Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dealing with trauma

In the wake of our biggest ever cyclone, how are our kids coping?
I have written about how to help children deal with trauma before, but it’s worth looking again at this topic in light of recent events.

Ongoing news reports showing images of floods, cyclone destruction and violence of worldwide events, can confuse and frighten children of all ages.
So when a crisis occurs, how do we help our children?
Children’s reactions to a disaster will depend on what they experienced and on how they were prepared.
Preschoolers may exhibit thumb sucking, bed wetting, clinging to parents, sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, fear of the dark, bad behaviour, and withdrawal from friends.
School children may be irritable, aggressive, clingy, have poor concentration, want to avoid school, withdraw from friends and experience nightmares.
Adolescents may have sleeping and eating disturbances, agitation, increase in aggression and conflicts, physical symptoms, bad behaviour and poor concentration.
If a child has previously experienced trauma, death of a loved one or mental illness, then they are at an even greater risk and parents should contact a professional for assistance.
Having to evacuate their home and leave all possessions behind is difficult enough, but having their home destroyed and fearing for their lives can be devastating.
Most children have similar fears after a disaster such as a cyclone.

They worry that it will happen again, they worry that someone they love will be hurt or die, they worry that they will be left alone, and they worry about their pets and possessions.
To help alleviate their anxiety, it’s important that parents prepare their children, particularly when we know a traumatic event is coming (such as cyclone Yasi).
Parents should try not to become anxious or frightened, as this will make their children fearful even more than before, so take time to prepare yourself emotionally.
If you cope well under difficult circumstances, then there is a good chance your children will cope well too.
Even if you are not personally affected by traumatic events, if children see news footage they can still suffer emotional and physical problems.
Let them know that is it normal to feel upset and fearful, and give them the opportunity to talk about the event, their experiences, thoughts and feelings.
If they don’t want to talk about it, respect their decision and avoid repeated dialogue about the event as it may continue to instil fear in your children.
Answer their questions honestly, but be sure to use words that children understand, and speak in hopeful terms.
rovide reassurance through your words and actions to show them that you love them and will take care of them. Be available to touch, hug and give attention.
Many children will want to sleep near their parents, so allow them to do so.
Some children may be angry, withdrawn or sad, so allow them to express their feelings openly.
Young children may engage in make-believe play related to the disaster, so allow them to express themselves in this way.
You can help older children feel in control by having them make some decisions and let them be involved in cleaning up and rebuilding, if it is safe to do so.
Discuss with older children safety measures that the family can take in case of future disasters.
Reassure them when the event is over and that adults will do everything possible to keep them safe.
Children of all ages will need extra time together as a family, as well as understanding, sympathy, comfort and patience.
Try and maintain their normal routine, even if there is no school to attend, keep day-to-day activities such as meal times, as normal as possible.
When possible, allow them to connect with their friends and other families.
Be honest and realistic when discussing the future, but be as reassuring as possible.
Create an atmosphere of comfort and openness, and send the message that there’s no one right or wrong way to feel, and that they are allowed to ask questions.
Although the disaster may occur over a short period of time, the emotional effects on a child can last for weeks, months or years.
Remember, if your child is showing significant changes in behaviour or having difficulty dealing with trauma, be sure to seek professional help.
There is an excellent article on the Raising Children Network that will assist parents facing tough times. Visit http://raisingchildren.net.au/ and search for “Coping with a crisis”.

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