It’s hard enough being a kid without having tragedy strike. Growing up, making friends and becoming a functional human being is not without its own issues. So, what happens when something devastating occurs that turns their world upside down? In a world where shootings happen often, illnesses are diagnosed every minute, and countless of other tragedies strike, we wish we could shield our children from everything. If tragedy does occur, it is important to be present and acknowledge the pain in your child, at whatever age. Here are some recommendations to ensure you’re giving your child what they need in order to heal and thrive once again.
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When something traumatic happens, a child will feel very vulnerable. Their world isn’t what it once was, and their daily routine may have completely toppled over. Depending on the age of the child, they may revert to a younger age (bed-wetting is a common symptom of anxiety), or if they are in their teens, anger or substance abuse may happen.
During this time offering security with a steady presence instead of frustration is incredibly beneficial. Once they witness a constant stream of support being established by you, they will start to regain trust in the world again and be able to relax a little more. This is also a good time to do research on traumatic stress and how many ways it can manifest itself. This way, you are prepared for many kinds of situations and emotional outbursts that may arise during this tumultuous time.
If your child was affected by someone getting shot or witnessed a horrible accident, limiting media consumption is pivotal. The news is filled with horrific events that play over and over again in a way to “shock” the audience. If your child keeps seeing these images in a chaotic manner, it will open up the wound that their body, heart and minds are so desperately trying to heal.
However, it’s also important to help your child work through what happened. Sitting with them while reading or watching something together and openly talking about the event is a way to help a child work through things logically. Expressing grief and emotions are still necessary to heal, but talking openly in the context of how the world works (however unfair and overwhelming it is) would be beneficial for a greater understanding.
If your child is expressing anger or outrage, having them get a lot of exercise would help release some of that pent up energy. Being among nature is a healing experience in itself, breathing in fresh oxygen and running around as much as necessary. Keeping moving also relates to interacting with friends and lessening isolation, or going on a family adventure together. Trauma doesn’t mean that life is over, and creating an outing for your child that could yield some small pleasure and happiness is helpful, even if it’s just to get them through the day or help them get a good night’s sleep.
Chances are you are also affected by the tragedy that has occurred. In order to provide a safe and open environment for your child to work through things, you need to take care of yourself. Make sure you have a support system to talk to (family, friends, therapist, to name a few), and make healthy decisions when you can. As a parent or caretaker, your child needs you now more than ever. You can’t be fully there for your child if you are exhibiting self destructive behaviors. Children are like sponges, soaking up the environment around them. If you want your child to eat healthy, you must eat healthy too. Need to get outside? Take a walk or run together.
More importantly, It’s great that your child sees you as a source of strength and support, but let your child know that you’re struggling sometimes too and that being sad is part of the human experience.
Children have the ability (oftentimes more so than adults), to bounce back and adapt to a new way of living once tragedy strikes. If your child is still having trouble functioning at school, isolating themselves, or show self destructive behaviors over an extended period of time (some experts say an excess of six weeks or more), then it may be time to look for help with a mental health specialist. One that specializes in trauma would be preferred.
Depending on your own family background and viewpoints, sometimes we find that it’s difficult to ask for help. Since this is your child and you want the best possible outcome for them, reaching out of your comfort zone for your child’s well-being and future could be an incredible resource.
Tragedy happens, whether we’re prepared or not – and likely we are not. The best tool as a parent and a human being is to be open, understanding and very forgiving during this turbulent and painful period. Opening your heart to your child during such a difficult time will show strength and vulnerability, and your child will be able to heal, knowing they can depend on you no matter what life throws their way.
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