Dealing With Children In Times Of Crisis
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Wednesday morning, September 12, 2001
It’s the morning after our country was hit by the worst terrorist attack ever. I’m composing this article on a napkin as I sit in my car waiting to be admitted to the army base where I work as a child psychologist. I have been in line for over two hours due to the increased security. Yesterday, I was not allowed on post, and so, like everybody else, spent the day watching the news in disbelief, mourning the dead, and praying for the injured.
I had intended to write an article this month on either the effect of ADHD on self-esteem or on the advantages of sharing a unique hobby with your child. After yesterday’s events, however, my focus has changed, and I have decided to write instead about helping your children better cope with this trauma specifically and serious traumas in general.
Certain characteristics of children with ADHD make them more vulnerable when disasters occur. To begin with children with ADHD have a more difficult time coping with change. They function better when a regular schedule is maintained. Little has been regular for most of us since this trauma occurred.
Children with ADHD have difficulty inhibiting their thoughts, actions, and emotional displays. They become over stimulated and have difficulty stopping thoughts, emotions, and activities. They are also attracted to things that are highly stimulating. The bombardment by the media of over stimulating and disturbing images will probably attract their attention much more than redundant school work.
Children with ADHD tend to be immature which also puts them at a greater risk when trauma occurs.
Many children with ADHD have other psychiatric problems such as Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), depression, learning disabilities, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and some are fearful. These further put the children at risk.
Most of what follows applies to all children, not just children with ADHD.
Some reactions your children might have are fearfulness, anger, confusion, anxiety, acting like a younger child, acting out, crying, becoming obsessed with the trauma, insecurity, clinging, nightmares, decreased ability to complete tasks, aggression, concerns about death, and increased hyperactivity, impulsivity, and distractibility. It is also possible that some children will make jokes about what has happened in an attempt to better manage their fears.
IT IS NORMAL FOR YOUR CHILD TO HAVE ALL TYPES OF REACTIONS IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING SERIOUS TRAUMA. HOWEVER, IF SYMPTOMS CONTINUE TO PERSIST FOR SEVERAL WEEKS, OBTAIN PROFESSIONAL HELP!
Some things that you can do to help are:
1. Listen to your children. Encourage them to tell you what they are experiencing and feeling. Have family meetings so that the family can share together and help each other.
2. Reassure your children that they are safe and in no danger. Nobody is going to come into their house or school and hurt them. Reassure your children that everything will be ok and things will go back to normal. Assure your children that most people are good and would never do anything to hurt them and that the bad people who did this are not a direct danger to them.
3. Explain to your children that only a few people, relatively speaking, were hurt. Since the pictures are constantly on most TV channels, it is easy for children to conclude that the problem is much bigger than it is and that everybody is dying.
4. Reduce your children’s exposure to the trauma by turning off news coverage.
5. Cuddle with your children to increase their sense of security.
6. Since children with ADHD have trouble stopping thoughts and activities but do better starting new thoughts and activities, change the focus by going to a movie or doing some other enjoyable activity.
7. Try to normalize family life and structures as soon as you can.
8. Reassure your children that the injured people are in the hospital and being cared for by doctors.
9. If your children have become more concerned about death, discuss with them your personal beliefs concerning what happens after people die. Sometimes belief in an after life can help alleviate fears about death.
10. If your children have become more aggressive, talk to them about anger and more appropriate ways for anger expression. Share your anger about what has happened. Sometimes it helps to draw angry pictures, hit a punching bag or pound nails into wood. It also helps to take anger energy and use it for good by doing some activity to help others (see # 13).
11. If your children are making jokes about what happened or laughing, don’t get angry with them. This is their way of trying to cope. Discuss with them how they are feeling and more appropriate ways of expressing their anger and fear.
12. If your young children are having nightmares, let them temporarily, for a few days (if appropriate), sleep in your room, sleep with a sibling, or sleep with the light on. Assure them that the bad dreams will go away.
13. As a family, take some positive action such as giving blood, donating money, or writing letters to the families of the victims.
14. If you are religious, take your children to church to share in the comfort this can give. You can also gather with extended family or friends to help increase your children’s sense of security, comfort, safety, and normalcy.
I hope that this information will help some of you and your children. Please write me your comments.
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