How to Help Children Cope with Traumatic ExperiencesWe share an expert's advice to help children deal and move on.
On November 8, 2013, our countrymen from the Visayas region suffered what can possibly be considered one of the most tremendous losses of all time. Super typhoon Yolanda, said to be the biggest and most powerful storm in the history of the world, flooded towns and cities in Leyte, Samar, Cebu and more, destroying infrastructure, toppling down power lines and sweeping everything in its path with its terrifying deluge. In its wake, millions were left homeless and without access to basic necessities and utilities. The smell of death hung in the air with thousands of corpses lined up along streets, buried under debris or swept to shorelines.
Thankfully, through the joint efforts of individuals, groups, together with international aid, survivors have started receiving relief to start anew.
Related story: Where to Donate Breast Milk, Toys and Infant Needs for Typhoon Yolanda Victims
Despite the inundation of reports and interviews on mass media, we can only imagine how difficult their situation is, losing practically everything in the aftermath of this disaster – how much more through the eyes of a child? Stripped of essentials, devoid of a sense of security and possibly orphaned because of the catastrophe, the psychological ramifications can be horrifyingly magnified.
In order to gain a better understanding of what a child goes through after such traumatic events, and to establish a way to help him or her as well to cope, we sought the expert advice of psychologist Jasmin Castillo-Merejilla, MA, RP, executive director of Childfam Philippines Company:
Q: How does a traumatic experience affect a child psychologically?
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JCM: “Many children may manifest signs and symptoms of what we call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) immediately after the traumatic event like disasters. Some may develop the full disorder. This includes:
• Recurrent experiencing of the traumatic event through nightmares or flashbacks;
• Increased irritability, poor concentration, regressive behavior (e.g. bedwetting);
• A strong frightening reaction [to mentions or references of the traumatic event];
• Lack of interest in activities he/she previously enjoyed;
• Feeling of hopelessness”
Q: How differently would a child process such traumatic experiences? What would his personal coping mechanism be like?
JCM: “Children may engage in ‘play’ where they re-enact their experience of the disaster or trauma. Some may show ‘magical thinking’ by changing the traumatic result of the event. [Whereas for adults, it’s possible that they] could cope positively by gaining a sense of hope or strengthening their faith.”
Q: What can parents or adults do to help ease the trauma caused by such disasters, or to bring a sense of normalcy to the child’s life?
• “Personal or physical contact is reassuring. Touch and hug your children.
• Play, artwork and journaling are creative tools that may help children cope with trauma.
• Understand that your child may have a range of reactions to a traumatic event. It is important to affirm or acknowledge what they think and feel. It may not help them release their unwanted emotions, but it may also help parents identify and address the things bothering their children.
• Calmly provide factual information about the disaster and ways to ensure their security and recovery.
• It is also helpful to seek the help of the professional for advice or intervention, especially if the child continues to regress, or if the problem continues to persist.”
Q: Parents, too, are a victim of traumatic events, and yet they have to stay strong and positive for their children. Can you suggest simple ways they can also cope with the trauma?
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• “Don’t panic. Keeping yourself calm may help you think more clearly and positively on what you do.
• Take care of yourself through a balanced diet, enough rest and exercise.
• Gradually restore normal routine and activities you normally enjoy.”
While a child may be emotionally and psychologically scarred because of traumatizing events in his life, his propensity for recovery and maturity cannot be undermined. Together with the support and guidance of loving parents or guardians, he can take a step towards a more meaningful and profound life.
Let us keep praying for our kababayans left devastated by Yolanda, and keep seeking ways to provide help, assistance and support for their struggling families.
Childfam Philippines Co. is a private company with a group of helping professionals and trained specialists committed to help individuals, groups and families to develop spiritual, physical, mental, social, and emotional wellness. Services include psychological assessment, counseling, psychotherapy, individualized education program and speech therapy. For more information, visit their Facebook page, e-mail them at firstname.lastname@example.org or call them at +63906-2512029.
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