Crisis events such as natural disasters, violent acts, and serious accidents are frightening to children and adults. It is important for parents, teachers, and other caretakers of children to know how a crisis can affect children and how to help them deal with the trauma. Children who experience an initial traumatic event before they are eleven years old are three times more likely to develop psychological symptoms than those who experience their first trauma as a teenager or later. Children’s ability to deal with a traumatic event is primarily dependent on the reaction of the parent or those who are in a caretaking role.
As adults, we need to acknowledge our concerns to children in appropriate ways, but
balance this with clear explanations of the ways we together can cope with the situation successfully. It is not helpful to falsely minimize the danger, or fail to sufficiently answer a child’s questions regarding what happened. It is important to invite them to process what they are hearing, seeing, and feeling by listening supportively without judging or correcting their feelings.
They may need to tell their story repeatedly. Writing, drawing, and play are effective mediums for children to process trauma. Allow them many ways to tell their story. Just as for adults, children often need to process the event numerous times before they can move beyond it effectively.
If after a few days the child’s symptoms continue to substantially interfere with his daily functioning to the point the child is not eating, sleeping, or able to perform typical daily tasks, professional consultation is warranted. This does not mean the behaviors, fears, or anxieties have to be gone, but you can see continued gradual improvement. Four to six weeks after the event there should be definite signs of improvement in the child’s ability to deal with fears or anxieties related to the trauma.
The longer negative behavior continues without any improvement, the more difficult it will be to resolve. Getting help in a timely manner prevents more severe problems from developing. Seek help from personnel who have specialized training in treating children’s trauma, from medical staff, or professional counselors.
Some responses to help children deal with a crisis:
Courtesy of Motivated magazine. Used with permission.