Dan Trathen DMin, PhD Clinical Psychologist & Certified Business & Life Coach

Helping your children deal with stress, grief, and trauma

Dr Dan for Today Helping your children deal with stress, grief, and trauma Today’s national tragedy has all of us experiencing a wide range of emotions and concerns. Throughout this paper, minister and counselors have offered their perspective on this tragedy and suggested a course of action for us as adults. Children, too, experience grief, stress, and trauma in varying ways. Parents are the most important and trusted link to their child and need all the help they can get to know how to help their child deal with it. Please consider the following information, compiled by members of the Douglas County School District Crisis Team, when spending time with your child in the following days and weeks. Parents need to carefully control their child’s access to television, radio, and Internet stories regarding the tragedy. The media can be overwhelming to adults, let alone children. Please limit your child’s exposure to the media. Talk with your child individually about the events and talk openly as a family as well. Parents need to monitor their own and their child’s physical and emotional responses to this tragedy, and reassure and reestablish their emotional safety and physical well-being. The emotional effects of a disaster on adults and children can be tremendous. One of the difficulties experienced by parents during disasters is that they have not had adequate time to deal with their own reactions when they are called upon to deal with the impact of a disaster on their child. Take time to understand and assess your own reactions before responding to your child. Though reactions in children can vary in severity, it is common for children to experience both physical (i.e., sleeplessness, stomach aches, loss of appetite, etc.) and emotional responses (i.e., crying, expressions of fear, nightmares, acting out, etc.). Talk with your child, reassure his or her safety, and listen to his or her feelings and concerns. Other ways to help your child through this tragedy, specifically when someone he or she loves died, are listed below (adapted from Rando, “Grieving: How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies”): Encouraging your child to grieve Specifically give your child permission to mourn. Be there personally for your child. Provide affections and security, and also show support, concern, and acceptance by appropriately physically touching your child. Look for ways to help your child express his or her feelings both verbally and nonverbally. Keep in perspective the developmental capacities of the child and age-related concerns at the time of death. Depending on the age, your child’s ability to remember a loved one who is physically gone may be limited. Be aware that your child will often need continual explanation of and communication about the death over an extended time. Recognize that your child is expressing feelings not only about the actual death itself, but also about the changes in the parents and the family following the death. Do not compare your child’s grief with yours as a parent or adult. Observe your child’s behavior for indications of how he or she is coping. Educate your child that loss and death is likely to bring about intense feelings that are important to deal with and that you’ll be there to help him or her through this. Discourage “magical thinking” that had any significant cause or responsibility for the death. Any changes in family responsibilities need to be appropriate for your child to handle. Encourage your child to have patience with himself or herself and others. Encourage your child to talk with his or her friends. Recognize that your child also will need some time alone for healing. Structure your child’s grief into steps and periods so the child is less likely to become overwhelmed by grief. Notice if your child is using avoidance or defenses that are too long related to the loss. With sudden death, it is important to provide a place for your child to say goodbye in order to complete “unfinished business” with the loved one and to decrease the likelihood of unresolved grief. For additional information on how to deal with stress and trauma, or to obtain information about the counseling resources available, feel free to contact Dr. Trathen & Associates at 303-593-0575, or access their Web site at www.drtrathen.com. Their offices are located at 19284 Cottonwood Dr., Suite 202, in Parker, Colorado 80138.

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