Parenting Through a Traumatic Event
As parents, we spend a great deal of time predicting dangers, teaching our children to be cautious and aware of their surroundings. Even when we do everything right, accidents can, and still do happen.
Parenting a child who has just been through a traumatic event can feel like finding your way through a dark, unfamiliar building. Once the crisis stage has passed, we need to wrap our mind around our reality.
This may include a change in physical abilities, or a change in the child’s ability to take care of themselves or to communicate. A critical task in this stage is to comprehend how the child’s identity has changed. Does he love sports and need to use a wheelchair or crutches for a period of time? A child is entitled to grieve the loss of his or her identity, even if it is temporary, and they should have the opportunity to work through those stages of grief.
Parents also go through a grieving process for that change in identity, and may struggle with feelings of gratitude, anger, and helplessness, among others. How much of our communication revolves around our children’s interests and activities? Parents may suddenly question how to talk to their child, or even what to talk about. How a parent connects with their child may need to change. The content of conversations will change, but also how we connect, dependent upon changes in speech/language abilities, cognitive changes, etc.
One of the biggest challenges to a parent lies with talking about the traumatic event itself. Avoiding the topic can invalidate what has happened. The event may feel scary to the child, but avoiding it all together can make the fear worse. On the other hand, don’t center all conversations around the event. Follow the child’s lead. Talk at their pace, and validate what they are feeling.
Don’t forget that parents need support too. Ask medical or mental health professionals about support groups, or to be connected with parents that have had the same experiences. Social media is a great resource to connect with families locally or globally.
The road through recovery is different for each person. Determination, anxiety, despair, and defeat are all normal and will rotate and repeat through their rehabilitation. Help your child find the motivation to work through those feelings and to find meaning that they can pull from their experience. Remember that recovery is a fluid process. With support from you, their family, friends, and medical professionals, they will soon redefine who they are, who they want to be, and how to manage the challenges they encounter along the way.