We all deal with trauma in different ways, and children are especially sensitive.
They tend to be less verbal, so the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder almost always show up in their bodies — regressions, bed wetting, whining, tantrums, toy breaking or nightmares. And in today’s times, with such pervasive media, it will be nearly impossible to keep the trauma of Sandy Hook away from any school-aged child. As a parent, here are a few ways that you can help your child deal with the news:
1. Let your child lead the conversation: Don’t bombard kids with details they can barely comprehend. Answer questions honestly and calmly. Show compassion on your face and in your voice. Give no more details than what is asked.
2. Contain yourself: Small children look to parents for clues on how they should feel. While you don’t want kids to think you aren’t feeling anything at all, collapsing in crying jags and telephone rants in front of kids can rattle their core. To them, you are their strong protector. If you fall apart, so will they.
3. Do not punish developmental regressions:Bed wetting may happen. Tantrums can occur. A child may want to sleep in your bed. This is not the time for lectures and stern admonitions. This is the time to wrap a child in your arms and let them know everything will be okay.
4. Don’t make them talk about it: Most children in shock have a hard time connecting feelings with words. Instead, create, draw, sing, or play music with them.
5. Model healthy ways of dealing with trauma: Light a candle for the victims and their families. If you practice a faith, have your children join you in prayer. Find a positive thing to do together as a family in your own community. (My family is packing holiday food baskets next week.) Find a way to reach out to your own community with love and care.
Childhood psychological trauma is tricky. Some kids can have wounds that show up decades later in the forms of unexplained fears and anxieties. Others, because of the miracle of neuroplasticity, have brains that heal well, sometimes much better than adults who have been exposed to trauma.
The most important thing in the days, weeks and months to come is that you remain in tune with your children. Look into their eyes, listen to the many meanings of their words, give them creative outlets for expression.
And most of all, don’t criticize them. They are finding their own perfect way to ease trauma out of their tiny body. Be a kind, solid, presence while they do that.