to
    colleagues about the disaster and your feelings.
     

 

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