As parents, we do our best to ensure that our children walk away uninjured in the event of a car accident. But even our best safety measures can’t help with the emotional trauma that children deal with after an accident. And while there’s no way to prepare them beforehand, we can proactively do our best to make sure they’ll be OK. Here are five key talking points that can help children who’ve experienced a car accident:
1. Name The Fear With Facts
Trauma experts agree that talking about the details of an accident (slowly, as a child is ready) helps in the process of recovery. For parents this can seem counter-intuitive because of a desire to shield children from fear. But actually, talking in a matter-of-fact way about what happened helps to normalize the situation and remove overwhelming feelings of fear. Parents should avoid talking through “what if” scenarios, however, and never indulge dramatic language. Sticking to the facts in calm, short, semi-frequent discussions is healthy.
2. Create a Calm-Down Plan
Sometimes after a car accident, a child can feel intense fear at the thought of entering a car again. To help children get reacquainted with riding in vehicles, start with short trips to familiar, pleasant places. If the child gets upset during the drive, remind them of the destination (a favorite park, an ice cream shop, the community pool) to help them focus on the future and not on the past. Also, encouraging the use of comfort items in the car (such as a blanket or lovey) may help children physically grasp something calming in the present in order to pull their minds from the past.
3. Emphasize Accident and Not Blame
In addition to fear, children may experience feelings of guilt or anger. Some kids feel like they may have done something wrong and the accident was a cosmic punishment of sorts. They may also feel anger towards the driver of the vehicle, which is unhealthy to nurture regardless of its validity. Talking through the reality of the word “accident”, refusing to verbally place blame, and reassuring that it was absolutely not the child’s fault are helpful conversation topics.
4. Focus on Positives
A car accident is never a good thing, and children should always be allowed to talk about the negative aspects of fear and trauma. But, as they say, the sun is still shining above the storm. Help refocus the child’s mind on positive after-effects of a collision such as physical well-being, the help offered by others, and the repair/replacement of the vehicle if they seem overly fixated on fear.
5. Re-establish Routine
Experts recommend that families quickly get back to normal routines and boundaries after an accident. After trauma kids may revert to younger behaviors, act out for attention, or get clingy. But falling back into pre-established patterns provides children with stability, making them feel safe and loved.
In closing, never hesitate to seek help from of a professional counselor if you or your child start feeling overwhelmed after an accident.