In the first month after a traumatic event, it’s very common and normal that children and adolescents are more restless or nervous and display more tantrums or defiant behavior. Re-experiencing the traumatic event and repeatedly trying to avoid reminders upsets them. Children and adolescents can have difficulty sleeping and poor concentration, or they may easily be startled.
Difficulties to fall asleep and to sleep through
- Sleeping rituals are very important, in particular after a traumatic event. Try to use the same rituals as before the traumatic event (e.g., speaking with your child about their day, etc.).
- If necessary, help your child to find new rituals that help them to fall asleep (such as listening to an audio book or music, reading, thinking about something nice, etc.).
- Self-calming rituals can help if your child wakes up in the middle of the night. They could, for example, take their favorite cuddly toy as a protector or have a parent’s object (e.g. a scarf) in their bed.
- If your child asks to sleep in your bedroom, this may be helpful for a limited time (e.g. 3 nights), preferably on a separate mattress.
- You can also leave the door open slightly or install a small nightlight in your child`s room.
- Try to ensure that your child has no excitement one hour before bedtime (video games, TV, etc.)
- Ensure that your child has enough regular physical exercises during the day.
- Concentration problems are very common after a traumatic event. Recurring and distressing memories of the traumatic event distract children/ adolescents and can lead to attention deficits in school or at home.
- Help your child to understand what happens when they find it difficult to concentrate. Try to find out with your child if such difficulties occur in specific situations.
- In any case it’s advisable to inform your child’s teacher about the traumatic event in agreement with your child. If the teacher requires further information, you could also refer them to this website.
- After a traumatic event, many children and adolescents feel and behave extremely vigilantly and tensely.
- Help your child to tell you about their worries. Explain to your child that their worries will disappear over time.
- Encourage your child to pursue their leisure-time activities and to meet their friends.
- Pay attention that your child doesn’t avoid activities or places that they liked before the event. It is helpful to re-install the same day structure as before.
Getting startled easily
- It’s very common that children and adolescents startle easily after a traumatic event. They are worried that the event could happen again and may be extremely watchful for possible risks. Even small reminders (such as sounds) can frighten them.
- Explain to your child that they are safe now and that you and other adults will protect them.
- Give your child the opportunity to speak about their fears and worries and take these seriously. Agree with your child on a specific sign by which they can let you know that they are frightened and need support.
- Be as calm as possible around your child.
- Help your child to feel safe by giving a lot of affection and closeness and by playing and speaking with them more than usual.
- Be careful not to worsen or prolong your child’s anxieties. Instead, encourage your child to face fearful situations and praise your child when they succeed in doing so. Encourage and praise courageous behavior.
- Physical hyperarousal and ongoing tension are very common after a traumatic event. In children and adolescents, this is often shown by bad mood or irritability.
- Help your child to understand that different feelings like tiredness or worries can lead to anger or irritable behavior.
- Help your child to find words for their feelings, listen carefully, and help them to express their frustrations or worries.
- Encourage your child to pursue their leisure-time activities and physical activities as an outlet for their emotions and frustrations.
- Due to their irritability, your child can show disturbing behavior in school. In agreement with your child, contact the teacher and tell them about the situation. If the teacher requires further information, you could also refer them to this website.
- After a traumatic event, children and adolescents are very often more irritable and sensitive and therefore can get frustrated and aggressive more easily.
- Be patient with your child and try to understand what they feel: Are they frightened, angry or bored?
- Help your child to find words for their frustrations and worries and help them to express anger in other ways.
- Explain to your child that you understand that they lose their temper quickly but behave consistently and give your child clear and specific rules and guidance. Let your child know if something is not OK and always stop aggressive behavior immediately. Don’t let the situation escalate – react early.
- Use simple, quiet, and reasonable instructions.
- Agree with your child what they can do when they get angry (such as biting a pillow, using a punching bag, etc.). Give clear rules.