Helping Children, Teens, And Their Families Cope With Tragedy

  1. Copied from a post by Joan NP @Nursing Spectrum:

    Here's a handout that can be used when helping parents to help thier children cope with tragedy. It came from NAPNAP.


    1. Be honest and give age and developmentally appropriate explanations about the traumatic event.

    - For young children, in particular, only provide answers to questions they are asking and do not overwhelm them with too much detail. Use language that young children can understand. Do not expose young children to visual images that are terrifying in the newspapers or television.

    - It may be easier for young children to express how they are feeling by asking them to talk about how their stuffed animals or dolls are feeling or thinking.

    2. Help children and teens to express how they are feeling about what they have seen or heard. If children have difficulty verbally expressing their feelings, ask them to make a drawing about how they are feeling. Older school-age children and teens can benefit from writing about how they feel.

    - Ask children and teens, "What is the scariest or worst thing about this event for you?"

    3. Reassure children that they did nothing wrong to cause what happened. Toddlers and preschool children especially feel guilty when something tragic happens.

    4. Tell children and teens that what they are feeling (e.g., anger, anxiety, helplessness) is normal and that others feel the same way.

    5. Alleviate some of their anxiety by reassuring children that we will get through this together and will be stronger as a result of what we have been through. Emphasize that everything is now under control and that adults will be there to help them through this and that they are not alone.

    6. Help children and teens to release their tension by encouraging daily physical exercise and activities.

    7. Continue to provide structure to children's schedules and days.

    8. Recognize that a tragic event could elevate psychological or physical symptoms (e.g., headaches, abdominal pain or chest pain) in children and teens who are already depressed or anxious.

    - Remember that young children who are depressed typically have different symptoms (e.g., restlessness, excessive motor activity) than older school-age children or teens who are depressed (e.g., sad or withdrawn affect; difficulty sleeping or eating; talking about feeling hopeless). - Anger can be a sign of anxiety in children and teens.

    - Children, even teens, who are stressed typically regress (e.g., revert to doing things that they did when they were younger, such as sucking their thumbs, bedwetting, or acting dependent upon their parents). This is a healthy temporary coping strategy. However, if these symptoms persist for several weeks, talk to your healthcare provider about them.

    9. Use this opportunity as a time to work with children on their coping skills.

    10. Be sure to have your child or teen seen by a healthcare provider or mental health professional for signs or symptoms of depression, persistent anxiety, recurrent pain, persistent behavioral changes, or if they have difficulty maintaining their routine schedules.

    11. Remember that this can be an opportunity to build future coping and life skills as well as bring your family unit closer together.

    Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk, PhD, RN, CPNP Chair, KySS Campaign

    This handout, part of the KySS (Keep your children/yourself Safe and Secure) Campaign, may be reproduced for use with and dissemination to families with children and teens. The KySS campaign, founded by the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners (NAPNAP) and endorsed/supported by 15 other national nursing and interdisciplinary organizations, is a national effort to prevent and reduce psychosocial morbidities in children and teens. For more information about the KySS campaign, please contact the national office of NAPNAP at 1-877-662-7627 or Bernadette Mazurek Melnyk. tragedytips
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