Buzz. Buzz. You reach for your mobile and the caller ID shows it is your spouse. You say “hello”, but the voice on the other end is a stranger. She says come quickly, your family was in an accident. It is a call no one wants to receive, but the reality is over 2.34 million people were injured in car crashes last year, and nearly 300,000 were children. According to a Louisville, Kentucky, auto accident attorney, car crashes are a leading cause of brain injury in Americans. But a parent knows when to see a doctor for injuries, but what is the right response for emotional harm children suffer? What happens after a car crash?
Signs Your Child is Struggling to Cope
In the immediate aftermath of a car crash, your children may cry or exhibit fear and anxiety. As days pass, how do you know if your child is struggling to cope? If a child is reverting back to thumb sucking, started wetting the bed again, begun expressing fears not previously present, is having trouble sleeping or eating, or is exhibiting behavioral problems not present before the crash, this may be a sign of an emerging post-traumatic stress-disorder. In these severe cases, it is best to seek the advice of a professional to guide you and your child through the process of healing.
How You Can Help
Mental health organizations like SAMHSA and The National Child Traumatic Stress Network agree that the timetable for overcoming trauma varies for each child. It is a natural reaction for parents to desire to “do something,” but sometimes it is simply best to be patient. Unlike scrapes and bruises, there are no band-aids or antibacterial creams for mental health. As you are patient and caring, you will find that most children will want to talk about their trauma. Be a good listener, but do not pressure them into speaking about the accident. Tell them it is okay to be sad or to cry, and assure them that the accident was not their fault.
When to Seek Help
Like adults who have faced severe trauma, children can sometimes suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), even from a car crash. Symptoms in young children are wetting the bed, being unable to talk, or even continually acting out the trauma. Older children may exhibit destructive behaviors or feelings of guilt. The signal for parents to seek the help of a qualified mental health professional is if a child’s symptoms persist for 2-4 weeks or worsen.
For most it is not a matter of if trauma will occur, but when. When it does know you can help by recognizing the signs of trauma, intervening with these tips and if necessary seeking professional help.