The tragedy of the bombings at the Boston Marathon turns our attention back to a now familiar dilemma – how to protect our children from the serious consequences of unattended trauma. Here are some strategies parents and teachers can use to help children recover from frightening, uncontrollable events.
Put your own mask on first
The airline precaution about putting your own mask on before attending to the needs of a child is a good one. How children react to traumatic events depends on the reactions of the adults around them. So practice self-care. Get enough sleep, exercise, and seek out the comfort of adults who love you so you can attend to the needs of your child.
Stick to familiar routines
Children look to adults to re-establish safety after a traumatic event. Physical proximity helps. So does visiting familiar places that your family enjoys. Follow the usual routines for eating and going to bed. Encourage children to do things that have comforted them in the past – swinging, rocking, listening to music, playing with a friend, cuddling a favorite toy.
Engage your children in some kind of physical activity. Moving around restores the body’s equilibrium. It reduces stress, and reinforces a sense of strength and well being. Taking a walk, stretching, lifting weights, dancing- any physical exercise your children enjoy will relieve their minds, and replenish their spirits.
Remember then move on
Age appropriate rituals that acknowledge a traumatic event can help children move on. Rituals can be simple – lighting a candle, donating to a community-organized fund for victims, drawing a picture to remember a friend who was lost or injured. What’s important is that the ritual be short, personal, and capable of bring closure to the event. Avoid watching or listening to endless repetitions of the original trauma. These serve no good purpose and may trigger unnecessary anxiety in your child.