An accident is, by definition, an unexpected and unfortunate incident that results in damage or injury. Whether what happened was a road traffic accident or a sporting injury, a slip & fall incident or an animal attack, the trauma caused can be both physical and psychological. According to the Child Accident Prevention Trust, falls are one of the most common causes of accidents and injury to children, and some falls can lead to death or long-term disability.
For children, the impact of being involved in an accident can range from mild and temporary symptoms to severe and long-term consequences, depending on the nature of what occurred during and in the aftermath of the accident. We must also bear in mind that children may have a very different reaction to a stressful event than an adult might have. For example, being attacked by a dog can have an emotional consequence of anxiety or depression, or in the worst case PTSD, that may affect the child for years. Because of this, you may wonder if you need to hire an animal attack attorney and if you have a case.
As parents, we are hard-wired to protect our kids, and any harm that comes to our sons or daughters will affect us deeply too – but more on that later. Our first priority must be to help the affected child cope with what may be a very frightening experience and manage the emotional impact of what has happened to them. As responsible adults, we also need to keep a level head and take all necessary practical steps in the wake of an accident.
What reactions can you expect?
Each child is different, and while most youngsters cope well after an accident, others may take longer to adjust. Of course, every accident is different too. A child having to undergo unfamiliar hospital treatment or ongoing medical care, or face the serious injury or death of someone else involved in the same accident, understandably has a harder hill to climb.
Here are some of the most common reactions you can expect from your child:
- Behavioural changes. Lack of interest in usual activities, bed-wetting, acting younger, wanting to sleep in your room, angry outbursts and misbehaviour
- Physical changes. Headaches and nausea, heart palpitations, restlessness and agitation, difficulty sleeping
- Positive changes. Feeling closer to friends and family, increased self-confidence and self-esteem
- Psychological changes. Anxiety, sadness, irritability, difficulty concentrating, struggling with everyday life
- Social changes. Not wanting to be left alone or not wanting to be in the company of other people
What can you do to help?
After something unpleasant and out of the ordinary has occurred, it’s important to send a message to your child that the accident is over and everything is now OK. Getting back to normal routines is a good way to show reassurance. Encourage your youngster to go back to school, take part in their usual leisure activities and respect normal house rules.
While it may be tempting to wrap them in cotton wool, so to speak, it’s important not to be over-protective or give your child excessive special treatment. Doing so may send the message that things are not back to normal, meaning there could still be danger lurking.
Talking with your child about the accident and their feelings can be very helpful, but do be very careful about how you discuss what’s happened.
- Don’t avoid the topic of the accident but don’t force your child to talk about it if they don’t want to.
- Stay calm and speak openly and matter-of-factly about what occurred, whether directly with your child or other family members present.
- Answers all questions simply and honestly and stick to the facts. Correct any misunderstandings that may exist about the accident.
- Be a role model and share with your child some of your strategies to deal with stressful situations.
- Praise their behaviour in dealing with a difficult situation and focus on positive things as a result of the accident
- Reiterate that the accident is in the past and that your child is now safe and sound, with everything back to normal.
- Don’t talk about fears and ‘what if’ scenarios that are not based on fact and that could make your child feel frightened.
How to look after yourself
As already alluded to above, parents often feel deeply distressed by their child’s accident. You can’t give from an empty cup, as they say, so in order to be fully able to help your child overcome their trauma, it is essential that you pay attention to your own feelings and take positive steps to care for yourself.
- Prioritise self-care activities such as reading a book, watching a movie, going for a walk, having a bath etc
- Take time out to relax and de-stress, spending time with people that make you feel good. Make sure you get plenty of sleep.
- Maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise routines to help combat stress and anxiety.
- Get whatever support you need from friends and family, your GP or a counsellor. Notice difficulties with key relationships since the accident, excessive anxiety and trouble sleeping, or if you are finding it hard to talk about the accident with your child, and ensure you seek professional help.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.