I was contacted by CTV Morning Live yesterday to speak this morning on the impact of trauma and our children. Due to my own childcare issues this morning, I was unable to attend but I feel that this is a very important issue, and even though the suspect has been arrested, I will address this issue here in my blog.
When a traumatic incident is in progress, it is important for parents to consider the developmental stage of their child. Children under 6 years old have a hard time grasping the concept of time. If news coverage is replaying incidents, children often do not grasp that the event is over. Parents of young children need to be particularly mindful of the amount of coverage they are watching and to how much their children are being exposed. We might feel the need to keep posted and “be there” for the people going through the suffering, but turn the channel and keep your own viewing to a minimum when the children are not present (i.e. after bedtime). Distract young children with games and play, and try to keep your stress level down. You can only be helpful to those around you when you are taking care of yourself. You also need to consider the sensitivity of your child. All children are different and some children are more emotionally sensitive than others. For children who are particularly sensitive, lots of confident reassurance, cuddles, and contact from parents can be particularly therapeutic.
As for pre-teens and adolescents, parenting is a much more difficult task. With the availability of social media, it is very easy for them to gain access to coverage and become immersed with the trauma. Anxiety problems can occur with any witnessing of horrific incident or the threat to our safety. It is possible to develop trauma-related psychological problems by witnessing such events even from the removed place of social media. Talk to your teens about their exposure to social media and news coverage and encourage them to limit their intake. Reassure them that these incidents are rare and that they can talk to you when feeling stressed or anxious.
In most cases, adults as well, it is normal to have problems sleeping, nightmares, agitation, restlessness, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts or images, for 4-6 weeks following exposure to a traumatic incident. Should these symptoms continue past 6 weeks, problems with post-traumatic stress could be more problematic. Speak with your family physician should your symptoms continue or look for a professional (i.e. psychologist, counsellor, pastor, etc) who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder.
Our thoughts and prayers are with all the RCMP members, families, and witnesses to this tragic event. It’s been a long couple of days, and the healing will be even longer. Take care of yourselves and do not hesitate to ask professionals for help if needed.