It can be a difficult time when your child has come back from the Emergency Department after a frightening experience. These experiences can include a range of different events, including:
Whether or not your child was hurt also isn’t that important to how traumatic an event is - even if your child was not injured they may still be affected emotionally or mentally. And even children who are badly hurt can be absolutely fine otherwise.
Over the next few weeks, we will cover what these feelings can look like, and how you can best support your child.
This advice is based on cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Each week will be have a few activities for you to choose from. These can help you and your child work through and make sense of any feelings which may come up.
This week, we will cover what your child may be feeling after the event, and signs which indicate that it may be time to seek further support.
After witnessing or being involved in a scary or stressful event, a child may experience some common reactions, sometimes called ‘traumatic stress’ reactions:
These symptoms may be present at home or a school – it may be helpful to ask their teacher if they have noticed in changes in their behaviour.
The important thing to remember is that these symptoms are completely normal after experiencing something frightening.
You may also find that you are feeling some of these symptoms yourself. It is normal to experience worries, low mood, or physical symptoms if you witnessed or learned of something happening to someone.
Explore the tabs below to learn about your child's recovery and signs to look out for. Once you have finished reading, you can explore activities you can do at the bottom of the page.
The usual advice is to ‘wait and see’ for around 4-6 weeks, however, if your child is very upset and their symptoms are having a big impact on their daily life (e.g., going to school, day-to-day activities), consider seeking advice from your GP sooner.
Some signs which can indicate that it may be time to seek professional support if:
The important thing to remember is that these reactions are likely to improve with time and support. The best thing you can do is to be patient and provide a safe and nurturing environment for both you and your child.
The good news is that for most children these effects are short term.
If your child is not back to their usual self after a month, and is struggling to cope, they may need professional support. There is good evidence that, with extra support, children can recover well.
Yes. The changes in your child's behaviour following a trauma often depend on their age.
Your child may:
Your child may:
Speak to your child. Ask how they feel they are coping after their trauma—and if they would like some extra help.
Let them know that it is normal to feel difficult emotions or thoughts after going through something scary.
It is important to not force your child to talk - let them know that you are there if they wish to talk about what happened or about anything they maybe struggling with.
It is also important to take care of your own emotions – both for your own feelings, and to be a good role model for your child. Your signals and messages can be internalised by your child and influence how they may react.
Checking in with yourself can help you be there for your child. The most important thing is that you are a safe and predictable source of support.
Taking care of yourself can look like:
As you take care of yourself, you can prevent your cup from overflowing so you have enough resources to be a safe, predictable and empathetic source of support for child
Many parents feel a sense of guilt and self-blame after a child’s scary experience. This can be about not being able to prevent the accident, the child’s physical injury and hospital experience, or not knowing how to help your child.
This can mean that you may be having worrisome and unhelpful thoughts yourself (e.g., ‘I should have…’, ‘I could have…’, ‘Why did I not...?’)
It is natural to want to protect your child and feel deeply upset when they experience something frightening or are distressed. However, parents are likely to overestimate their ability to prevent unpredictable events.
The most important thing here is to be aware when your own thoughts may be becoming unhelpful.
This may mean:
Taking care of your own emotions and mental health can reduce the chance of these unhelpful behaviours and thoughts from slipping through and allow you to sensitively respond to your child’s needs.
Even if you weren’t there at the time, your child’s trauma may affect how you think, feel and behave. For example:
It can vary. You may find that:
A ‘wait-and-see’ period of four weeks is usually recommended to give time for things to settle down on their own. Seek help or advice from your GP if you:
Parents can be strongly affected when something serious happens to their child. Although it is natural to want to put your child first, it is important to get help for yourself if you need it.
There is no clear answer to this, but being upset about what happened is normal. If your child sees you are upset or angry:
Even if you are extremely distressed, it doesn’t follow that your child is struggling too. If you think your own feelings could be making you more worried about your child, check with others how they think your child is coping.
This week we learned that it is normal for both you and your child to experience some difficult feelings following your child's frightening experience. These symptoms typically go away with time, support, and patience. The important thing it to be a safe and patient source of support for your child, and to take care of yourself.
Below are some activities you can do over the next week to notice these feelings.
The aim of these activities is to be aware of what your child may be experiencing, normalising what they may be feeling, and understand that with support and patience, difficult feelings are likely to pass.
You can do either or both of these activities, and you can do them with your child if they feel ready to engage. If they don’t feel ready, that is totally fine – let them know that the opportunity to talk and work through things will be there when they are ready.