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Coping with Traumatic Events

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Dear Debi:
My son is starting to pay more attention to what we've been watching in the news lately about all the hurricanes. He has been very nervous and worried that we will all be washed away by water. What can I do to calm him down?
Lilian Melgar,
Debi's Tips
Debi Gutierrez
Debi Gutierrez
Host
  • Reassure children youíre there for them
  • Calm your own fears
  • Clarify questions first, but answer honestly & simply
  • Promote involvement
  • Control media exposure
Expert Advice
Dr. Charles Sophy
Dr. Charles Sophy
LA County Child & Family Services, father of a 4-year-old
Traumatic events are anything out of the ordinary or frightening that may lead kids to feel out of control and, as a result, scared. This, then, leads to feelings of anxiety. Parents who are proactive about these fears will have the best outcomes from their children because they are helping their children work through their fears.

I would suggest that Lilian talk with her son and find out whereís heís at in his head as far as the understanding of the events. There could be certain aspects of the events that frighten him more than others, so you have to talk to him to find out how heís processing those feelings. Then normalize it for him: put it into perspective for him so that heíll understand. Reassure him that, ďAs the parent, itís my job to help you feel safe so keep telling me when you donít feel safe.Ē Itís very important not to minimize or dismiss their feelings but, instead, acknowledge them let them know that itís ok for them to feel afraid because their feelings can never be wrong, but also assure them that youíre there to keep them safe no matter what.

There are different things that you can do with your child to help them work through their feelings of fear. Some specific things that you can have them do to help them feel empowered are: have them draw out what theyíre feeling; have them put together a care package for children affected by a natural disaster by asking them what they would like to receive if they were one of these children. Itís important to give them empowering activities because they mobilize their feelings of fear into something positive. Sometimes something as simple as reenacting an event with dolls or using props like toy ambulances can be enough to help them work through their feelings and help them gain an understanding of the events.

Children definitely react to how adults handle stress. Children read us like a book Ė both verbally and non-verbally. They take their cues from us. So the first thing you need to do is to get yourself in check and deal with your own emotions and uncertainty with it all. When you get your own feelings in check, then you can start to help your children work through theirs. Having the newspaper out, having the TV on, having the radio constantly on all contribute to their awareness of outside events. Their exposure to the media should definitely be limited as well.

Child Care provider Comments
Jennifer Parkis
Jennifer Parkis
Mother of three
We experienced the fires in Southern California. We could smell the smoke as we drove on the highway. My children would start to get nervous whenever they smelled the smoke. I explained to them that the fires occurred because it was very dry. I told them not to worry even though they smelled smoke from the fires. Then I began to explain the duties of the firefighters. Their school teaches them about firefighters and they see them as community helpers.
Rosa Rios
Rosa Rios
Grandmother of three
My grandchild who is 4 years old has asked me the exact same questions about hurricanes. I explained to him that he was safe because we lived on a hill in an area that was not susceptible to that type of disaster. We need to reassure our children that they will be protected and make them feel secure. I remember one time I went to visit my grandchild at his pre-school. He was playing with a truck in the sandbox, filling the truck with sand. He was dramatizing the hurricane using sand in place of water. Children communicate their fears in many different ways and in this case he was doing it through toys. Parents should make the child feel that it is OK to ask questions or relate fears and they should find a way to communicate that is comfortable for the child.
Darlene Patterson
Darlene Patterson
Family child care provider for 22 years and mother of three
I had a child whose parents were going through a divorce and he didnít understand why his father wasnít coming back. So I had to sit him down and explain that both parents still loved him and that just because his daddy was living somewhere else didnít mean that he didnít care for him anymore. There was a lot of reassuring him and talking to him constantly during that time. Even when Fatherís Day came around and we were making cards, I had to reassure him that we were definitely making a card for his daddy. Iíve found that talking to kids about their feelings and reassuring them is the best strategy in helping them deal with a traumatic event.

Cut-Out Painting Featured Activity:
Cut-Out Painting
Coping with Traumatic Events Featured Video:
Coping with Traumatic Events
Topic: Social & Emotional Development
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