Ψ Protecting and Supporting Children with Emotional Trauma

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Every day people in Namibia are confronted with human tragedy: Whether it is the rape of an innocent child, the death of a loved one in a vehicle accident or a brutal assault. Our reactions often include shock, horror or revulsion. These tragedies could impact adults, teenagers and young children detrimentally and reawaken unresolved personal tragedies.

Following is a number of strategies and activities parents and teachers can implement to protect and support their children in the face of human tragedy.

Avoid exposing children to reminders. Limit younger children’s exposure to news and other programs about the tragedy. It is advised that children should not watch footage regarding the traumatic incident. If you do choose to have your child to watch this information, keep it brief, watch it with your child and talk to your child to clarify miscommunication. For teenagers monitor news and other radio and television programs as well as adult conversations, however include them in age appropriate discussions about the events and resulting thoughts and feelings.

Maintain family routines, particularly around sleeping, eating and extracurricular activities. When putting your young child to bed, make sure that he/she feels safe. Maintain a healthy diet ensure your child gets enough sleep. For teenagers extra time with friends who are supportive and meaningful may be needed.

For younger children, avoid unnecessary separations from important caregivers.

Younger children may temporary regress or exhibit behavioural problems. Don’t panic but be patient with your child. Encourage younger children to express their feelings through play (e.g. action heroes). This will help them regain control of their world.

Provide soothing activities to teenagers such as reading books, listening to music, writing their thoughts and in feelings in a journal.

Teenagers may experience peer problems and/or behavioural problems might surface. Address acting-out behaviour involving aggression or self-destructive activities quickly and firmly with limit setting. Adolescent boys might display malicious mischief such as shoplifting, breaking windows, puncturing tyres and physical fighting. Adolescent girls might have an increase in panic attacks, school phobia or allergic reactions.

Be available. Be “askable” and listen to what the children are thinking and feeling. Find ways to emphasise to them that you love them. Children need to know that they are safe. You may need to be more patient with your teen and yourself.

Most people who experience a potentially traumatic event will recover well with the support of family and friends and will not experience any long-term problems. However, if you notice that your child finds it difficult to cope with the daily demands of schoolwork and other responsibilities or does not return to his previous levels of functioning 1month after the trauma occurred, it would be advisable to seek professional intervention.

Psychological Association of Namibia (PAN) can be contacted on 081-6110685 or secretary@psychologynamibia.org for further information and assistance. PAN aims to increase awareness of the benefits of psychological interventions in managing everyday concerns (such as work stress, marital discord, and parenting troubles) as well as other emotional issues (such as the loss of loved ones, dealing with traumatic events or depression). Addressing these issues is essential for establishing healthy relationships and enjoying life. Psychologists can help people cope with these concerns by equipping them with the necessary skills to function better and to prevent further problems.

JANKE CUNNINGHAM

Clinical Psychologist

PRESIDENT: PSYCHOLOGICAL ASSOCIATION OF NAMIBIA (PAN)