After a traumatic injury, the support, comfort, and reassurance from parents can help an injured child deal with his or her fears, have a healthy recovery, and increase resilience. Although a traumatic injury can have profound effects, the assistance of caring, supportive adults helps a child better cope with the injury. Below are some tips for helping children recover from traumatic injuries.
After traumatic events, children look to their parents for cues on how to respond. Although parents may feel guilty or sad about their child’s injury, they should try to act calm and express their emotions away from the child. It is crucial not to discuss their anxieties with their children or when the children are around.
Intense emotions can scare an injured child and get in the way of helping him or her recover. It may be challenging for parents not to express such feelings if a child has sustained a severe injury, such as a catastrophic injury. In such cases, parents should take the time to deal with their own feelings and seek support for themselves so that they can best help their child.
Allowing a Child to Talk
If an injured child wants to talk about the situation or ask questions, parents should take the time to speak with him or her. Listening to the child without lecturing or avoiding uncomfortable conversations and difficult topics will help parents understand the child’s feelings, worries, and perspective.
Being Physically and Emotionally Available
Children who have suffered traumatic injuries need to feel loved and safe. Parents should, therefore, provide attention, encouragement, and comfort in ways that are most acceptable to the children. Pats on the back, hugs, and cuddling may be excellent for younger children. Older youth may need to spend more quality time with their family. Being more physically available allows parents to monitor how children are coping and when extra help may be required.
Helping Children Relax and Enjoy Themselves
Engaging in fun and relaxing activities helps distract children from their injuries. In the first several days or weeks after a traumatic injury, parents should spend extra time doing such activities with the children. They can encourage the children to listen to calm music, practice slow breathing, and play with others.
Sports injuries can require a lengthy recovery period. During that period, parents can encourage children to pursue other interests as they work toward returning to their sport.
Going Back to Typical Routines
Parents should avoid spoiling injured children too much. Too much special treatment makes kids worry and be hyperaware of their injuries. Parents should have the same family rules — for example, regarding behavior — and expectations as they did before the injury and change typical routines as little as possible. Routines assure children that life will be okay again.
If a child is not able to do some of the chores he or she did previously because of injury, then a parent can find appropriate tasks for him or her to perform to contribute to family life.
Reaching Out to a Professional
Behavioral changes after a traumatic injury are normal. Some changes, however, warrant reaching out to a professional. Parents should seek the help of a mental health professional if:
- Behavioral changes last two or more months after getting out of hospital
- A child has some behaviors that affect normal routines, such as being afraid to leave the house despite being physically able to attend school
Parents should look for a provider who understands trauma and has specific training providing care for similar circumstances.