5 Ways To Help Teens & Kids Cope Post Trauma

Today’s teens and kids are exposed to unpredictable adult-like stressors. 

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I spoke with Kate E. Eshleman, Psy.D., | Pediatric Psychologist| Pediatric Behavioral Health| Children’s Hospital, at Cleveland Clinic and contributing expert to MEDCRUNCH.

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She offers advice on how to help children and teens cope post trauma. 

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1. How can parents help children and teens after a traumatic event  , albeit a natural disaster or death?

There are many ways parents can help their children and teens cope. It is important for parents to make themselves available to their children, such that the kids can approach their parents if they are having any difficulties. It is appropriate for parents to check in and ask how their children are doing, but it is also important to be aware that not all children will want to talk or ask questions, and parents can take cues from their kids.

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If parents are observing that their children seem upset but are not wanting to discuss, they can try and engage them in distracting activities such as a family movie night, going on an outing (i.e., dinner or a fun activity), or every day errands such as to the grocery, anything to assist in getting the children’s minds off of what is bothering them.

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2. Does maintaining daily routines help, such as sitting down to dinner nightly?

Maintaining a routine is definitely important, as it assists in keeping some normalcy, even if things do not seem “normal.” Continuing to have the same expectation of the children’s behavior and activity is important, though if there are significant things going on, it may be okay to have a little more flexibility around those routines. Nightly, or at least regular, dinners are always important. This is a great opportunity to ask your children questions and/ or allow them to discuss their day. This will also be a good time for parents to observe/ assess for any changes in their children’s mood or behavior.

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3. What questions should parents ask children who seem withdrawn or anxious?

There are not necessarily specific questions that should be asked, but rather very general questions such as “how was your day?” or “anything on your mind?” More important than the specific question, is parents’ inquiring into how the child is doing, showing that they care and are interested in what the child is thinking/ feeling, and providing the opportunity for the child to discuss if (s)he is interested.

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 4. What healthy habits help? Should anything be increased/decreased during highly stressful times?

Healthy habits include eating well, getting rest, and being physically active. While these are relatively simple concepts, they are not always easy to implement, and can often be the first to go when times become busy and stressful. It may be helpful to prioritize what needs to be done and by when, and making sure to schedule in the healthy activities (i.e., finding a time to go to the grocery so there is food in the house, avoiding the need to stop and grab fast food on the way home, or planning to start a homework project on the weekend, so a child is not up late the night(s) before it is due). It is also important to maintain fun and enjoyable activities during stressful time, to provide a break from the stressors and an opportunity to relax and enjoy one’s self.

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5. Should parents share their own fears with kids or not?

 This one probably depends on several things. As a general rule of thumb, children should not have to worry about adult issues, as they are plenty busy worrying about kids’ issues. If it can be avoided, it is recommended that parents not openly discuss their concerns with or in front of the children. It is also important to note that children, beginning from an early age, take their cues from their parents, so even if parents are not verbalizing their thoughts and concerns, the children may be aware of what is going on, thus it is important for parents to monitor their own behavior and reactions. This being said, it is important for parents to tell their children the truth in a developmentally appropriate way, so if there is something happening that is directly affecting the children, it will be important for children to have some awareness of those things.

 

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Our heartfelt thoughts and prayers go out to those who lost loved ones in Oklahoma.

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Stay healthy & safe, everyone.

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Cleveland Clinic is ranked one of the top hospitals in America by U.S.News & World Report (2012). Visit them online at http://www.clevelandclinic.org for a complete listing of services, staff and locations.

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