What is the best way to talk to children about tragedy and help them cope with traumatic events?
Dr. Prakash Masand, a former consulting professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center, and president of Global Medical education, offers these tips for parents to help their children when dealing with trauma:
Ask questions and be supportive. Never assume your child fully understands tragic events. Children have wild imaginations and have a hard time sorting their emotions out during a tragedy. Ask direct questions like, “what are you feeling?” and “what’s bothering you?” to fully understand what’s going through their mind. Don’t ever ridicule or make fun of a child’s feelings and always offer support.
Help your child cope with trauma:
Encourage children to express feelings.
This can be done through talking, drawing, playing or whatever makes the child most comfortable.
Explain to your children that although these events are very rare, unfortunately they do happen from time to time. Reinforce the idea that a school is a safe place where they can feel comfortable learning and growing.
Children love to mimic the behaviors of their parents. The way adults react to events is often the way the child perceives and reacts to the event, so try and stay calm.
Maintain a child’s routine.
After a traumatic event, stick to your child’s normal routine. Go to sleep and wake up at the same times,eat meals at the same time, and engage in every activity you usually do. Ignoring a child’s routine after tragedy will make him or her feel more anxious.
Reinforce a sense of security.
Over the next few days, spend a little extra time with your child to reinforce feelings of safety and security.
Warning signs to Watch for.
Distressing dreams and constant memories of the event, intense psychological or physiological reactions to cues that remind them of the event, inability to experience positive emotions, decreased concentration, exaggerated startle response. Additionally, symptoms usually begin three days to one month after the event and will impact 6 to 33 percent of the children, depending on what they witnessed among, other