Trauma can refer to mental or physical “hurt” or “pain.” This can go on for short or long periods of time. Mostly we tend to think of trauma in reference to an accident and it certainly can be as a result of that. Yet sometimes it can be as a result of manmade trauma. What about shootings at a school or a flood created by Hurricane Katrina? What about acts of disaster or major violence. What about sexual trauma? What should parents know?
Physical trauma is the body’s response to fear, serious injury and threat while mental trauma includes painful and fearful thoughts and feelings.
Our goal as parents should be first to understand what to watch for as problem signs and in any event understand how to support our kids who are in a post-traumatic period.
While our responses should be similar to all children they will reflect different behaviors at different ages.
Children under the age of five can react in the following ways:
A child of this age may physically cling to their parent. They may start (or keep) crying and screaming. They may move without purpose or become completely immobile and may revert to infantile actions such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting.
Children between the ages of six and 11 will exhibit a wide range of behaviors.
Boys and girls of this age may eschew company. They may have nightmares or be unable to sleep. They may become quiet or just the opposite, disruptive. Further as our reference material indicates they may “Do poorly with schoolwork and feel guilty.” In fact they may refuse to go to school.
Children over age 11 and up to age 16 also have various reactions.
They might have flashbacks and also avoid reminders of whatever it was that happened. They may begin to use drugs or alcohol. They may begin to have suicidal thoughts.
When a child continues to have feelings for about 30 days they are said to have Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Some signs are being easily startled, irritability, not wanting to be separated from parent and increased sleep disturbances to name a few. In this case your child should see a counselor.
What should the parent do?
Listen to the child. Accept their feelings as opposed to trying to change them.
Reduce other stressors such as fighting within the family and having to find a way to school.
It is important that you “check in” with your child to see how they are doing. This should be done for months after the event.
Mainly after an event that causes a problem whether it is a school shooting or an auto accident make sure that food and shelter care of. Don’t pick this time in their life to move.
I learned that traumas don’t have to be well-publicized. Sometimes something is happening in your child’s life that is tearing them up. Perhaps they are having a problem with a person or with money or an illness. Good parents know how to find these things out.
I found out by accident what was bothering my son and I became more attentive afterwards.
The best advice I have is to listen.
“What Parents Can Do for Children Exposed to Violence or Disaster,” Booklet, NIH, 2010