Children’s common responses to traumatic events
Watch this 5 minute video to help understand children’s common responses to traumatic events – especially filmed in relation to the recent Garden Route fires. A traumatic event is something that is sudden, unexpected, potentially life threatening. There are common responses to such challenging experiences. It’s natural for children to show a range of these changed behaviours in the first few days/weeks after a trauma event.
If you don’t have time to watch here is the list (not exclusive) :
- anxious / jumpy – becoming overly fearful
- flashbacks – a sense of reliving the event in their minds eye/seeing the images replay
- concentration and memory problems – being forgetful, not able to remember various things
- extra sensitive/reactive to images, sounds, smells, reminders related to the incident
- inability to think – focussing/being preoccupied with the traumatic incident
- numb – shutting down emotionally, not wanting to talk about it/not expressing any feelings (including their usual joy/happiness)
- sleep problems – challenges falling/staying asleep, bad dreams and nightmares
- appetite changes – a loss or increase in appetite
- tiredness – phases of extreme fatigue are common at any time in the day/night
- irritability / anger outbursts
- tearful / depressive – a lack of enthusiasm / desire to do their usual activities
- clingy / demanding – this can include ‘acting out’ behaviours and increased melt downs
Remember : ALL of these are normal and natural responses to an abnormally stressful event.
With support, reassurance and attentive care (and if this was the child’s first traumatic event) these symptoms should naturally dissolve within a few weeks following the event.
In some cases (especially in South Africa), a child has been traumatized by previous events (e.g. robberies/car accident/invasive medical procedures). As a result, this often causes a lowered tolerance/inability to deal with the current trauma being experienced. This is especially so if the child did not receive professional help for the initial trauma.
Any form of trauma debriefing or counseling with a trained professional is therefore essential if your child has experienced previous trauma. It is also strongly recommended if this is their first trauma and symptoms are worsening over time.
Note : Chapter four of my ParentMagic book deals exclusively with how to help children cope with these kinds of BIG challenges, and what happens when symptoms do not alleviate and become Childhood Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.