How to help children with trauma or tragedy.
11 years ago, the attacks of 9/11 occurred in the United States. Immediately, families were left to face the tragedy and deal with the trauma of what had just happened. Now, children of parents who passed away in that unthinkable event, are growing up and continue to grabble with this catastrophic event.
Everyday, there is tragedy and trauma in a child’s life. Whether it is something detailed and well-documented as 9/11 or the fear of danger in schools, abuse in the home, natural disasters or making decisions on behalf of a family at a young age, children all over are walking through difficult life events. We have seen the effects of all of these things in our community, so we wanted to share resources that are available to help children cope with trauma and tragedy.
First of all, it is important to recognize the common signs of dealing with the stress related to the situation.
· Disbelief and shock
· Fear and anxiety about the future
· Disorientation; difficulty making decisions or concentrating
· Apathy and emotional numbing
· Nightmares and reoccurring thoughts about the event
· Irritability and anger
· Sadness and depression
· Feeling powerless
· Changes in eating patterns; loss of appetite or overeating
· Crying for “no apparent reason”
· Headaches, back pains and stomach problems
· Difficulty sleeping or falling asleep
· Increased use of alcohol and drugs
Each child responds differently to tragedy, depending on his or her understanding and maturity. Whatever the child’s age or relationship to the damage caused by tragedy, it’s important that you be open about the consequences for your family, and that you encourage him or her to talk about it. As children age, their needs will be different but for the most part, children need comforting and frequent reassurance that they’re safe to make sure they get it. Both encouraging children to express their feelings through talking, drawing or playing and maintain routines as much as possible are helpful. Younger children may be reluctant to go to school or complain of body pains and headaches but this is out of fear, not out of bad-behavior.
A few tips from Mental Health America were very relevant for children of most any age:
· False reassurance does not help this age group. Don’t say tragedies will never affect your family again; children will know this isn’t true. Instead, say “You’re safe now and I’ll always try to protect you,-- or--Adults are working very hard to make things safe.” Remind children that tragedies are very rare.
· Children’s fears often get worse around bedtime, so you might want to stick around until the child falls asleep in order to make him or her feel protected.
· Monitor children’s media viewing. Images of the tragedy and the damage are extremely frightening to children, so consider limiting the amount of media coverage they see. A good way to do this without calling attention to your own concern is to regularly schedule an activity--story reading, drawing, movies, or letter writing, for example--during news shows.
· Don’t be afraid to say "I don’t know." When such an occasion arises, explain to your child that tragedies are extremely rare, and they cause feelings that even adults have trouble dealing with. Temper this by explaining that, even so, adults will always work very hard to keep children safe and secure.
One of the most relevant services offered by our funded partner agencies is counseling. If and when children want to participate in counseling as well as their coping, all five agencies offer counseling, for individuals, in groups, for families, and more. NAMI and OneEighty offer family support groups and resiliency support groups. Catholic Charities offers a mentoring program to pair children with a volunteer who can help them deal with various life challenges and they also offer a Resilient Family Project that works with parents on positive parenting techniques, something that could be incredibly beneficial after such a difficult disaster.
For more information on any of these resources, visit https://www.whmhrb.org/find-help-funded-partner-agencies today!