After a traumatic event older children may develop some behavioral and emotional issues
They may have problems with eating and/or sleeping.
They may start acting younger than their age and asking for help doing things they know how to do like getting dressed, eating, taking a bath.
They may withdraw from their friends, avoid school or develop problems in school.
They may develop physical symptoms like headaches, stomachaches etc. that have no medical explanation.
Emotional issues older children may struggle with are:
Guilt. Some children may feel guilty they were not able to help.
Aggressive behavior at home or at school.
Drug or alcohol use. Older children may turn to these substances thinking they will help them cope with the strong negative emotions they have after the trauma.
Good open communication is a key element in helping your 6–19-year-old cope with traumatic events. Ignoring the issue is not a good idea because it leaves the child feeling unseen, unheard and not important and, because you lose a crucial opportunity to teach your child healthy, effective coping skills which they will be able to use the rest of their lives.
Here are a few pointers to help you really communicate with your kids:
Calm yourself first before talking to your child.
Older kids will often know more than you think they do. So, before you start talking to them about what is going on, ask them what they already know to make sure it is accurate.
Have your child ask their questions. Answer as honestly as you can without adding to their stress or fear.
To make sure they have really understood your answer, ask them to repeat back to you what they heard you say. If they did not hear you accurately, repeat the information in a different way so they do understand you correctly.(This is called active communication)
Ask your child to tell you how they are feeling. As they answer listen with your full attention and without judgment to what they are saying.
If your teenager doesn’t want to talk to you, stop trying and do something together you know they like. Kids will often shy away from talking to you face to face but may open up to you while you are doing something else. It is important that you be ready to listen with your full attention and without judgement, and, without jumping in to ‘fix’ how they feel. They need to feel seen, heard and understood on order for you to really be able to help them.
Helping your school-aged child deal with the after-effects of a trauma
Return to your routines as soon as possible. Even teenagers like routines despite the fact that they ‘fight’ against them!
If the trauma is a major event, don’t let your child watch media coverage of what is going on alone. If they want to watch, watch the news with them. Often the media exaggerates things and makes them even scarier. The graphic sights and sounds the media so often shares can also be very frightening to your child. You want to be there to answer your child’s questions and help them process the information in real time.
Communicating with your school-aged child is key:
Whenever you are going to have a talk with your child make sure that you are in the best place you can be, in order to be supportive. If you are stressed and worried it will be hard for you to help them calm down.
Listen quietly and without judgment.
Listen carefully to what your child is saying. Be fully present with them as they talk to you.
Accept how your child feels and try not to judge their feelings or tell them that what they feel is ‘wrong’. Dismissing how a child feels as ‘wrong’ shuts down communication between you so your child may not come to you for help anymore.
Ask your child what they are going to do to deal with the feelings and emotions they are having. If they don’t have any ideas help them brainstorm healthy ways to manage negative emotions. Thinking of ways they can control their emotions gives them a feeling of empowerment. Too often we think that our emotions control us rather than the other way around. If your child is stuck and can’t come up with ideas, ask them (especially the teenagers) if they would like you to share some ideas, don’t just ‘jump in’ with your solutions…..
Once your child has come up with ways to manage their emotions in healthy ways, try to help your child find something positive to think about. Will something good come out of what happened? Is there something ‘positive’ happening right now that they could focus on instead of the trauma? I know this can be challenging but by focusing on things that are going right you help your child activate the rest and digest centers in their brain which makes them feel better. Try to direct their attention to the fact that you are all safe and healthy, or that many people got together to help and support your safety ( it obviously depends on the situation) .
Allow your child to cry. Please don’t let anyone tell them that crying is weak, or that ‘real men’ don’t cry. Crying is a good way to relieve stress and to deal with strong emotions in a very healthy way. Suppressed or ignored emotions have a nasty way of showing up in ‘negative’ ways later on…..
Just like with younger children you can encourage your child to express themselves through drawing, writing, singing and even dancing for kids who learn and express through their bodies. Especially if you have a child that doesn’t want to talk about things.
Don’t let the trauma become the only topic of discussion. Your child needs to talk about it and process what happened, but, if you notice that is all your child is talking about, guide them to redirect their attention to other things like things they love to do.
Encourage your child to spend time doing things that they love to do.
Encourage your child to spend time with friends.
Come up with ways your children can help others. Helping others is a great way to relieve stress and give your child some power in a situation where they may feel powerless. Maybe they can write and send thank you notes to people who helped you. Brainstorm with them ways you can help others.
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