Coping with Life-Shattering Events

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Things to Watch For Later

Be patient. Iin the months ahead, be patient with yourself and your kids and don't expect things to quickly return to "normal." An event like this is never forgotten, and can only be absorbed and mastered over time.

Watch for delayed responses. Your child may be under more stress as time goes by and he understands more about how vulnerable we still are.

Look for signs of continued stress. These include:

  • Changes in appetite
  • Sleeplessness, nightmares
  • Regressed behavior (bedwetting, baby talk, etc.)
  • Listlessness, melancholy
  • Physical symptoms (headaches, stomach aches, etc.)
  • Acute separation anxieties
  • Irritability and temper tantrums

In teenagers, also stay alert to:

  • Increased drug or alcohol use
  • Survivors' guilt
  • Defiant and/or delinquent behavior.

Seek professional help. Watch for symptoms of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If your child or teenager becomes symptomatic in one to three months, be aware that she may be suffering from PTSD. If nothing you say or do seems to alleviate your child's symptoms, seek professional help. Many mental health professionals in stricken communities are offering this help for free.

Prepare for any travel. If you need to travel by air with your children in the months ahead make a positive point of all the increased security. You might say, "See how many more people we have around us now to make sure we're safe and our plane is safe."

Finally, remember that when you demonstrate that you are able to cope with these tragic events, recognize their impact, and accept the alterations in our lives that will be necessary for our future security, you're showing your children how to cope with tragedy, too. --Ava Siegler, Ph.D.

Dr. Siegler is the director of the Institute for Child, Adolescent and Family Studies in New York City, and the author of two award-winning books for parents, "What Should I Tell the Kids? A Parent's Guide to Real Problems in the Real World," and "The Essential Guide to the New Adolescence: How to Raise an Emotionally Healthy Teenager." She is married and the mother of two children.

 

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