Signs of stress in children following a major Crisis

Sometimes parents need help identifying stress in children or teens. Here are some typical experiences and signs of stress in children of different ages who have experienced major crisis.

·        Regression of sleeping, toilet training or eating; slowing down in the mastery of new skills
·        Sleep disturbances (difficulty going to sleep; frequently waking)
·        Difficulty leaving parent, extreme clinginess
·        General crankiness, temper tantrums, crying

·        Regression-returning to security blankets/discarded toys, lapses in toilet training, thumb sucking or other age inappropriate behavior
·        Immature grasp of what has happened; bewildered; making up fantasy stories
·        Blaming themselves and feeling guilty about how the crisis affected their family
·        Bedtime anxiety; fitful/fretful sleep; frequent waking or chronic worrying
·        Fear of being abandoned by both parents; clinginess increases as child feels unsafe
·        Greater irritability, aggression, or temper tantrums, especially from previously quiet children

·        Pervasive sadness; especially when perceived feelings of being abandoned or rejected
·        Crying and sobbing can be a common reaction, and sometimes a healing one
·        Afraid of their worst fears coming true, this is sometimes called “catastrophizing”
·        Fantasies that the stressful event didn’t happen and things will ‘just go back to normal’
·        May become overactive or over-involved to avoid thinking about stressful issues
·        Feel ashamed of the crisis; or feel they are different from other children because of the crisis

·        Fear of being isolated and lonely, separation anxiety increases in kids with other major losses.
·        Fear loss of stability and security from parents leaving them or parents not available to them
·        Feel hurried to achieve independence, partly to escape the crisis situation
·        May tend to over-achieve academically or in sports to try and forget the crisis
·        Worry about their own future; preoccupied with the survival of any stable situation
·        Chronic fatigue; difficulty concentrating, physical complaints may indicate stuffed emotions
·        Mourn the loss caused by the crisis or begin to understand that life can be a dangerous place

(Created by Kathleen O’Connell and Dwight Bain to help kids in crisis)

Strategies to help children after a crisis

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 can help 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.

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