During times of crisis and tragedy, it is important to remember to take care of yourself and those close to you. The most immediate concern for most people right now is for safety. The following guidelines may be helpful:
Try to keep routine as much as possible.
Take care not to isolate. Talk openly about your feelings.
Restrict the amount of media coverage that you watch, listen to and/or read. We
know that the more television coverage of a traumatic event(s) you watch, the
greater the likelihood that you may experience significant distress and trauma.
Discuss the event with children in age-appropriate ways.
Do not allow children to watch television coverage of the event.
Do not listen to news reports in front of children.
Minimize the amount of details children read in the newspaper.
For example, to a three year old you might say “Yes, a bad thing happened far
away. But you are okay here and now”. For older children, you should reassure
them that they and your family are safe. Try to answer their questions or address
their concerns with concrete information.
Be prepared to spend more time with your children at bedtime. They may need
more reassurance at this time.
Know that everyone reacts differently to crisis and trauma and expect/accept
those differences … this is normal.
Keep an eye on your family, friends and co-workers for stress reactions. If you
are concerned about how you or someone you know is reacting, call for help.
Although children have many of the same reactions as adults do to trauma, they have different ways of expressing their reactions and need some special help to cope. The following are some suggestions for dealing with the child in crisis:
- Encourage children and teens to talk about their concerns and to express their feelings. Some children may be hesitant to initiate such conversation, so you may want to ask what your child has heard and how they feel about it.
- Explain the facts that you know about the event. Use simple, direct terms to describe what happened. Give factual information. You may have to explain more than once.
- Encourage children to talk about confusing feelings, worries, daydreams, and disruptions of concentration by accepting the feelings, listening carefully, and reminding them that these are normal reactions (any of these feelings are okay) following a very scary event.
- Reinforce safety and security. Let children know that tragic incidents are not common and that, day-to-day, schools are safe places. Your child needs a lot of reassurance that you will take care of him.
- Maintain family routines and activities. Help children get enough sleep and maintain a balanced diet.
- You may need to be flexible with bedtime routines. A child may need for you to stay with him while he falls asleep, he may want a night light, or to sleep with a sibling or with you.
- If your child is fearful of going to school, if counselors know when your child is in crisis, they can frequently help.
- Spend extra time with your children and your family. Hugs help!
CHILDREN’S REACTIONS TO TRAUMA
Children’s responses to trauma vary according to the age of the child. Generally, children respond by reverting to behavior typical of an earlier developmental stage. These responses are considered NORMAL if they are of brief (less than three weeks) duration:
- Increased somatic complaints (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, aches and pains)
- Changes in sleep, nightmares
- Changes in appetite, weight loss
- Marked changes in school performance; absenteeism
- Lack of interest in usual activities (e.g., after-school activities, time with friends)
- Poor concentration, sleepiness, inattentiveness
- Increase in hyperactivity
- Irritability with friends, teachers, events
- Anger outbursts and/or aggression
- Reckless or risk-taking behavior
- Neglects about dress and appearance or health
- Persistent sadness or depression
Bedwetting Fear of being left alone
Excessive clinging Thumb-sucking
Fear of darkness Inattentiveness
Nightmares Awakening during night
Crying Inability to sleep without a light or
with someone else
Change in sleep patterns Unwilling to fall asleep
Need for night light Fear of sleeping alone
Fear of darkness Irritability
Disobedience Loss of concentration
Fighting Refusal to go to school
Running away Suicidal thoughts
School problems Inattentiveness
Confusion Use of drugs
Relationship difficulties Use of alcohol