File photo: Let your children know how much you care about them. Picture: Tracey Adams/ANA Pics
File photo: Let your children know how much you care about them. Picture: Tracey Adams/ANA Pics

The aftermath of violence and looting: How to help your child deal with a traumatic event

By Vivian Warby Time of article published Jul 20, 2021

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From a pandemic, to unrest and violence, children today are faced with an insurmountable amount of trauma which can trigger anxiety, behavioural issues and fears.

Here are some basic tips I have gathered from my years as a counsellor working in area afflicted with gangsterism, violence and dire economic conditions. I hope this is of some use.

Please do monitor your child and seek professional help where necessary. There are many places that offer pro bono assistance.

1 Safety

Let your children know how much you care about them. Share what communities and security are doing to increase safety. Remind your children you are there for them to provide safety, comfort and support.

Share the good news about any plans to secure areas, especially your area and your home so they can start feeling there will be protection. Let them know that should anything happens again, there is a plan in place and you can calmly explain it to them.

2. Check in often

Be sure to check in regularly with your child as you monitor how they are coping. Provide extra time, attention and patience (even an extra hug and even a pat of the back for the non-huggers can make them feel safer).

3. Watch for signs of stress, fear or anxiety

After a traumatic event, it is normal to have many emotions, including anxiety, fearfulness, shock, anger and grief.

Do let your child know it is normal to experience these emotions and understand children cope in different ways.

Behaviours, moods and sleeping patterns may change but should return to normal after a short time if things stay calm.

Do monitor the situation and seek help if necessary.

4. Talk to your child – ask them how they are feeling

Most importantly by asking them how they feel, it will let them know that you are listening and are there for them.

If a child admits to a concern, acknowledge it and don’t tell them not to be worried,anxious or whatever it is they are feeling as they may feel criticised and won’t share more. You can say: “Yes, I can see you are worried/anxious. I’m here for you.”

It is also better if you share the details of what happened with them yourself, so they learn of these from a safe and trusted adult. Be brief and honest. Also, you may be surprised what kids are worrying about – often times it’s not what you are concerned with.

Your child needs someone who can listen to their fears, their questions, accept whatever it is they are feeling and just be there for them.

There is no right thing to say so don’t worry about that. Ultimately, there is not one answer you can give that will make it all okay. But knowing someone they trust is there for them, may.

5. What do they have control over

Highlight this and maintain their routines as much as possible.

6. Monitor kids online behaviour and ensure they take news breaks

Social media is ridden with retraumatising videos as is media.

Research has shown that even listening to something about violence has the same effect as witnessing it. While you limit your children’s time in front of retraumatising events and conversations, limit yours as well.

Here is a tip: see who your fake-news friends and groups are and give them a miss for a while. Instead, parents can stay on the WhatsApp’s groups, news channels and so on that offer solutions and support. Use trusted sources to keep on top of events, but take a news break too.

7. Be mindful of what is discussed in front of children

Watch your tone. If children don’t understand the broken bits they hear, they’ll fill in the gaps and that can make them more anxious.

8. Listen for misinformation or misperceptions children may have picked up and gently correct these.

9. Encourage your children to have fun, the distraction is good for them

Why not have a night when everyone takes part in a fun family activity?

10. Draw, paint, write, tell stories, dance

Let your children express themselves around the events in these ways.

11. Self-care

Take care of yourself – watch your sleeping, eating, meditation and fresh air cycle. Children can model your behaviour. Keep routines, take your own breaks, engage in activities you enjoy too.

12. Have a plan – for evacuation for example

This may include a packed emergency evacuation kit with essentials plus all the numbers of contacts and emergency numbers. Have a phone charger bank, so you have at least one to two extra charges. Let your child see you taking control and this will help them too.

13. Please seek help if you and/or your child are not coping

Organisations, people, counsellors, therapists and neighbours, want to help, so reach out. You are not alone.

Contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group at 0800 567 567 or visit its website.

* Vivian Warby is a writer, editor and counsellor. Visit www.wordwarrior.co.za for more info.

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