Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Trauma

Posted Oct 12, 2016

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Summary

  • Talk to the child about the event.
  • Limit how much media coverage the child sees.
  • Involve the child in planning memorials or helping other victims.

When children witness disasters or violence or have bad things happen to them, it can be unclear what sort of help they need to understand and recover. Often children don’t show observable symptoms. They might not want to seem odd or burden family members who might also be having a hard time coping.

However, children are the most at risk for negative effects on their emotional and mental development.
Luckily, children are very resilient. Given a few easy approaches or supports, they can bounce back after traumatic events. Parents play a huge role in how their kids heal.

It is important that people don’t assume that children have recovered without talking to them about their feelings and reactions.

What you can expect to see in a child and how to best help him depends on the child’s age, but there are some strategies that work regardless of age.

1. Model a healthy display of emotions.

If parents express a lot of tears, grief, or worry, the child will follow their lead. These feelings of emotions, such as a racing heart or quick breathing, can be scary for children. It can cause them to panic even more. Try to set a calm tone. You don’t have to hide all emotions. If your child sees you crying, you can say “Mommy is crying because I feel sad. It’s OK to feel sad.” If you need to release a lot of emotions, do so around other adults.

Seek other adults to talk to about your feelings. Try to maintain a stance of self-control.

A lot of times, adults try to hide their feelings from children to spare them additional worry. Many children sense when things are being kept from them. It may cause them more anxiety. Share some of your feelings and explain how you cope in a healthy way. The child will learn to do the same. For example, share that you talk to a trusted friend, breathe deeply, exercise, or remind yourself of positive things.

2. Talk to the child.

Adults may avoid talking to children about difficult subjects because the adults are afraid of distressing the child by saying the wrong thing. This can isolate the child when she most needs to talk about it. Make it a conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to see what your child knows and is curious about.

Help him focus on moments where he felt strong and in control. Use praise: “You were so brave!” Keep your tone upbeat.

A child may express guilt or shame. She may feel like something she said or did caused the events. Tell her it is not her fault. If these feelings remain, remind him that he did not mean for his actions to cause harm and they have not done so.

3. Return to a routine as soon as possible.

Home may feel like a safe place, so it may seem best to keep your child home for as long as possible. However, most children benefit from returning to their routines as soon as possible whether it is child care, school, sports practice, or other activities.

When your child goes back to school, speak to the necessary people about adjusting the child’s responsibilities for a time. This may include less homework or more time to do it, extra time on tests or postponing tests, and leniency with a child’s behavior in the classroom.

A return to routine doesn’t mean the child doesn’t need any more support or help. Support is needed for months or longer. If it is taken away too soon, the child may struggle and be unable to cope.

4. Limit media intake.

Media coverage is available everywhere. Continual access to the graphic details, pictures, or stories isn’t helpful to anyone. Limit the amount of coverage that the family consumes. If possible, watch it first. If your child is watching it, be sure to watch along with her. Answer her questions and help her put it in perspective.

5. Involve the child.

Involving the child in positive ways gives him a purpose. Making cookies for rescue workers, writing cards to people who have been hurt, and helping with clean-up efforts are all good examples.

If a death has occurred, creating a memorial or having a service can help a child share her grief and feel less alone. When possible, have the child participate in the planning and service. This makes sure it is appropriate for someone her age and relevant to her.

Spend one-on-one time with the child. You can read books or games. The attention will help the child feel safe.

Resources

Can Do and the Storm by Ducktor Morty, PhD. www.thecandoduck.com/can-do-and-the-storm.html

“Helping Young Children and Families Cope with Trauma” by Joy D. Osofsky, PhD. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/Helping_Young_Children_and_Families_Cope_with_Trauma.pdf

“Helping Children Cope with Terrorism,” National Association of School Psychologists, www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/war-and-terrorism/helping-children-cope-with-terrorism

National Child Traumatic Stress Network
http://nctsn.org/

By Jennifer Brick
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, "Providing Psychosocial Support to Children and Families in the Aftermath of Disasters and Crises." Pediatrics, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2015/09/08/peds.2015-2861; "Reactions and Guidelines for Children Following Crisis and Trauma," Alabama Department of Mental Health www.mh.alabama.gov/Downloads/COPI/GuidelineCrisis.pdf
Reviewed by Carolyn Meador, PhD, LMFT, CEAP, Director, Health and Performance Solutions, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Talk to the child about the event.
  • Limit how much media coverage the child sees.
  • Involve the child in planning memorials or helping other victims.

When children witness disasters or violence or have bad things happen to them, it can be unclear what sort of help they need to understand and recover. Often children don’t show observable symptoms. They might not want to seem odd or burden family members who might also be having a hard time coping.

However, children are the most at risk for negative effects on their emotional and mental development.
Luckily, children are very resilient. Given a few easy approaches or supports, they can bounce back after traumatic events. Parents play a huge role in how their kids heal.

It is important that people don’t assume that children have recovered without talking to them about their feelings and reactions.

What you can expect to see in a child and how to best help him depends on the child’s age, but there are some strategies that work regardless of age.

1. Model a healthy display of emotions.

If parents express a lot of tears, grief, or worry, the child will follow their lead. These feelings of emotions, such as a racing heart or quick breathing, can be scary for children. It can cause them to panic even more. Try to set a calm tone. You don’t have to hide all emotions. If your child sees you crying, you can say “Mommy is crying because I feel sad. It’s OK to feel sad.” If you need to release a lot of emotions, do so around other adults.

Seek other adults to talk to about your feelings. Try to maintain a stance of self-control.

A lot of times, adults try to hide their feelings from children to spare them additional worry. Many children sense when things are being kept from them. It may cause them more anxiety. Share some of your feelings and explain how you cope in a healthy way. The child will learn to do the same. For example, share that you talk to a trusted friend, breathe deeply, exercise, or remind yourself of positive things.

2. Talk to the child.

Adults may avoid talking to children about difficult subjects because the adults are afraid of distressing the child by saying the wrong thing. This can isolate the child when she most needs to talk about it. Make it a conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to see what your child knows and is curious about.

Help him focus on moments where he felt strong and in control. Use praise: “You were so brave!” Keep your tone upbeat.

A child may express guilt or shame. She may feel like something she said or did caused the events. Tell her it is not her fault. If these feelings remain, remind him that he did not mean for his actions to cause harm and they have not done so.

3. Return to a routine as soon as possible.

Home may feel like a safe place, so it may seem best to keep your child home for as long as possible. However, most children benefit from returning to their routines as soon as possible whether it is child care, school, sports practice, or other activities.

When your child goes back to school, speak to the necessary people about adjusting the child’s responsibilities for a time. This may include less homework or more time to do it, extra time on tests or postponing tests, and leniency with a child’s behavior in the classroom.

A return to routine doesn’t mean the child doesn’t need any more support or help. Support is needed for months or longer. If it is taken away too soon, the child may struggle and be unable to cope.

4. Limit media intake.

Media coverage is available everywhere. Continual access to the graphic details, pictures, or stories isn’t helpful to anyone. Limit the amount of coverage that the family consumes. If possible, watch it first. If your child is watching it, be sure to watch along with her. Answer her questions and help her put it in perspective.

5. Involve the child.

Involving the child in positive ways gives him a purpose. Making cookies for rescue workers, writing cards to people who have been hurt, and helping with clean-up efforts are all good examples.

If a death has occurred, creating a memorial or having a service can help a child share her grief and feel less alone. When possible, have the child participate in the planning and service. This makes sure it is appropriate for someone her age and relevant to her.

Spend one-on-one time with the child. You can read books or games. The attention will help the child feel safe.

Resources

Can Do and the Storm by Ducktor Morty, PhD. www.thecandoduck.com/can-do-and-the-storm.html

“Helping Young Children and Families Cope with Trauma” by Joy D. Osofsky, PhD. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/Helping_Young_Children_and_Families_Cope_with_Trauma.pdf

“Helping Children Cope with Terrorism,” National Association of School Psychologists, www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/war-and-terrorism/helping-children-cope-with-terrorism

National Child Traumatic Stress Network
http://nctsn.org/

By Jennifer Brick
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, "Providing Psychosocial Support to Children and Families in the Aftermath of Disasters and Crises." Pediatrics, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2015/09/08/peds.2015-2861; "Reactions and Guidelines for Children Following Crisis and Trauma," Alabama Department of Mental Health www.mh.alabama.gov/Downloads/COPI/GuidelineCrisis.pdf
Reviewed by Carolyn Meador, PhD, LMFT, CEAP, Director, Health and Performance Solutions, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Talk to the child about the event.
  • Limit how much media coverage the child sees.
  • Involve the child in planning memorials or helping other victims.

When children witness disasters or violence or have bad things happen to them, it can be unclear what sort of help they need to understand and recover. Often children don’t show observable symptoms. They might not want to seem odd or burden family members who might also be having a hard time coping.

However, children are the most at risk for negative effects on their emotional and mental development.
Luckily, children are very resilient. Given a few easy approaches or supports, they can bounce back after traumatic events. Parents play a huge role in how their kids heal.

It is important that people don’t assume that children have recovered without talking to them about their feelings and reactions.

What you can expect to see in a child and how to best help him depends on the child’s age, but there are some strategies that work regardless of age.

1. Model a healthy display of emotions.

If parents express a lot of tears, grief, or worry, the child will follow their lead. These feelings of emotions, such as a racing heart or quick breathing, can be scary for children. It can cause them to panic even more. Try to set a calm tone. You don’t have to hide all emotions. If your child sees you crying, you can say “Mommy is crying because I feel sad. It’s OK to feel sad.” If you need to release a lot of emotions, do so around other adults.

Seek other adults to talk to about your feelings. Try to maintain a stance of self-control.

A lot of times, adults try to hide their feelings from children to spare them additional worry. Many children sense when things are being kept from them. It may cause them more anxiety. Share some of your feelings and explain how you cope in a healthy way. The child will learn to do the same. For example, share that you talk to a trusted friend, breathe deeply, exercise, or remind yourself of positive things.

2. Talk to the child.

Adults may avoid talking to children about difficult subjects because the adults are afraid of distressing the child by saying the wrong thing. This can isolate the child when she most needs to talk about it. Make it a conversation. Don’t be afraid to ask questions to see what your child knows and is curious about.

Help him focus on moments where he felt strong and in control. Use praise: “You were so brave!” Keep your tone upbeat.

A child may express guilt or shame. She may feel like something she said or did caused the events. Tell her it is not her fault. If these feelings remain, remind him that he did not mean for his actions to cause harm and they have not done so.

3. Return to a routine as soon as possible.

Home may feel like a safe place, so it may seem best to keep your child home for as long as possible. However, most children benefit from returning to their routines as soon as possible whether it is child care, school, sports practice, or other activities.

When your child goes back to school, speak to the necessary people about adjusting the child’s responsibilities for a time. This may include less homework or more time to do it, extra time on tests or postponing tests, and leniency with a child’s behavior in the classroom.

A return to routine doesn’t mean the child doesn’t need any more support or help. Support is needed for months or longer. If it is taken away too soon, the child may struggle and be unable to cope.

4. Limit media intake.

Media coverage is available everywhere. Continual access to the graphic details, pictures, or stories isn’t helpful to anyone. Limit the amount of coverage that the family consumes. If possible, watch it first. If your child is watching it, be sure to watch along with her. Answer her questions and help her put it in perspective.

5. Involve the child.

Involving the child in positive ways gives him a purpose. Making cookies for rescue workers, writing cards to people who have been hurt, and helping with clean-up efforts are all good examples.

If a death has occurred, creating a memorial or having a service can help a child share her grief and feel less alone. When possible, have the child participate in the planning and service. This makes sure it is appropriate for someone her age and relevant to her.

Spend one-on-one time with the child. You can read books or games. The attention will help the child feel safe.

Resources

Can Do and the Storm by Ducktor Morty, PhD. www.thecandoduck.com/can-do-and-the-storm.html

“Helping Young Children and Families Cope with Trauma” by Joy D. Osofsky, PhD. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/Helping_Young_Children_and_Families_Cope_with_Trauma.pdf

“Helping Children Cope with Terrorism,” National Association of School Psychologists, www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources/school-safety-and-crisis/war-and-terrorism/helping-children-cope-with-terrorism

National Child Traumatic Stress Network
http://nctsn.org/

By Jennifer Brick
Source: American Academy of Pediatrics, "Providing Psychosocial Support to Children and Families in the Aftermath of Disasters and Crises." Pediatrics, http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2015/09/08/peds.2015-2861; "Reactions and Guidelines for Children Following Crisis and Trauma," Alabama Department of Mental Health www.mh.alabama.gov/Downloads/COPI/GuidelineCrisis.pdf
Reviewed by Carolyn Meador, PhD, LMFT, CEAP, Director, Health and Performance Solutions, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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