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Helping your child deal with trauma

By Vivian Warby

PIC: Dan Meyers/UnSplash


By Vivian Warby


From a pandemic, to unrest and violence, children today are faced with an insurmountable amount of trauma which can trigger anxiety, behavioural issues and fears.


Here are some basic tips I have gathered from my years as a counsellor working in area afflicted with gangsterism, violence and dire economic conditions. I hope this is of some use.

Please do monitor your child and seek professional help where necessary. There are many places that offer pro bono assistance.


1 Safety: Let your children know how much you care about them. Share what communities and security are doing to increase safety. Remind your children you are there for them to provide safety, comfort and support.


Share the good news about any plans to secure areas, especially your area and your home so they can start feeling there will be protection. Let them know that should anything happens again, there is a plan in place and you can calmly explain it to them.


2. Check in often. Be sure to check in regularly with your child as you monitor how they are coping. Provide extra time, attention and patience (even an extra hug and even a pat of the back for the non huggers can make them feel safer).


3. Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety. After a traumatic event, it is normal to have many emotions, including anxiety, fearfulness, shock, anger, grief.

Do let your child know it is normal to experience these emotions and understand children cope in different ways.


Behaviours, moods, sleeping patterns may change but should return to normal after a short time if things stay calm.


Seek professional help if necessary.


4. Have a chat with your child - ask them how they are feeling. Most importantly by asking them how they feel, it will let them know that you are listening and are there for them.


If a child admits to a concern, acknowledge it and don’t tell them not to be worried/anxious or whatever it is they are feeling as they may feel criticised and won’t share more. You can say: yes I can see you are worried/anxious. I’m here for you.


It is also better if you share the details of what happened with them yourself so they learn of these from a safe and trusted adult. Be brief and honest. Also you may be surprised what kids are worrying about - often times it’s not what you are concerned with.


Your child needs someone who can listen to their fears, their questions, accept whatever it is they are feeling and just be there for them.


There is no right thing to say so don’t worry about that - ultimately there is not one answer you can give that will make it all okay. But knowing someone they trust is there for them, may.


5. What do they have control over - highlight this and maintain their routines as much as possible.


6. Monitor kids online behaviour and ensure they take news breaks - social media is riddled with retraumatising videos as is media.


Related to the above - Research has shown that even listening to something about violence has the same effect as actually witnessing it. So while you limit your children’s time in front of retraumatising events and conversations, limit yours as well.


Here is a tip: see who your fake-news friends and groups are and give them a miss for a while. Instead parents can stay on the WhatsApp’s groups etc, news channels, that offer solutions and support. Use trusted sources to keep on top of events, but take a news break too!

7. Be mindful of what is discussed in front of kids. Watch your tone. If kids don’t understand the broken bits they hear they’ll fill in the gaps and that can make them more anxious.


8. Listen for misinformation or misperceptions children may have picked up and gently correct these.


9. Encourage your children to have fun, the distraction is good for them. Why not have a night everyone takes part in a fun family activity.


10. Draw, paint, write, tell stories, sing, dance: Let your children express themselves in these ways.


11. Self care: take care of yourself. - watch your sleeping/eating/meditation/fresh air cycle. Children can model on your behaviour. Keep routines, take your own breaks, engage in activities you enjoy too.


12. Have a plan - for evacuation for example. This may include a packed emergency evacuation kit with essentials plus all the numbers of contacts and emergency numbers. Have a phone charger bank so you have at least one to two extra charges. Let your child see you taking control and this will help them too.


13. Please seek help if you and/or your child are not coping. Organisations, people, counsellors, therapists, neighbours, want to help, reach out. You are not alone.


You can contact me on vivian@wordwarrior.co.za


* This article first appeared on iol.co.za you can find it here: https://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/family/parenting/the-aftermath-of-violence-and-looting-how-to-help-your-child-deal-with-a-traumatic-event-2c18b2d5-53e5-4733-b92e-19286dd65727



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