A traumatic event is an experience that causes physical, emotional, psychological distress or harm. The events of 14 April were traumatic to children because the sudden disappearance of their school threatened their sense of the safety and stability of their world. It can cause them to lose trust in adults. If the adults children trusted in their lives were not able to prevent this traumatic event and loss, they may reason “who can?” and decide that nobody can.
Here are some of the reactions displayed by children and adolescents who have been exposed to traumatic events: shock and disbelief, the development of new fears, anxiety which might include an increased need for physical and emotional closeness, separation anxiety (particularly in young children), regression (bedwetting), loss of appetite, sleep disturbances, nightmares, sadness, loss of interest in normal activities, reduced concentration, anger, somatic complaints (eg: headaches and stomachaches), irritability, and feeling helpless and vulnerable.
Since every child reacts to traumatic events in his or her own way it is important to listen and try to understand children’s unique perspectives and concerns. Be aware that even if a child does not display any of these symptoms that does not mean they are coping just fine. Children who are impacted by a traumatic event may decide to keep it bottled up inside out of a misguided need or expectation that they must present a strong and happy face to their parents.
Young children are equally affected by traumatic events, even though they may not understand what happened and may not be able to verbalize their reactions to those events.
Parents can help their children by spending more time with them, listening to them, giving them the opportunity to discuss and process what has happened. But do not rush it. Help them express their feelings through words, drawings and stories. Children need to feel secure that they can come to their parents with any questions or feelings without the fear of being dismissed or judged. They need time, support, and a sense of safety to re-establish trust.