How to notice trauma in children – Richmond Register
The local evening news comes on the TV with the newscaster commenting on a deadly accident that occurred during the late afternoon. A picture of a child along with his family is posted while the newscaster goes on to explain that both the mother and child died.
The mother realizes in horror that the child was a friend and classmate of her son. She begins to cry as her son looks up and asks why his friend’s picture is on TV. The mother does not know where to start and feels emotionally overwhelmed.
Unfortunately, some children experience losses and other disturbing events while growing up. Some of these losses are very difficult for children to cope with effectively and can be quite traumatic. This is where parents often step in to help soothe and provide comfort. They can provide children with guidance on how to deal with these types of situations.
It is normal for children to grieve after a significant loss. Grief comes in many different forms with some children having an immediate reaction to the loss while others cope well initially but have a poor reaction later. Still other children will handle the loss well and not show any difficulties.
While parents want to help their children as much as possible after a loss, some responses to the trauma are not evident until three or six months later. This is why parents need to monitor their children for signs of unhealthy coping as the losses become too much for children to handle.
Children who have traumatic reactions to loss often become hyper-focused on mortality or death. Some children will develop an obsession with their own safety or those close to them. Others may develop a notable fascination with death. Different disturbing events may inspire related types of concerns such as a child whose friend’s house burned down repeatedly thinking about a fire in his own home.
In addition to the hyper-focused concerns, children will exhibit various problematic behaviors. Some children mimic symptoms of depression which includes too little or too much sleep, unexplained irritability and anger, problems with inattention, and changes in their eating habits. Other children may show signs of anxiety such as showing obsessive or pervasive worry and having difficulty separating from their parents.
If the trauma is connected to school, like the situation above, school is going to be where most of the reminders of the event are going to be. The result is school refusal which can signal parents that there is something wrong.
Loss and disturbing events can have a traumatic effect on children. Parents need to provide a safe and comforting environment for children as they learn how to recover from the event. While grieving will happen, parents need to be on the lookout for children’s reactions that go beyond typical grief. When this occurs, parents should get professional help in the form of counseling and other support services.
Dan Florell, Ph.D., is an associate professor at Eastern Kentucky University and has a private practice, MindPsi (www.mindpsi.net). Praveena Salins, M.D., is a pediatrician at Madison Pediatric Associates (www.madisonpeds.com).