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In our last article, “Anatomy of an Emotional Injury,” we discussed the emotional traumas that many adults experience after an accident and the signs that may signal that you are suffering from a serious mental or emotional issue. This type of injury can be more debilitating and life altering than any physical injury you may incur.

As serious an effect as these unseen injuries can have on an adult, their effect on a child, whose emotional maturity is still in flux, can truly be devastating. Children are more likely to find themselves being unable to understand or express what they are going through so it falls on us, as adults, to be aware of their emotional state and to be prepared to step in with appropriate help, if it should be called for. To that end, we offer these bits of advice on how to help your child cope after an accident.

Things to Avoid

A child, to a great extent, perceives their world through how the adults in their lives behave. When a child senses fear or anger, regardless of what is going on around them, they take this a cue that something is wrong and that there is something to be worried about. This makes it very critical that the adults in their life maintain, as much as possible, a stable environment for them. Common reactions that adults have and that should be avoided are:

Being Over Indulgent

Allowing a child to break household rules or behave in a manner that would not normally be acceptable sends a signal that something is different. A child needs stability. By maintaining the usual standards of behavior, a child is provided with a sense of security.

Being Over Protective

Despite the emotional apprehension that normally accompanies a near miss event, it is paramount that adults do not become over protective. A child is going to draw a great deal of strength or weakness from how they perceive your mental state. If you act fearful they are going to react accordingly. Again, the keyword here is normalcy. Don’t let your fear cause you to become restrictive of your child’s activities.

Playing the Drama Queen

Many times, when talking, people will use phrases like “I thought we were dead” or “two seconds sooner and I could of lost________”. These phrases are so common in adult conversations that most of the time people don’t even hear themselves saying them. To a child, though, these expressions are horrifying. A child’s world is much more literal.

Therefore, try avoiding dramatic language in their presence. They listen and hear much more than people realize.

How You Can Help

The main thing to remember if a child has been involved in an accident, as illustrated by the points above, is to try and create an atmosphere of comfort and normalcy for the child. This does not mean avoiding the fact that an incident has occurred. It simply means making it clear that what happened, happened, but does not change their world overall. It happened in the past and that they are now safe. Here are a few things that might help you to help them:

  • Talk openly about the accident, if the child wants to, but don’t push them.
  • Answer their questions, honestly. Ask the child if there is anything they want to know or if they are still worried about what happened.
  • Stick to the facts. Don’t dramatize what happened, but make sure the child understands what happened.
  • Stress any good points that have resulted from the accident, such as time out of school, special attention from friends or teachers, etc.
  • Praise them for how well they have dealt with what happened.

Children are amazingly resilient and the majority of the time will recover from the emotional stress of an accident much faster than their adult counterparts. In some cases though, if the trauma of the accident has been severe, it can cause problems that could plague the child well into their adulthood. It is our job, as adults, to help them adjust to what has happened and to seek help for them, if there is a need.