During an initial 4-6 week period following the traumatic experience, any sort of behavior is common and should be considered normal, according to the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children. Following this 4-6 week period, behavior outside of a child’s norm can indicate trauma or post-traumatic stress. According to the Institute, these behaviors include:
Asking lots of questions – “What if?” “How do I know it won’t happen to us?” or “Will it happen again?”
More afraid than normal
Clingy – more than considered normal
Parents and caregivers should also watch for:
Re-experiencing – unable to get thoughts/images/sounds out of their heads, may have a difficult time falling or staying asleep, feeling anxious, headaches or stomach aches.
Avoidance – completely avoid anything or anybody that would remind them of what happened. Traumatized individuals may also exhibit a diminished interest in activities or in things they previously enjoyed.
Arousal – may be acting out or unable to focus or concentrate.
There are steps parents or caregivers can take to help a child in trauma, the Institute said. These include:
Limit the amount of exposure. Turn off the TV if a traumatic event is being shown to prevent overexposure. Actively listen to what they are experiencing. Be careful not to judge or state that, “It’s no big deal” or “This is something we all go through.” Normalize their symptoms and reaction regardless of their experience. Kids in trauma often feel like they are alone in what they are experiencing and feeling or that it is abnormal.
If a child has questions regarding a traumatic event, be honest and answer their questions without going into unnecessary detail, the Institute said. If questions are avoided, children will often make up a scenario on their own that is many times scarier. Be honest and give facts but at their pace.
Everyone’s reaction — or lack of reaction — to a traumatic experience is normal. Everybody responds differently, which is absolutely OK, according to the Institute.
The Institute offers services that can be utilized after tragic events. The Parent Trauma Resource Center is a free online resource for parents, caregivers and professionals working with grief and trauma and can be found here
Further questions can be directed to TLC Director Caelan Kuban at firstname.lastname@example.org or 586-899-5056.