Helping Your Child to Respond to a Traumatic Incident

Girl with Sunflower

When community tragedies and trauma happen, they can feel downright terrifying for parents and caregivers, especially so close to home. Traumas can have lasting effects for communities, children, and families. They increase our fears, and decrease our feelings of safety. These effects are particularly pronounced if we were present or directly involved with the victims.

However, parents and caregivers can help. We often set the stage for how our children cope. Although it can take time, children can and do recover. Here are some suggestions:

Recognize symptoms of anxiety and fear after such an incident.

Children may report nightmares and difficulties separating from parents. They may be more irritable, tearful, or upset. They may argue more, or withdraw from others. Everyone responds differently. But, if you notice changes in your child’s behavior, it’s important to try to help.

Take time to communicate with your child about the traumatic incident.

Ask her how she is doing, and listen to what she says. Sometimes it helps to draw pictures of things that help her feel safe and loved. Sometimes children will want to draw pictures of the scary event. This is normal and a way for her to work through her feelings. Just be there for her and support her.

Explain to your child that what happened is not their fault.

Children often blame themselves for bad things after they happen. Help them remember that they had nothing to do with the cause of the violent incident.

Assure your child that she is safe.

Explain the steps you take to help her stay safe, and how other adults also help to keep her safe.

Spend time together doing something pleasant on a regular basis.

Take some walks in nature. Notice good things in nature and the world around you.

Make some time to do good things for others.

It can be as simple as small, random acts of kindness. Showing compassion for others is a good way to also help ourselves heal, as well as make our world a better place.

Take good care of yourself.

Your child will look to you for how to cope with stress.  Meditate, find support, exercise, eat well, and surround yourself with good things.  You will need all of these things to cope over the next weeks and month.

Don’t hesitate to seek help from a mental health professional, particularly those who have training in treating anxiety or trauma.

You can ask for a referral from your pediatrician or insurance company, or even check online listings or your phone book for therapists with experience in this area.

This article was also featured in the Guest Opinion Section of the Iowa City Press Citizen.



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