Last summer a freak accident occurred in our community where a huge tree fell near a children's museum, injuring several children. I'm grateful to Hanna Lim, who wrote the post below on her Lollaland blog, where she included some suggestions I offered at the time.
I'm reposting those recommendations now with Hanna's permission, hoping they might be helpful to you when your kids witness or hear about something scary or traumatic. As always, it all comes down to "The Four S's": helping kids feel Safe, Seen, Soothed, and Secure.
Posted on July 29, 2015 by Hanna Lim
I'm not sure if you heard the news, but "a 75-foot-tall, 75-year-old pine crashed without warning at around 5 p.m. just outside the Kidspace Children's Museum and fell onto kids at a summer day camp Tuesday, injuring eight children, two of them critically, fire officials said." (http://abcnews.go.com/US/wireStory/including-children-hurt-falling-tree-kids-museum-32745551)
Well, my two daughters (ages 6 and 7) were attending that camp and apparently standing less than 20 feet away from the tree when it fell. When I arrived on the scene I was immediately notified that camp was being held directly under and near the tree when it fell. The staff notified each parent whether his/her child(ren) was safe, and the police kept us all well-informed and calm as we waiting over an hour for our children to be released back to us. My girls are safe and unscathed, but my eldest was sobbing before bed as she shared with us that she saw her friend, Joy, get hit by the tree and go to the hospital. I believe Joy's still in critical condition, so our thoughts and prayers are with the families of all the children who were injured.
I am so thankful to the camp counselors and Kidspace Museum staff for keeping our children safe and in good spirits. Thank you, also, Pasadena Police and Pasadena Fire Departments for your incredibly fast response. You were all absolute rockstars.
This was such a harrowing experience. At least 1 firetruck and 1 ambulance passed me on my way to pick my girls up yesterday, but I thought nothing of it, until I pulled up to the scene. I teach my children to say no to strangers, look both ways before crossing the street, but what can prepare them for freak accidents like these? Nothing, really. I guess it's all about how we choose to deal with the aftermath.
Please say a prayer for all the children and families involved, and take a moment to peruse the resources listed below. Finally, let this be another reminder to cherish each and every moment and live life to its fullest.
The school psychologist at my children's school, Dr. Tina Bryson, suggests the following resources and steps to guide parents in talking with their children about the incident.
- Verbal First Aid and The Worst is Over by Prager and Acosta
- Trauma-Proofing our Kids by Dr. Peter Levine
- Below find the link to a video with a few practical ideas from the book Verbal First Aid: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJp4Lrjs6qg
Steps to guide parents in talking with their children:
- Soothe and comfort—non-verbal touch and holding as well as assuring words “The worst is over. You are safe.”
- sometimes returning to things that settled your child when he/she was younger are good to pull back into your routine—a song you would sing to them or an old bedtime ritual can be comforting and help them feel safe
- parents may need some additional self-care or support to be able to be a calm, assuring presence to their children since these experiences can be secondarily traumatizing to parents as well
- Acting out behavior or heightened sensitivity or reactivity is to be expected for some children. Consider these signs that they may need soothing, connected time with parents, slowing things down with lots of connection in order to soothe their little nervous systems.
- Name it to Tame it. This is a technique in Dr. Tina Bryson's book The Whole-Brain Child, where we help children tell their stories about something scary. When we help our children tell their story, the story should have the facts as the child remembers them, the emotions the child felt and feels, and a message of safety and resilience “There were lots of people who came to help.” “You are safe.” etc.
- The most important thing is to help them feel safe and to assure them that you will listen, answer questions, and keep them safe. Follow their lead on the questions and telling the story.
- Help them find a way to do something active. Draw a picture for someone who helped them, for someone else who was hurt, etc. Give them a job that allows them to “help”.
- Seek out professional help if your child’s distress begins to impact their appetite, sleep, or if their emotions begin to become overwhelmingly intense with feelings of depression or anxiety or panic.
- Keep in mind that terrifying experiences are not always traumatizing. There are many factors that contribute to whether or not a child is traumatized, but it’s important that parents don’t project their own trauma and that kids don’t hear their parents talking about “trauma”. Pay attention to how your own child is experiencing the event.