Children Cope with Traumatic Events
experience an initial traumatic event before they
are 11 years old are three times more likely to
develop psychological symptoms than those who
experience their first trauma as a teenager or
later. But children are able to cope better with a
traumatic event if parents, friends, family,
teachers and other adults support and help them
with their experiences. Help should start as soon
as possible after the event.
It's important to
remember that some children may never show
distress because they don't feel upset, while
others may not give evidence of being upset for
several weeks or even months. Other children may
not show a change in behavior, but may still need
exhibit these behaviors after a disaster:
Be upset over the
loss of a favorite toy, blanket, teddy bear or
other times that adults might consider
insignificant, but which are important to the
Change from being
quiet, obedient and caring to loud, noisy and
aggressive or may change from being outgoing to
shy and afraid.
fears. They may be afraid to sleep alone at
night, with the light off, to sleep in their own
room, or have nightmares or bad dreams.
Be afraid the event
upset, crying and whining.
Lose trust in
adults. After all, their adults were not able to
control the disaster.
Revert to younger
behavior such as bed wetting and thumb sucking.
Not want parents
out of their sight and refuse to go to school or
Feel guilty that
they caused the disaster because of something
they had said or done.
Become afraid of
wind, rain or sudden loud noises.
Have symptoms of
illness, such as headaches, vomiting or fever.
Worry about where
they and their family will live.
Things Parents or Other
Caring Adults Can Do
Talk with the
children about how they are feeling and listen
without judgment. Let them know they can have
own feelings, which might be different than
others. It's OK.
Let the children
take their time to figure things out and to have
their feelings. Don't rush them or pretend that
they don't think or feel as they do.
Help them learn to
use words that express their feelings, such as
happy, sad, angry, mad and scared. Just be sure
the words fit their feelings - not yours.
children that you will be there to take care of
them. Reassure them many times.
Stay together as a
family as much as possible.
Go back as soon as
possible to former routines or develop new ones.
Maintain a regular schedule for the children.
children that the disaster was not their fault
in any way.
Let them have some
control, such as choosing what outfit to wear or
what meal to have for dinner.
Help your children
know that others love them and care about them
by visiting, talking on the phone or writing to
family members, friends and neighbors.
children to give or send pictures they have
drawn or things they have written.
contact with extended family members.
Help your children
learn to trust adults again by keeping promises,
including children in planning routines and
Help your children
regain faith in the future by helping them
develop plans for activities that will take
place later - next week, next month.
better when they are healthy, so be sure your
children get needed healthcare as soon as
Make sure the
children are getting balanced meals and eating
enough food and getting enough rest.
Remember to take
care of yourself so you can take care of your
Spend extra time
with your children at bedtime. Read stories, rub
their backs, listen to music, talk quietly about
If you will be away
for a time, tell them where you are going and
make sure you return or call at the time you say
privileges such as leaving the light on when
they sleep for a period of time after the
exposure to additional trauma, including news
Children should not
be expected to be brave or tough, or to "not
Don't be afraid to
"spoil" children in this period after a
Don't give children
more information than they can handle about the
Don't minimize the
Find ways to
emphasize to the children that you love them.
Allow the children
to grieve losses.
anniversary activities to commemorate the event.
These events may bring tears, but they are also
a time to celebrate survival and the ability to
get back to a normal life.
Activities for Children
children to draw or paint pictures of how they
feel about their experiences. Hang these at the
child's level to be seen easily.
Write a story of
the frightening event. You might start with:
Once upon a time there was a terrible
___________ and it scared us all ____________.
This is what happened: __________. Be sure to
end with "And we are now safe."
play dough or clay is good for children to
release tension and make symbolic creations.
Music is fun and
valuable for children. Creating music with
instruments or rhythm toys helps relieve stress
children with clothes, shoes, hats, etc. so they
can play "dress up" and can pretend to be adults
in charge of recovering from the disaster and
"being in charge."
Make puppets with
the children and put on a puppet show for family
and friends, or help children put on a skit
about what they experienced.
Read stories about
disasters to and with children.
information is provided by Beryl Cheal, an
Disaster Training International
511 Avenue of the Americas #385
New York, NY 10011
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