The world today can be a frightening place. In light of the recent shootings, various security lock-downs at schools, and other community situations, recovery from these extremely stressful events can take some time. Adults may have difficult times coping and sorting out their feelings regarding these types of events. Children and teens may react differently than adults to the disasters, depending on their age and prior experiences.
Over time, recovering from traumatic and stressful events does occur, but may depend on several factors. Direct experience to the disaster, actually physically experiencing or witnessing the event as it happens, can lengthen time when reactions and stress related symptoms begin to decrease. Contributing factors, such as loss of a friend or family member, seeing serious injury or death of another person, or being hurt from the disaster can also have an impact on responses to these trying events. Expect that youth may respond in different ways than adults. Being supportive and understanding of different reactions can help facilitate recovery.
Here are some common stress reactions children may have to traumatic events:
- Feelings of anxiety, fear and worry about safety of self and others
- Physical complaints (headaches, stomachaches, other aches and pains)
- Changes in school habits and behaviors with peers or family
- Being startled easily or increased sensitivity to sounds/loud noises
- Staying focused on the events and repeatedly talking/discussing
- Changes in behaviors: Increase in activity levels, decrease in concentration or attention, increase in irritability and anger, sadness, grief, changes in sleep or appetite, lack of interest in usual activities
Adults can help children who are struggling with their thoughts and feelings. Here are some things to do:
- Be a positive role model by sharing your feelings and modeling positive coping skills
- Be patient as behavioral, attention and concentration changes may occur and may take a little time to adjust
- Seek additional help with mental health care professionals if symptoms to not begin to lessen over time or interfere with their ability to function
- Monitor changes in behaviors, attitudes, and relationships which can be a notification of deeper need of assistance
- Limit media exposure to ensure re-traumatization does not occur or smaller children do not believe events are occurring again
- Maintain expectations of rules at home and school and addressing acting out behaviors
- Correct inaccurate information if the child has inaccurate information or misconceptions
- Talk to the children about the events, what happened, what is happening and what may continue to occur
- Reinforce their safety and address changes that are being made or can be made to help
With some time and attention, children and teens can learn to cope and manage with the stress reactions to traumatic events and tragedies. Adults can help by listening, observing, and modeling positive coping skills. If symptoms continue for a few months without a decrease in intensity for you or your child, please seek help with your doctor, school counselor or other community mental health care professional.