How Kids Respond to Trauma
I am just back from a family vacation--three generations, five grandsons ages 6-11. I had a front row seat watching the boys compete in sports, sing rap songs, climb mountains, tease each other. No little guys anymore. With the older ones almost as tall as I am, and knowing the vulnerability that comes with adolescence, I have concerns. How do we keep growing kids emotionally safe as they become interested in the world around them--especially when the news reports regularly cover mass murders, war casualties, and terror alerts?
Studies show that close to 4% of teenage boys and more than 6% of teenage girls suffer from post-traumatic stress, exhibiting symptoms similar to adults. And the reactions of younger children are strongly affected by their parents’ response to stress. Those ages 5-12 are more likely to withdraw, become disruptive, have nightmares or complain of physical problems.
You don’t have to personally experience abuse, neglect or trauma to feel anxiety and stress. Second-hand exposure to major acts of violence can also be traumatic. This includes seeing or hearing about death and destruction after a building is bombed or a plane crashes. With the impact of mass media and easy access to the Internet, children today are exposed to lots of situations that can cause them to worry. And when your conversations focus on suffering or tragedy, you can bet that your kids are often listening more closely than you think.
You know what your family needs and how to provide a sense of security.
Explain that scared, angry or sad feelings are normal and will fade when they ask questions and talk about what’s going on. As you supervise the flow of information, encourage them to tell you what their friends are saying, so you can clarify any distortions. Reassure them that they’re safe no matter what thoughts they’re having. All this will help them reframe their ideas rather than fall prey to emotion.
Readers, tell us about how you teach your kids to keep the harmful effects of stress at a minimum. And log on again Wednesday for more ideas about helping kids take precautions and feel safe while still not letting fear win.