After the Accident: How to Help a Child Through Trauma

A wise woman named Ellen Canterow once wrote, “Making the decision to have a child – it’s momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” If you’re a Dad, you know just how vulnerable that can leave you feeling! So naturally you do everything in your power to keep your kids safe – but you can never fully safeguard your family against accidents and injury.

Although child fatalities related to car accidents have been declining in our lifetime, one out of every four unintentional injury deaths of children under the age of 13 are still caused by crashes. Of course, that’s not even taking into account the kids who are in non-fatal accidents.

Whether children are injured or not, they can still be traumatized by a car accident. Even a fender-bender can leave them shaken. How can you help them recover emotionally from an accident, whether or not they have been physically hurt?

Let’s take a closer look, Dad to Dad.

First, Acknowledge That There Is Trauma

Us guys are often tempted to show our kids, particularly our sons, that it’s important to be tough, to shake things off, to hide our feelings and our tears. But that won’t help your child heal. It’s much better to acknowledge that something bad has happened – but at the same time, emphasize that you and your family will get through the tough stuff together.

If your child is scared, sad, angry, worried, or otherwise upset after an accident, reassure them that it’s OK to feel those feelings, to talk about them, to cry if they feel like crying. Very young children might not have the vocabulary to discuss their emotions, but there are plenty of books to help them do so. Drawing, playing, and other nonverbal activities can also allow them to express themselves and give you insight into their moods.

Watch for Signs of PTSD

Post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, is often associated with combat  veterans, victims of terror attacks or natural disasters, or those who have suffered physical or sexual abuse. However, this disorder is not limited to those populations. Even something as seemingly innocuous as a car accident can lead to the development of PTSD in a child. The more hands-on you can be as a father in monitoring their response to the incident, the better off they’ll be down the line.

In addition to the negative emotions listed above, watch your child for signs of PTSD such as:

  • Nightmares or sleep disturbances
  • Irritable or angry outburts, often for no reason
  • Being easily startled or extremely afraid
  • Denial of the crash
  • Reliving the accident over and over in play
  • Talking incessantly about the accident
  • Withdrawing
  • Acting out, lashing out at others, or destructive behavior

Children sometimes “regress” after a traumatic event, as well. Your daughter may want her binkie or her old favorite lovey back, even if she gave it up a while ago. Your son could start wetting the bed again.

Kids might suck their thumb or even revert back to “baby talk” and other behavior they had outgrown before the accident.

Get Professional Help If Needed

With everything on your plate – handling the financial problems and practical aftermath of the accident, tending to your own health issues, and getting back to work – you might not want to deal with a child who needs therapy. But your child’s emotional well-being is much more important than even a completely totaled car.

If your child doesn’t seem to be moving past the trauma, talk to your pediatrician or check out the resources at The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Experts in dealing with the aftermath of car accidents, like the California accident lawyers at The Barnes Firm recommend that everyone in the family gets the help they need – whether that is medical, mental health-related, legal, financial, or another type of assistance. Accidents can be absolutely devastating, so there’s no need to go it alone. That goes for you and your children.

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