goldfish wisdom
nigel latta

Children and Trauma


Children and Trauma 

I thought it would also be helpful to post some things that parents can do to help children cope with these types of events. After the 9/11 tragedy in the US clinicians and researchers held a couple of major international conferences to try and develop some guidelines for what is 'best practice' in these situations.

Most 'disaster responses are based on the idea that most people/children will have some kind of reaction, and that for most people that will fade over time. Children tend to react in the following ways:

  • Pre-schoolers: clinginess, maybe some regression, generally being unsettled and scratchy.

  • School age children: often present with physical symptoms such as sore stomachs , not sleeping, maybe some re-experiencing of the event, being unsettled, sometimes a bit hyper, and they can get a bit angry and/or 'naughty.

  • Older children and adolescents: Tend to react with more typical anxiety and sometimes depression as well. Teenagers can sometimes develop a sense of hopelessness about the future.

As a result clinicians and researchers developed the concept of 'psychological first aid', a series of guidelines that were supported by both the best of the current research, and by practical experience on the ground helping children at major incidents. At face value these things all seem a bit obvious, and certainly driven by common sense, but it's good to know that some of the smartest people in the world have come up with this stuff, and that it has been used in a number of major incidents to really help children deal with traumatic incidents:

  1. Safety. Obvious really, but there you go. The safer you can make them feel the better they will be.

  2. Calmness. They will look to you to see how to respond so the calmer and more in control you can be, the better they will be. This is where you really need to put your game face on, suck it up, and get on with it. The great thing about kids is that they focus you, and they make you think really hard about what's best for them. If you are having a 'moment', and God knows you have every right to, then try and do that away from them, or to contain it as much as you can around them.

  3. Connectedness. In the immediate aftermath they will want their family around them. They may want to stay very close to you, and to sleep in your room at night as well. All that is fine, and normal, and nothing to worry about. Just being there is important. You can also help them to see that they are not alone, and that everyone is helping out. This is very easy to do in Canterbury because so many people are helping each other out. The more they see that Christchurch has now become a village of connected and caring people, the better they will feel.

  4. Self-efficacy. Help them to see that even though this huge thing has happened, that they are not helpless, and that they can influence and have an impact on what happens around them. You can do this be fighting small battles you know you can win. (eg "Let's see if we can put all the kitchen chairs back up?" or "How about you see if you can shift those bits of wood"). The idea here is for them to develop a sense that they are not simply at the whim of the world, but that they can have an impact and some degree of control.

  5. Hope. It's important for them to see that life continues on and that things will, eventually, return to normal. Stay upbeat, focus on the good things (no matter how small they may be), and make a big deal out of every tiny step back towards normality.

On top of all that I'd just add that you should try and shield them from as much of the media stuff as you can, and that returning to routines is hugely important. Going back to school is good, making your bed in the morning is good (even if it's a cot in a hall), brushing your teeth (where you can), and all that other stuff.

It's also important too that you look after yourself. You can only help them if your head is in a working space so make sure you take whatever help you can get, and that you give yourself some time to collect your internal resources as needed.

Above all be gentle on yourselves, on your partners, and your kids. These are the most difficult of times and you will all be carrying heavy loads both practically, and emotionally. Be forgiving with each other.

I hope that is of some help.