Even when the event is over, your child may experience some of the following strong emotional or physical reactions. This is very common and quite normal. Remember to compare the following behaviors to the way the child behaved before the tragedy occurred.
Child may withdraw from family and/or friends and become quiet or detached
Child may cling to caregivers or favorite objects
Child may regress to behaviors they found comforting earlier in life, or do the opposite and try to take care of you
Child may show overwhelming fear of new situations or people
Child may deny that a traumatic event has occurred
Child may have nightmares or trouble sleeping
Child may have trouble eating
Child may fear of being alone
Any of the above, as well as
Loss of interest in activities the child previously enjoyed
Loss of interest in school, possibly drop in grades
Violent play or fantasy
Attention seeking behavior or getting into trouble
Noticeable differences in moods
Frequent complaints about physical ailments: stomach aches, nausea, headaches, or bedwetting.
Any of the above, as well as
Self criticism or blaming themselves for the incident
Dangerous behaviors: truancy, drug & alcohol use, unsafe sexual activity, delinquency, running away, suicidal thoughts or attempts, intentional self harm, self-destructive or impulsive behavior. When a teen displays any of these behaviors, s/he needs immediate assistance from caring adults, including those with training in assessing the level of danger.
How to Help Children Cope With A Traumatic Experience
Take care of yourself so you can take care of your child. Make sure you are eating properly, getting enough sleep and talking to your friends and family about how you are feeling.
Children are smart! Make sure you are honest with them and tell them the facts appropriate to their age.
Listen to what they have to say and validate the normalcy of their reactions.
Allow them to grieve and mourn.
Reassure them that they are safe now.
Make sure children know where you are if you are going to be away from home.
Support each other as a family and use this as an opportunity to reunite.
If the event is being shown on TV or talked about on the radio, limit repetitive exposure to the event. Young children may believe that the event is happening over and over again.
Children will look to you to gauge how they should be acting. Try to present a calm and safe demeanor . Don't make them interpret your actions and emotions.
Try to get back to as regular a schedule as possible as quickly as you can. This sense of normalcy will comfort your child.
No one knows your child better than you, and no one can tell you exactly how to talk with your child. The guidelines above are just that-guidelines.
When To Contact A Professional
All of the reactions discussed are normal reactions to abnormal events. Generally these reactions should lessen in 2-3 weeks. If these behaviors persist beyond three weeks, please contact a mental health professional for help.
Headquarters Counseling Center can provide immediate support as well as referral information for other counseling centers available to anyone in the community. You can reach Headquarters Counseling Center 24 hours a day/seven days a week. All Headquarters services are free.
Our trained volunteer and paid staff improve the emotional well-being and safety of adults and children through readily available counseling, education, and information services. Headquarters provides services that are free, confidential, and availabe 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.