Working through traumatic events
How do you help your children cope with a traumatic event such as a large earthquake? Psychologist Anna Malone – from Triple P Positive Parenting Programme – gives this advice.
- Re-establish family rules and routines as soon as you can. You don’t need to be in your home, or have everything the same. All you need is a sense of the familiar; things that resemble the old routines. Reading a book before bed, for example, or eating together as a family, even if it’s on the floor.
- It’s common for children who’ve been through a traumatic event to become afraid of going to bed alone, to sleep fitfully or have nightmares. Your children may want to sleep with you, or have you stay with them until they’ve fallen asleep. Over time you will gradually fall back to normal patterns.
- A toilet trained child may start wetting his bed or be too afraid to go to the toilet alone. If your child is toilet trained, don’t make it a big deal, just keep an eye on the time; every now and then say they might like to go to the toilet now. Go with them. If you were in the middle of training, leave it for now.
- Your children are likely to emulate what they’ve seen when they play (eg. knock towers down). Play is how small children express themselves and they need to do this. But if that’s all they are playing, distract them with other games. And don’t get them to talk about their fears over and over again.
- Let your kids help with the clean-up. It helps take their mind off it and shifts their focus.
- Make sure you get the support you need. Your kids will see you upset and worried – this is part of the reality of living through a traumatic event as long as they don’t start trying to parent you. They need to know that Mum and Dad are there to look after them.
- Be honest and direct. During an aftershock you can say, “Yes, that was another little shake and we’re probably going to have more.” After each one say, “Yay, we did it.” If they ask, “Are we safe?’ or “Are we going to die?” tell them, “Think about today, and the last couple of days. We are okay and Mum and Dad are here for you. It’s our job to look after you and we have a family plan.”
- Keep tight control over how much news your children see and hear. After 9/11 many children who say the TV footage thought that buildings were crashing down all over the world. They didn’t understand that they were watching the same image repeated over and over again.
- Favourite toys and objects can represent safety to a child - it is a big deal if they lose them.
- Most children will take two to three months to recover. If your child is still showing signs of trauma after this, seek professional help.
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