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How to manage a traumatised kid

Parents, schools and communities are faced with the challenge of talking to children about disasters in a way that helps them process the psychological trauma they are going through.

According to the American Academy of Paediatrics, children can cope most effectively with a disaster when they feel that they understand what is happening and know what they can do to help protect themselves and others.

Keeping this in mind, provide them with basic information to help them understand, without including alarming details. Here is how to do it:

Very young children

Provide concrete explanations of what happened and how it will affect them: “The teacher was injured, so you’ll have a new teacher for a while; mummy is sad because she misses her friend). Let them know there are many people (such as the police, Red Cross and other emergency personnel) working to help them and their community recover.

Share with them all the steps being taken to keep them safe. Children will often worry that a disaster will occur again.

Older children

Older children will likely want, and benefit from additional information about the disaster and recovery efforts. Always start by asking them what they already know and what questions they have. This should be the guide for your conversations.

While children may benefit from basic information to understand what is happening, they don’t benefit from graphic details or exposure to disturbing images or sounds. It is good to disconnect from all media and sit down together and talk as a family.

Address fears and feelings

Often, children’s fears are based on limited information or misunderstanding of what they have been told. Reassure them when you are able to do so.

If a child’s fears are realistic, don’t give false reassurance. Instead, help them learn how to cope with these feelings.

Help them cope with disasters. Adults at home or school can help children learn how to cope effectively. If you feel overwhelmed or hopeless, look for support from other adults before reaching out to the child.

Although it does not help children for adults to appear overwhelmed by the event, it is good to share some feelings with them. Adults can also talk with kids about what they are doing to deal with those feelings.

Allow them to “own” their feelings instead of denying or pushing them away.  Let your child know that it is all right to be upset about something bad that has happened.