Practical Advice for Parents: How to Help Your Child Following a Traumatic Event
We at ITC, in partnership with Home Front Command, compiled the following recommendations for parents on how to help children cope during times of crisis.
Families cope better in the face of disasters when they are both informed and prepared. When you and your children know what to do, your self-confidence rises, and with it, your ability to cope. When faced with a threat he does not understand, your child’s feelings of helplessness and fear may lead to aggressive behavior, clinginess, nightmares, and even bed-wetting in extreme or chronic cases.
As parents, you are the most important source of strength when it comes to helping your children cope during times of emergency.
In truth, most children recover from disasters without professional assistance, as they rely on the support of their relatives and communities. It’s important, however, to become aware of and attentive to the signs of distress that a child may exhibit.
v Your reaction is critical
Your children are acutely aware of your reactions. Children learn how to respond to situations by observing the adults around them (parents, day-care providers, teachers). Try as much as possible to demonstrate calm and relaxed behaviors. Share your feelings and thoughts your support network before speaking with your children so you can express extreme emotions in private.
v Give them attention
Recognize, acknowledge and validate their feelings. Listening to your child provides him with the opportunity to express his experience and to obtain a sense of comfort and security. Encourage your child to share what he is feeling. Demonstrate understanding and empathy, and explain to him that if he feels afraid, angry, or guilty, that these are normal reactions to an abnormal situation.
v Adjust the information you provide
Tell the truth, but don’t expand too much. An excess of information may confuse or overwhelm your child, causing feelings of fear and insecurity. If he doesn’t want to know about what happened, don’t insist on telling him. Keep your information truthful and age appropriate.
v Limit your child’s exposure to media
Turn off television and radio coverage of tragic news related to the event. This is particularly important for pre-school thru elementary aged children.
v Keep to your normal routine and provide reassurances regarding their safety
As much as possible, maintain your children’s’ regular routines including school and activity frameworks, mealtimes and bedtime. Reassure them that they are safe and that “we will get through this together.”
Signs of distress which warrant professional attention:
For young children:
Pay attention to play that enacts the scary event over and over again.
Notice complaints about bad dreams.
Although these behaviors are quite normal following a traumatic event, and are the child’s way of dealing with the anxiety, if there is no change in the intensity and frequency of these behaviors after a few months, seek professional advice.
For older children:
Pay attention to deviant or unusual behaviors such as disruption in eating and sleeping patterns and angry outbursts. It is important to respond to these symptoms immediately and to seek professional treatment.
What about the adults?
Acknowledge your sensitive situation. You are your child’s best support. In order to take care of them, you must take care of yourself. Maintain close contact with friends and family, and turn to professionals for additional support if needed. Try to maintain healthy eating and sleeping habits.
Don’t hesitate to turn to mental health professionals if it seems like you or your children are in need. For emotional first aid you can turn to the Emotional First Aid Hotline (one of the members of the Israel Trauma Coalition) by calling 1201.