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Helping Kids Cope with Traumatic Events

Tips from A-Z

Photo via flickr, hughrocks, CC

Age appropriate–Provide information that is appropriate for the child's age. Children do not need all the graphic details. Young children do not need long explanations, while older children may benefit from learning about the historical background of the problems.

Be a good listener–Be available to listen to your children. Do not dismiss their concerns, but try to understand them.

Control your responses–Remain calm. Children take their emotional cues from the adults around them.

Delete (inappropriate) television–Repeated viewing of tragic events can traumatize children over and over. Also, children do not need to hear the endless speculation that is part of most news programs.

Express love–Also, express goodness; express faith. Simple acts of kindness reassures children that goodness still exists.

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Focus on the helpers–Emphasizing the role of helpers lets children see that there are many brave and caring people in the world.

Get back to family routines–Routines reassure children that their world is all right. Pay special attention to bedtime routines.

Hugs–Provide physical reassurance.

Intense emotions–Expect intense feelings that may come and go. We can model for children how to handle emotions constructively.

Jokes–Some children, particularly teens, may use humor as a way to cope. Within reason, be accepting of this.

Know your resources–Feel free to consult friends, grandparents, doctors, school counselors as needed.

Love–Tell your children, “I love you.” Tell them often.

Monitor children's play–Children express emotions through play.

Notice what your child needs–Be prepared to give your child extra time and attention during difficult periods.

Observe your children–Depending on their age, children may not express their concerns verbally. Watch for changes in behavior, appetite and sleep patterns.

Pray as a family–Use this opportunity to draw closer spiritually as a family. Consider letting children write letters to God or draw pictures.

Questions–Answer questions directly, but don't give them more information than they are asking for, or more than they need.

Reassure–If you're faced with a question you can't answer, remember the most important thing you can do is reassure your children that you will do everything possible to keep them safe.

Stick to the facts–Don't embellish or speculate about what has happened or what might happen in the future. This will only escalate children's fears.

Take your cues from your child–Young children are remarkably resilient. Don't assume they are more afraid than they actually are. Conversely, don't assume that they are unaware of what has happened.

Understand reactions to trauma–Reactions to traumatic events may appear immediately after the event or they may surface weeks or months later.

Vulnerable–Children who have already gone through other stressful events are more vulnerable to post-traumatic stress symptoms.

When to seek outside help–If your child seems overly worried and has difficulty with normal routines ( school, sleep, being away from a parent temporarily) consider talking with a doctor, psychologist, or school counselor.

X-tra patience–You and your children will likely be more weary and irritable. Be extra patient.

You can make a difference–Consider how your family can help. Children can regain their sense of security if they feel they can help in some way.

Zzzz–Prolonged stress suppresses the immune system, leading to greater susceptibility to illness. Make sure you and your children get plenty of rest. Make time to exercise and remember to eat well.  

Dr. Barbara Markway, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist with over twenty years of experience. She is the author of four popular psychology books and has been featured in media nationwide.

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