o One of the most important things you can do for your children to help them cope effectively is to maintain or return to normal routines and expectations as soon as possible to the extent possible. Getting back into the typical rhythm of life helps to provide a sense of comfort and security.
o Get your children back engaged in activities they enjoy. Spend some time together as a family having fun.
o Help your children feel empowered by getting them engaged in activities that build self-confidence.
o Support your children in taking action to help themselves and others.
o Help your children regulate their emotions by teaching them strategies to help them relax (e.g., deep breathing).
o Encourage your children to seek out social support from trusted individuals such as teachers, friends and family.
5. Take care of yourself and manage your stress. How adults react to the crisis can have a significant impact on children, especially young children. Therefore, it is critical for caregivers to take care of their own well-being in constructive ways and remain calm and reassuring to the extent possible. Children’s contact with adults who are struggling to cope adaptively or have lost emotional control should be minimized.
6. Be aware of things that elevate your children’s risk.
o Children who are physically closer to the crisis event are at greater risk than those far away. The closer your children are to the location of a crisis event and the longer they are exposed to it or its consequences, the greater the likelihood your children will view the event as personally threatening.
o Having relationships with those significantly impacted by the crisis. The stronger your children’s relationships are with individuals significantly impacted, the greater the likelihood of your children experiencing severe distress. Children who have lost a caregiver or immediate family member are at greatest risk.
o Individual vulnerability. Personal experiences and characteristics can make some children more vulnerable than others. These include the following:
i. Children who are not living in their homes, have a family history of mental health issues or have caregivers who are severely distressed are more likely to be severely distressed themselves.
ii. Children who do not have supportive and nurturing friends or relatives, suffer more than those who have a good support system. One supportive and nurturing source can make all the difference for a child.
iii. Children who had mental health problems or behavioral challenges before experiencing the crisis event will be more likely to be severely distressed/impacted.
iv. Children’s age and maturity can impact their response. Young children may be protected from the emotional impact if they do not recognize the threat or are not aware of its gravity. However, once a young child or a child who is immature perceives a situation as threatening, he/she is more likely to experience severe distress.
v. Children who have experienced previous traumatic or frightening events are more
likely to be significantly impacted by the present crisis event, especially if the
previous event shares similarities to the present one.
Signs That Help Is Needed
Parents and caregivers can help reduce severe or long-lasting effects of a traumatic event by being observant of children who are at greater risk or have displayed severe reactions. It is important to get children help if they are displaying a severe reaction or if they are not able to return to typical functioning for a prolonged period following the crisis event (e.g., few weeks). Some examples of severe reactions include, but are not limited to, the following:
o Becoming hysterical, panicking or startling easily
o Avoiding all activities that serve as a reminder of trauma
o Withdrawing from other people
o Having difficulty feeling positive emotions
o Engaging in maladaptive coping behaviors (ones that are harmful to self or others)
o Having difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep, having difficulty concentrating, and/or being irritable or quick to anger for an extended period following the event
Anna C. Long is an assistant professor in the LSU Department of Psychology. Her area of expertise is in school psychology. She is available to speak with schools, community groups and news media.
LSU has a video uplink studio with live broadcast capabilities. Contact us to set up an interview with Dr. Long.
Note: Content for this handout was generated from the following sources.
Brock, S. E., Nickerson, A. B., Reeves, M. A., Jimerson, S. R., Feinberg, T., & Lieberman, R. (2009). School crisis prevention and intervention: The PREaRE model. Bethesda, MD: National Association of School Psychologists.
Heath, M. A. (2014). Best practices in crisis intervention following a natural disaster. In P. L. Harrison & A. Thomas (Eds.), Best practices in school psychology: Systems-level services (pp. 289-302). NASP: Bethesda, MD.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network, http://www.nctsn.org
Contact Alison Satake
LSU Media Relations