American Association of Christian Counselors
American Association of Christian Counselors

After a Crisis: Helping Kids Process Trauma

Dwight Bain, M.A.

We are excited to feature a special blog series by Dwight Bain, Executive Director of the ICCA, giving you practical tips to share with clients and friends who may have been affected by the recent Boston Marathon bombings or the tragedy in West, Texas. Below is part 2…with more to come!

How does a community crisis event affect kids?

It depends on the age of the child. The younger the child, the more they look to their parents for emotional security and strength. If a Mom or Dad are “shell-shocked” or “numb” and not able to manage their own emotions or responsibilities, the child will feel that pressure and become very confused and further stressed. Remember, it’s normal to be overwhelmed by a community crisis or act of terrorism. This is why it’s so important to take care of yourself in order to take care of your children and those your care about through the long period of recovery and rebuilding after the crisis.

Think about the advice given on commercial airliners to parents traveling with small children. “Should there be an unexpected cabin de-pressurization; oxygen masks will drop from the ceiling. Place the mask over your nose and mouth like this and then place the mask over the mouth and nose of those around you needing assistance.” Take care of your own emotional needs first, and then you will be in a stronger position to help those around you. If you feel overwhelmed in giving your children or others who may depend on you for support, please ask for help. It’s okay to be tired, worn out and overly stressed. That’s normal after a community crisis.

However, it’s not okay to ignore caring for the needs of those counting on you like children, the elderly or pets. Sometimes a parent may need to make adjustments at work or change their own schedules for a while by delegating some tasks in order to have time and energy to help their children avoid feeling more pressure from the difficult experience that surviving a major disaster brings. If you feel that your “caregiver tank” is empty, let someone else help you for a while until you get your strength back. That’s best for you and for those that you care about.

When you can focus and dedicate attention to understanding the needs of young children, notice what they are saying, drawing or doing to determine if they are still feeling overly stressed from the traumatic event.

School age kids need to talk, draw pictures or take positive action, (like having a lemonade stand to raise money for kids just like them who may have lost loved ones or family members because of the traumatic event), so if you give them something to do to help, they can take positive action and sort through their emotions immediately.

High school age kids may try to act “cool” about everything, but often are more scared about the changes, losses and confusion than any other group. They are older and may need to experience a bit more “reality” at times to loosen up their ability to talk about what is happening around them. If they are willing to talk to their siblings, other family members, clergy or counselors it often doesn’t take very long before they can grow strong enough to deal with their emotions and get back to feeling like themselves again.

The greatest danger sign to be alert and aware of is by noticing any dramatic changes in behavior. If a child was always happy-go-lucky before the crisis event and now sits all day to watch video footage of the crisis event, or other world disasters on the news channels, then you may want to figure out why they made such a dramatic shift in personality. Watch for other major changes in sleep patterns, school patterns, school performance, peer relations and so on. If you see major changes that concern you, it’s time to seek professional attention for the child with their pediatrician or with a child behavioral specialist.

What are some ways to help our kids talk about the crisis?

You can reach out to children in many ways to help them deal with this stressful time. Talking, writing, drawing, or writing poetry about the experience with the disaster will make the time pass more quickly, and may even lighten someone else’s load of emotional pain and difficulty while helping you back through the process. Talking about any crisis event in life can help kids learn the basics of moving from the panic of basic survival to building strengths through problem solving.

Are there any “hidden dangers” in media that parents should be concerned about that might make the crisis worse?

Too much media exposure is dangerous for kids. It is better to get a media “news update” once or perhaps at the most, twice a day to avoid the danger of media over-exposure. Leaving the news on all the time will depress the mood of the person who hears it; since deep down inside we learn to go “numb” to the normal emotions of the stressful event, to press on and burn reserve energy in the process.

If your child didn’t watch the morning news programs before the community crisis, be cautious about allowing them to watch TV news alone or having long blocks of unaccounted time with too much isolation. It’s best to sort through media outlets—like television, Internet, radio or newspapers, which may contain content that is overly stressful or just too depressing for a child. Then set boundaries to protect them from additional stress in media stories, since it is important to protect their home and minds by managing the media around them.

It’s wise to move from negatives to positives in highly charged and difficult situations like a terrorist attack or wide spread community disaster. We have all seen enough negative images to last a lifetime and yet the media will often play scenes from a disaster over again and again. Also, parents and kids can sit down and discuss why they really need to have so many media and entertainment services available in their homes.

Many families found that not having the Internet, cable television and loud music playing in their homes allows them to reconnect as a family with much greater communication after a crisis. By sitting down and discussing these issues, your home can be a more positive and less stressful place.

Since watching other people’s problems in other parts of the country will cause more stress in an already stressful situation, it’s better to focus on your responsibilities today, right here in your own community. When things in your life are strong again, you and your family won’t be as affected by the images of crisis from other places. But that’s another day, so for now as you recover, it’s better to focus on getting you and your kids though the day that you have been handed without making it harder because of the hidden stress of media overexposure.

Also, the same principles apply for the aged as for anyone else. Seniors often can spend a tremendous amount of time in front of negative media images, which can be harmful to their well being. Better to get involved in helping others, praying for those affected or donating to help as you can than to become overwhelmed with the stressors of others by becoming desensitized from media over-exposure.

TO BE CONTINUED. Make sure to stop by our website for part 3 of this blog series, including how to find a new “normal” and begin to rebuild your life.

 

Dwight Bain has dedicated his life to guide people toward greater results as an Author, Nationally Certified Counselor, Certified Life Coach and Certified Family Law Mediator in practice since 1984. His primary focus is on solving crisis events and managing major change as a Critical Incident Stress Management expert and speaker for over 3,000 groups on the topic of making strategic change to overcome major stress  He speaks over 100 times per year to groups across the United States.

 

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