Strate­gies to help your child after wit­ness­ing a trauma

Great Health Guide - - CONTENTS - Dr Ash Nay­ate

WE are more in­formed now than ever about events hap­pen­ing lo­cally and worldwide. This in­cludes trau­matic and tragic events like nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, ac­ci­dents and ter­ror­ist at­tacks. It’s fright­en­ing and anger-in­duc­ing. It can be dif­fi­cult to cope, even for adults - and it can be just as tough for chil­dren. When chil­dren learn about world events, they’re do­ing so with a brain that is still de­vel­op­ing. Chil­dren of­ten piece to­gether snip­pets of in­for­ma­tion and form their own con­clu­sion. From there, they make in­ter­pre­ta­tions about the world, oth­ers and them­selves. This can be very dif­fer­ent to what we in­ter­pret. Younger chil­dren may not have the lan­guage skills to fully un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing, but they pick up on the emo­tions of those around them.

HERE’S A FEW TIPS FOR HELPING KIDS COPE WITH TRAU­MATIC EVENTS: 1. Keep the graphic images to a min­i­mum.

Images can be trau­matic and they get stuck in our minds where they are re­played over and over. News out­lets of­ten re­cy­cle footage and from the child’s per­spec­tive it can seem as though the trau­matic event

is hap­pen­ing again. If the adults in the home wish to read ar­ti­cles with images or watch the news, it’s best to do so when chil­dren aren’t around.

2. Main­tain your usual rou­tine as much as pos­si­ble.

Our daily rou­tines pro­vide com­fort and sta­bil­ity, which is much needed in times of in­tense stress and trauma. Of course, some things may change e.g. vis­it­ing in­jured friends in hospi­tal or sup­port­ing their fam­i­lies. Where pos­si­ble, when helping kids cope with trau­matic events, main­tain the ev­ery­day fa­mil­iar ac­tiv­i­ties like go­ing to cricket prac­tice or read­ing a book be­fore bed­time.

3. Re­mem­ber self-care.

It is very com­mon for sleep to be­come dis­rupted and ap­petites to go down. Where pos­si­ble, try to help ev­ery­one keep eat­ing a healthy diet, drink­ing wa­ter, do­ing some form of move­ment for stress man­age­ment (even if it’s go­ing for a short stroll) and get­ting to bed at the usual time.

4. Be cu­ri­ous. Al­low your kids to come to you with ques­tions.

This will give in­sight into how kids are cop­ing with trau­matic events and what they make of ev­ery­thing that’s hap­pen­ing. While chil­dren of­ten show tremen­dous em­pa­thy and kind­ness to­wards oth­ers in need, they don’t nec­es­sar­ily have the ca­pac­ity for self-reg­u­la­tion and ra­tio­nal think­ing. Un­der­stand­ably, chil­dren can de­velop fears about get­ting hurt or losing loved ones and they’re not al­ways able to work through these fears them­selves.

5. Be hon­est, but not too hon­est.

Our re­la­tion­ship with our kids is one of con­fi­dent lead­er­ship. Our chil­dren don’t need to hear our deep­est and dark­est wor­ries, nor do they need to hear our venge­ful rants about cer­tain sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion (that’s what part­ners and best friends are for). What you can be hon­est about, are the feel­ings that you’re ex­pe­ri­enc­ing, like worry, anger and be­ing help­ful? What are the healthy ways you cope with them?

6. It’s OK to not have the an­swers.

Why do bad things hap­pen? Why do peo­ple do bad things? Why do in­no­cent peo­ple get hurt? These are good ques­tions your kids may ask. Take this time to share your philo­soph­i­cal be­liefs and the thoughts that you find com­fort­ing dur­ing times of stress. Your shared feel­ings will help kids cope with trau­matic events.

7. Fo­cus on the helpers.

In the words of Fred Rogers: ‘When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will al­ways find peo­ple who are helping”. In times of cri­sis, we can find peo­ple who do kind, noble and heroic acts for oth­ers. Fo­cus­ing on the helpers can pro­vide re­as­sur­ance that peo­ple are good-hearted and will work to­gether to take care of one an­other. Older chil­dren may show in­ter­est in be­ing part of the sup­port team. Helping oth­ers im­proves men­tal well­be­ing and can buf­fer trou­bling emo­tions like fear and anger. For their own safety, en­sure that chil­dren pro­vide sup­port through an or­gan­ised ser­vice, with a level of in­volve­ment that is de­vel­op­men­tally ap­pro­pri­ate for them.

8. After a cri­sis event, there is a psy­cho­log­i­cal ‘re­cov­ery pe­riod’.

This can take a cou­ple of weeks. While helping kids cope with trau­matic events dur­ing the re­cov­ery pe­riod, it is com­mon for chil­dren to have dif­fi­cul­ties sleep­ing, night­mares, to seem fear­ful or ex­tra ‘clingy’ or to ex­hibit be­hav­iours that are more typ­i­cal of a younger child. If your child is show­ing ex­treme lev­els of dis­tress or their dis­tress seems pro­longed, please con­tact your doc­tor.

Dr Ash Nay­ate is a clin­i­cal neu­ropsy­chol­o­gist spe­cial­iz­ing in brain func­tion and re­sult­ing be­hav­iour. Ash has al­most 15 years’ ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing with chil­dren and fam­i­lies, sup­port­ing them to feel hap­pier, more con­fi­dent and re­silient. To con­tact Ash please visit her web­site.

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