How do I help my children overcome severe traumas?
Q. My children (ages 5 & 9) watched their dad die
of a heart attack on the 4th of July, 1999, while first I, and then
the paramedics were unsuccessful in saving him. (They were 4 & 8
at the time). They both received some counseling and seem to be doing
fine. We talk about their dad often and remember the good times. They
believe their dad is in heaven.
The biggest effect I see is that they become very fearful
if I'm late picking them up from school, afraid that I've been in an
accident. I've become very careful about letting them know if I'm going
to be late, if I can.
Also, my son (9) saw a man jump to his death from a 90
foot tower about a month ago. The police were trying to talk him down
when he just jumped. My son's response was "I'm happy for him, it's
what he wanted to do."
The school counselor talked to him and said he seemed
to be unmoved by what he saw. Was this a defense mechanism? What concerns,
if any, should I have about my kids and these experiences?
A. It sounds like you have been handling the situation
with your children quite well. I commend you on your careful parenting.
Here are some of the issues you have automatically handled
in a healthy fashion.
Trauma de-briefing: Children and adults have within
them the complete capacity to recover from the most awful experiences.
If they live in an open family system, they know that they can talk
about their thoughts and feelings safely. They know they can talk to
you about their dad, and express their sadness. You have handled your
grief in such a way as to make it safe for your entire family to express
it. This is superb.
Normal grief work is what you are doing with your children.
You talk about the good times, what you miss, the special days, and
honor the person who is gone. This too is excellent.
My thinking on the fears your children have is that they,
too, are normal. It seems logical to me, and probably to you as well,
that your children would worry a bit more if you have to be late. By
letting them know about your possible lateness when you can, you are
again doing the very best that can be done in these circumstances.
You didnít mention it, but you are probably doing this too. If your
children can express their fears without worrying about upsetting you,
they can work through them. Thus, if you are late, and couldnít give
them notice, they can be upset with you (politely). This way, they can
still work through the difficulties they have with their worry that
you are not coming back.
Your sonís second trauma:
1. I wouldnít worry too much
about the feedback from your childís school counselor. Instead, if you
are still concerned, you could return to the counselor who helped your
family when your husband first passed away.
2. Donít jump to conclusions
about your sonís reactions at this point. Instead, I would continue
the healthy environment you are providing him. You already make room
for your children to talk about and feel painful feelings.†
3. Children do not have the language
to express their traumas like adults. They normally express them in
their play and art. Your son only has the language and thinking
skills of a nine year old. So we cannot expect him to talk about
and work through what he witnessed like you or I would.†
4. To assist him you could encourage
him to draw and play what he feels. When my son was three years old,
before I began my training as a therapist, we had family drawing and
talking times. One time he was traumatized but I didnít have a clear
picture of what had happened. We drew pictures together and talked until
this incident burst out of him. I didnít have to question him, just
listen and talk with him about what he was drawing.†
5. You donít really have
to make a production of it. If given the tools, a concerned listener
and a safe environment, children automatically play and draw and talk
about what hurts them. You can encourage him by simply providing him
with new art materials, or starting a family drawing or painting and
6. In my office I buy specific
toys geared toward their trauma. For example, I have several sets of
emergency vehicles or a doctorís kit for children to play with. There
are toy hospitals with all sorts of movable people. Today, they now
have these created in legos for children to build themselves. You could
purchase these kinds of toys, again without a big production. Children
will gravitate toward the toys they need for play to de-brief their
You are doing a very good job. Worry is, unfortunately,
a normal burden of concerned parents. Keep up the good work!
Health Today ] [ Attention
Deficit Disorder Today ] [ Bipolar
Disorder Today ] [ Borderline
Personality Disorder Today ] [ Depression
Today ] [ Gender
Identity Disorder Today ] [ Narcissistic
Personality Disorder Today ] [ Schizophrenia
Today ] [ Suicide
Intervention ] [ Mental
Health Matters ] [ Locate
a Therapist ]