How to Help Your Child Conquer His or Her Fears
When Your Child Has Been Exposed to a Trauma
What should you do when your child has been exposed to a traumatic situation? Don’t automatically assume that your child is experiencing what you, as an adult, are experiencing. Children experience trauma differently than adults. A child’s age and developmental level often determines how they perceive the traumatic incident.
Many parents “have a talk” with their child about the traumatic incident. Although talking with your child is important, you won’t know what your child is experiencing unless you listen.
Ask your child these questions. Listen carefully to your child’s responses. You may find that your child has been impacted by the trauma in ways you never thought possible.
Ask Your Child . . .
- What worries you the most now?
- What upsets you the most now?
- What is the worst part, the hardest part for you now?
- What helps you feel a little better?
- What helps you feel a little safer?
- Do you have any questions about what has happened or anything anyone has said?
Can You Do?
Reassure your child or teen that he or she is safe, and that you are also okay by doing the following:
- Maintain routines.
- Turn the television off or allow your child to only watch shows that aren’t covering the incident. (Adolescents may need to watch because, like adults, they have a need to know. Keep it to a minimum – no more than a half-hour and be sure to discuss what your child saw and heard by asking questions and listen carefully to his responses and opinions.)
- Do not criticize any regressive behaviors, such as a child’s need for comfort food. Allow your child to be sad or afraid. Reassure your child that you will be there to take care of him. Tell your child that the sadness, hurt, or fear that he may feel now will change in time.
- Encourage your child to exercise some sense of control for the next few days by letting him make decisions about what he wants to eat, and wear.
- Spend time together. This means together, not you in one part of the house while your child is in another part of the house.
- Encourage your child to engage in physical activities as well as activities that let him feel better. (Your school is likely involving students in activities to help survivors. Join them.)
- In the event of terrorism, explain that it is normal to feel sad or worried but the United States is a strong country and officials are working hard to keep everyone safe.
- When needed, help separate fact from fiction. Fiction tends to escalate one’s fears.
- Do not speculate or exaggerate.