It has only been few days since the bombing at the Boston Marathon. For many it feels much longer. Parents are worried about the impact of this event on their kids (and themselves). We remember how long it took to recover from other tragedies. Fortunately, kids and families tend to be incredibly resilient. However, there may be a range of emotions and behaviors that parents could notice in the short run that would tip off a problem. Here are some things to look for and more if you see them, things you could do to fend off longer term problems.
What can parents do in general to fend off problems?
Above all, we want to foster resilience for kids of all ages and for our family members. There are a few tips for parents:
Any way we can make these four key provisions known is really important.
How can parents and caregivers distinguish normal reactions to trauma from those that are worthy of concern and perhaps professional attention? Let’s look at kids in different age groups. Here are some tips for observation and guidelines for what you can do.
Remember that a change in the short run may simply be a phase and can disappear with a brief response. So, don’t jump to conclusions that things are going to be terrible the first signs of problems.
Infants, Toddlers and Preschoolers
Very young children have a limited repertoire for expressing distress. They will not tell you what is going on, so you need to watch for signs of upset. Look for changes in behavior compared to their “baseline.”
What can parents look for in this age group?
What can parents to do if they see this behavior?
Children ages 6-12 are more advanced intellectually. They have a clear sense or right and wrong, but tend to be strictly rule oriented. They have a simplistic view of “good guys” and “bad guys”. They feel safest if things are clear-cut. They also have a greater sense of empathy, and can appreciate the sadness or fear of others, even those they see on television. They have begun to understand the finality of death. Despite these advances, they are not able to comprehend abstract concepts, such as justice, and they have a limited sense of causality. They also are not able to distance themselves emotionally from events, and see things truly objectively. They tend to “personalize” events, as if they happened or will happen to them or their families. While they may be reassured by talking and understanding more than younger children, they may easily become overwhelmed and confused with complex events that are highly charged emotionally.
What can parents look for in this age group?
What can parents do if they see this behavior?
Teens are much more aware of the dangers in the world. They are grappling with issues of personal and societal dangers. They appreciate the risks involved in life, and many have lost pets, loved ones e.g. grandparents, or know of friends who have dealt with death. They themselves have taken risks or know of others who have; they know about “near misses.” They may be fearful of what is going to happen to the world, their life and their future.
Situations such as the Marathon bombing raise fears about the uncertainties in life. After such tragedies as 9/11, the Newtown Shooting or the Aurora Cinema Shooting many teens felt a sense of foreshadowing, fearfulness about manmade as well as natural disasters.
The aim of working with teenagers is to see how they are reacting at home, school and with peers, and watch for any clear changes in behavior.
What can parents look for in their teens?
What can parents do if they see behavioral changes in their teens?
College students are more advanced than teenagers intellectually. Their experience involves an increased ability and interest in grappling with the important issues in their lives and in the world. In addition, they have often met with more “near miss”experiences than teenagers. They have probably known of relatives, or sadly even friends who have died. They are concerned about their place in life, their future role in the workplace, and what the world will be like for themselves and their futurefamily.
Many will identify with the loss of the graduate student in the Bombing and intensely appreciate the fragility of life. At the same time, they may be desperately trying to
understand why anyone would do such a thing – considering political, personal, and emotional motives. Many will be actively talking with each other, and certainly processing the events socially and in the classroom. They will try to put together the historical terrorist attacks in the United States and around the world.
Remember, college kids today lived through 9/11 when they were early school-age kids. Further, they will be actively seeking information about the event by increased use of digital and social media.
While over half of psychiatric disorders begin in childhood and adolescence, the onset of emotional problems peaks in college, particularly mood disorders. This may add to vulnerability. Though this age group may be better equipped to deal with the bombing intellectually, college students still feel quite insecure and will need considerable guidance and attention in order to understand an event that is baffling to the most stable adult. And since they are often away from family in the school setting, they may have less of a protective environment than younger kids. College students often look and feel very much like adults, but truth be told, they still need their parents to provide guidance and reassurance. And since they are struggling with their own issues of identity, they may be more open to discuss and consider profiling and labeling than younger kids.
Remember that most kids and parents will gradually recover from the shock we experienced following the Marathon bombing. If your child continues to show many of the behaviors mentioned above, it may be a good idea to take her or him to your pediatrician, school guidance counselor, or seek a child psychologist or psychiatrist for advice.
Derived from previous posting on CommonHealth: Reality and Reform www.commonhealth.wbur.org