After traumatic events, violence or disaster, parents and family members should identify and address their own feelings — this will allow them to help others. Explain to children what happened and let them know:
- You love them
- The event was not their fault
- You will do your best to take care of them
- It’s okay for them to feel upset.
- Allow children to cry
- Allow sadness to be expressed
- Allow anger to be expressed (but not played out in rage)
- Let children talk about feelings
- Let them write about feelings
- Let them draw pictures about the event or their feelings (we can use these later when we introduce THERAPLAY as part of EMDR)
- Expect children to be brave or tough
- Make children discuss the event before they are ready
- Get angry if children show strong emotions
- Get upset if they begin bedwetting, acting up or thumb sucking
If children have trouble sleeping give them extra attention, let them sleep with a light on, or let them sleep in your room (for a short time).
Try to keep to normal routines, for example, reading bedtime stories, eating dinner together, watching TV together, reading books, exercising or playing games. If you can’t keep to normal routines, make new ones together.
Help children feel in control when possible by letting them choose meals, pick out clothes, or make some decisions for themselves.
Helping children with these simple basics can start immediately, even at the scene of the event. Most children recover within a few weeks of a traumatic experience, while some may need help longer. Grief, a deep emotional response to loss, may take months to resolve. Children may experience grief over the loss of a loved one, friend or even pets. Bereavement is common.
It’s important to identify children who need extra support and help them obtain it. Some children may need help from a mental health professional. Some people may seek other kinds of help from community leaders but how will you know this?
If the child is attending school perhaps speak to a teacher, often in schools we now find dedicated staff trained to help. If you cannot find the support or there isn’t access to any help, or the only help available is privately and you would find it hard to fund treatment, then this may be the book you’ve always been waiting for, it’s certainly what it’s been designed for!
If there’s a long wait to see a mental health professional then there’s certainly no harm in treating children at home as an early intervention with this simple four step EASY EMDR process so why wait, why prolong a child’s pain.
It’s important to monitor problematic behaviours which could be:
- Refusing to go to places that remind them of the event
- Emotional numbness or unexplained anger/rage
- Behaving dangerously
- Sleep problems including nightmares.
Always pay even closer attention to children who have suffered trauma:
- Listen to them
- Accept/don’t argue about their feelings
- Help them cope with the reality of their experiences
By doing simple things like these it can reduce or prevent memories of trauma being ‘locked in’. You can at that time also help avoid memories becoming ‘locked in’ by reducing other stress a child may experience at the same time, which only serves to increase their anxiety such as;
- Frequent moving or changes in place of residence
- Long periods away from family and friends
- Pressures to perform well in school
- Nagging at home over basic ideals such as a tidy room
- Fighting within the family
- Being hungry
Parents and caregivers should also limit or prevent viewing of repetitive news reports about traumatic events. Young children may not understand that news coverage is about one event and not multiple similar events.
Above all else it’s important if you want to avoid traumatic memories being locked in, if faced with immediate trauma:
- Force people to tell their stories
- Probe for personal details
- Say things like “everything will be OK,” or “at least you survived”
- Say what you think they should feel or have acted
- Say people suffered because they deserved it
- Be negative about available help
- Make promises that you can’t keep such as “you’ll go home soon.”
Even if you do abide by all of these we know that some children may still have prolonged mental health problems after a traumatic event. These may include grief, depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Some trauma survivors get better without support. Others may need care or even prolonged help from a professional mental health strategy. If after a month in a safe environment children are not able to perform normal routines or new behavioural or emotional problems develop, then contact a health professional and/or use EASY EMDR. It’s common for children and even adults to react the same if they are also subjected to some of what I’ve listed here, adults may need the help that EASY EMDR can give them: