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Parent Wisdom

December 15, 2012

Tips for Talking to Children in Trauma

In the event that you need assistance dealing with a traumatic incident with your children, here are tips that may be useful:

Children often show signs of stress after a traumatic event. Signs may include sadness, tantrums, aggressive behavior, and a return to outgrown behavior. Signs may also include stomachaches and headaches, and an ongoing desire to stay home from school or away from friends. These signs are normal and usually do not last long. You can help your child with the following suggestions.

Preschooler 
Stick to regular family routines.
Make an extra effort to provide comfort and support.
Avoid separation.
Allow your child to sleep in the parents’ room for a limited time.
Encourage your child to express feelings through play, drawing, puppet shows, and storytelling.
Limit media exposure.
Develop a safety plan for future incidents.

Elementary Age Children 
Provide extra attention.
Set gentle but firm limits for acting out behavior.
Always listen to your child’s telling of the experience.
Encourage your child to express feelings through talk and play.
Provide home chores and activities that are structured, but not too demanding.
Rehearse safety measures for future incidents.
Explain how people helped each other during the event.

Preadolescents and Adolescents 
Provide extra attention.
Be there to listen to your child, but do not force talk about feelings.
Encourage discussion of experiences among peers.
Promote involvement with community recovery work.
Urge your child to take part in physical activities.
Support the return to regular activities.
Rehearse family safety measures for future incidents.

You do not have to “fix” how your child feels. Try to help your child understand and cope with the experience. Healing takes time for most children. Some children may need professional help. If signs of stress do not subside after a few weeks, or if they get worse, consider consulting a mental health professional trained in working with children. Your child will return to health in time and with help.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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