Dealing with children about trauma

Good advice in two articles from our local community mental health agency and my former entity, Riverside Community Care, as circulated this morning by Blake Middle School -

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Riverside Trauma Center 255 Highland Avenue, Needham, MA 02494 (Tel) 781-433-0672
24 hour trauma response line: 888-851-2451 (this is not a suicide prevention hotline)
http://www.riversidetraumacenter.org
Rev: 3/11
Riverside Trauma Center

CHILDREN AND TRAUMA

Children respond to traumatic violence in a variety of ways; however there are several typical responses. These responses vary, depending on numerous factors, some of which are: the child‟s age, whether the child knew the individuals involved, and how „graphic‟ the violence was.  Some common responses to trauma include:
 Concerns about fearing that the person (people) suffered
 Repeatedly visualizing the crime/incident in their minds
 Constant attempts to tell and retell the story of the crime/incident
 Need to reenact the crime/incident through play
 A desire to seek revenge (for those who knew the victim(s))
 Feelings of guilt for not having intervened or prevented the crime

For some children, particularly those who knew the victim(s), signals of grief after a violent crime/incident include:
 Fear of death
 Fear of being left alone or sleeping alone
 A need to be with people who have been through the same experience
 Difficulty concentrating
 Drop in grades (during the school year)
 Physical complaints (headaches/stomachaches)
 Bed-wetting
 Nightmares
 Fear of sleep
 Clingy behavior (wanting to be with and around parents more often)

What you can do to help children who have witnessed violence:
 Allow your child to talk about what he/she experienced or heard about
 Know that younger children may prefer to “draw” about their experiences
 Ask them what they saw and heard and what they think about the experience. Help them to label feelings, and normalize their reactions (“that must have been pretty scary. It wouldn‟t surprise me if you keep thinking about it.”)
 Spend some extra time with your child: have dinner together, make sure to keep bedtime routines.
 Remind your child of things he/she likes to do to help feel better when upset (playing, reading, etc.).
 Keep routines as much the same as possible in the aftermath of an unpleasant event. Children count on routines and structure.

If you have concerns that your child may be having serious responses to trauma, you should speak to a counselor.

RIVERSIDE TRAUMA CENTER
http://www.riversidetraumacenter.org
24 hour Critical Incident Line: 888-851-2451

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RIVERSIDE TRAUMA CENTER

Talking with your Children About Traumatic Events

Here are some tips for talking with your children when they have witnessed or heard about traumatic events:

Listen to your children: Ask what have they heard about the traumatic event. What do they think happened? Let them tell you in their own words and answer their questions. Don’t assume you know what they are feeling or what their questions will be. The easiest way to have this conversation might be while they are engaged in an activity: drawing, sitting on a swing, or driving with you in the car. Details that may be obvious to adults may not be to children. For example a child may see a school shooting on television and assume it happened in his or her neighborhood not hundreds of miles away. Be truthful but don’t tell them more information than they can handle for their age.

Focus on their safety: Once you understand their perception of the traumatic event, be clear that you will keep them safe and let them know adults (school, police, etc.) are working hard to make sure they will stay safe. School age children may be assured to know the shooter or persons responsible for this tragedy are dead or have been arrested and do not present a danger to your child or his or her school.

Pay attention to your reactions: Your children will be watching you carefully and taking their cues from you. If you can manage your anxiety about the traumatic event your children will be more easily reassured.

Monitor your child’s access to media: It will help if young children do not watch news reports or see the front page of the newspaper. Young children who watch a traumatic event on the TV news may think the event is still ongoing or happening again.

Watch for behavior changes: Your children may show you through their behavior they are still struggling with what they have heard or seen. They may have physical complaints or regressive behaviors often including nightmares, insomnia or bed wetting. They may feel guilty that they are responsible for the event, and need to be reassured that they are not responsible.

Maintain your routines: Sticking to your daily structure of activities: mealtimes, bedtime rituals, etc. reduces anxiety and helps children feel more in control.

Keep the door open: Encourage your children to come to you with any questions or concerns and do not assume the questions will stop after a few days or even a few weeks. Let them know their fears and questions are normal and you will always make time for them.  Remind them all questions are welcome.

Consider this a teachable moment: For older children this traumatic event may lead to a discussion about ways they can help others who have experienced a tragedy. You can also ask them if they know how to keep themselves safe when they are away from home. Traumatic events make us feel like we have lost control so any constructive activities we engage in make us feel less vulnerable.

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