Strategies to Help Children Following A Crisis

By: Dwight Bain, LMHC

Children look to their parents for support and encouragement during any crisis. The following is a guide to help parents and teachers manage the flood of emotions that may come up because of the terrorist attacks.

Ages birth-6
It is recommended that children under the age of six not be given exposure to major traumatic events. Children of this age draw their support from their parents, so if the parents or guardians feel safe and secure, the children will as well. Parents should speak calmly around children about bad things that happen in the world, and that "we will remember the people that were hurt in our prayers." If the parents are able to maintain a sense of calmness, children will feel safe.

Ages 6-12
Children this age are more aware of the world around them, yet still need moms and dads to shield them from most of the bad news in our world. Very limited exposure to the media is recommended at this stage, with more open discussions about any fears or insecurities that the child is feeling. Talking is encouraged for this age group, or write letters to emergency workers to thank them for helping the victims. Drawing pictures allows for healthy emotional expression, and something everyone needs is just being held close. A hug helps bring security to a child. Also remember to have special times of prayer. These steps help children better deal with their fears about bad things that happen in the world.

Ages 12-18
Young people have their own impressions of traumatic events. The older they are, the more likely they will have strong opinions, and it is normal for them to process their feelings with friends. This should be balanced with family, teachers, pastors or counselors. They need time to verbally process how they feel about what happened ten years ago. Special emphasis should be placed on helping this age group talk through the issues and how it impacted them and not stay isolated. Silence is a warning sign that the crisis events of the past have been internalized. Strict limits on over exposure of media is essential to prevent anxiety or panic levels from rising.


Warning Signs.
Stress signs of overexposure to painful memories from the past may occur immediately after the trauma or even a few years later. These signs are indicators that stress is beginning to overwhelm the individual. The longer the stress symptoms occur, the greater the severity of the traumatic event on the individual. This does not imply craziness or weakness rather it indicates that the memories are too powerful for the person to manage by themselves. Adults or children who display many of the following stress symptoms may need additional help dealing with the events of the crisis. They should seek the appropriate medical or psychological assistance.

Physical:
Chills, thirst, fatigue, nausea, fainting, vomiting, dizziness, weakness, chest pain, headaches, elevated Blood Pressure, rapid heart rate, muscle tremors, difficulty breathing, shock symptoms, etc.

Emotional:
Fear, guilt, grief, panic, denial, anxiety, irritability, depression, apprehension, emotional shock, feeling overwhelmed, loss of emotional control, etc.

Cognitive:
Confusion, nightmares, uncertainty, hyper-vigilance, suspiciousness, intrusive images, poor problem solving, poor abstract thinking, poor attention/memory and concentration, disorientation of time, places or people, difficulty identifying objects or people, heightened or lowered alertness, etc.

Behavioral:
Withdrawal, antisocial acts, inability to rest, intensified pacing, erratic movements, changes in social activity, changes in speech patterns, loss of or increase of appetite, increased alcohol consumption, etc.

When in doubt, contact a trusted family member, a physician or certified mental health professional. It is important to actively deal with any painful past emotions to find strength to cope with issues in the present. Remember there are caring people who can help you. You never have to go through a crisis alone.


Bottom line discussion issues for growth. Think about and discuss these issues with others…

· How you have changed since the terrorist attacks?

· How you and your family are different since then?

· Talk about what was important to you on the day of the attacks… and what is important to you today.


Dwight Bain is an author who helps people manage major crisis. Follow his blog posts at www.DwightBain.com or follow him online @DwightBain

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