Children can feel aggravated and fearful emotions when they experience a traumatic event such as a natural disaster or when they see disturbing images on TV or the Internet. “To be diagnosed with PTSD, you usually have to be directly affected by the traumatic event, believing that your own life or those you care about are in danger,” says psychiatrist Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, MD, chief of psychiatry at Medstar Washington Hospital Center. In this article, we will provide advice on how to help kids cope with trauma and stress.
How Trauma Affects Children
Children sometimes experience a harrowing event such as living through a hurricane or typhoon, being a passenger in a car that was involved in a significant accident, losing a member of the family or a terrorist attack. Such an experience can cause immense stress on the child. Even if the child did not personally experience the traumatic event, they could still suffer from stress if they continually see frightening images of the event on TV or the Internet.
Children of different ages may be affected differently by trauma. Children below the age of 6 may scream or cry and display fear. They may hold on tight to their parents or guardian. And they may exhibit behavior they indulged in when they were younger such as thumb sucking or wetting their bed.
Kids aged 6 to 11 may start having nightmares about the traumatic event. They may stop socializing with friends and family. They may become easily irritated or angry. And their performance in school may suffer.
Children between the ages of 11 and 18 may also have nightmares. Their behavior might change. They might start smoking or drinking alcoholic drinks or even take illegal drugs. They may stop indulging in their hobbies or interests. They may feel negative emotions, such as guilt or depression. And they may entertain suicidal thoughts. “When a child is suffering from mental, social or emotional, or psychological distress and/or trauma, it can be hard to cope with, especially when you feel like nothing is working or there’s nothing you can do to remedy the situation,” said Dr. Ree Y. Langham, Ph.D.
Regardless of your child’s age, be sure to comfort them, and provide support. A parent’s actions and support has a great influence on how well a child deals with a traumatic event. As a parent, you should know the signs of traumatic stress and how to assist children who have it. With your help, your child can better deal with the stress of a painful experience.
Exposure To Horrific Images
A child’s painful experience may be aggravated if they continually see images of the event. Even children who did not experience the traumatic event may suffer stress if they repeatedly view images from the event.
You should prevent your child from watching the news or surfing for news online to avoid their seeing frightening images. If they do watch the news or surf for news online, you should do this with them so that you can answer their questions and provide them with comfort. It is better if they read a newspaper because these tend to have less horrific images.
Communicating With Your Child
Recovery from traumatic stress cannot be forced, but talking with your child will allow them to better deal with the trauma. “As soon as the child asks questions or seems to be thinking about the event, it’s time to have a conversation,” psychiatrist Bruce D. Perry advises. Reassure your child that you accept and understand their fears. Do not force them to talk about their experience or about the frightening images they have seen but always let them know that you are there to listen to them and to answer their questions. If your child is unable to talk about the experience, you could ask them to make a drawing about the event, and you can then speak with your child about the picture they have drawn. Encourage them to engage in activities that are not related to the traumatic experience such as socializing with relatives, playing with friends, or watching a comedy movie. And above all else, do not lie to your child although you may have to choose words appropriate to their age.
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