Caregivers of Injured Children
If a child in your life is coping with a recent injury, you may have a lot of questions about how to help them. It is important to remember that healing involves not only physical recovery, but also emotional and mental recovery. Our goal is to provide you with information, tips, and resources to help you as you and your child adapt to this recent challenge.
Stress and Injury: What aspects of an injury and hospital visit might be distressing?
Multiple aspects of an injury and/or the hospital experience can impact your child’s reactions to the event. It’s important to remember that your child’s interpretation of the event and its meaning may be different from yours, and this can influence their responses. Important aspects of the trauma may include:
- The type of injury.
- How the injury happened.
- The types of treatments received in the hospital.
- Feelings of loss of control associated with the injury.
- Life-altering medical complications or lifestyle changes related to the injury.
- Interactions with emergency responders or law enforcement.
- Receiving medical interventions that your child did not expect or understand.
- Conditions of the hospital environment.
- Pain associated with the injury.
Your child’s understanding of the event is important!
In addition to the actual events that took place, your child’s experience of the event may influence their response. A child’s impressions and memories of what happened matter at least as much as the “facts” of the incident.
What type of changes and challenges might my child experience?
It is normal for children to have difficult reactions after a medical trauma, and there are a wide variety of responses. Here are some common responses:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Decreased interest in school or socializing
- Blaming themselves for what happened, even if you try to convince them that they are not to blame.
- Tummy aches or feeling jumpy.
- Difficulties with attention, memory, or concentration
- Emotional changes (anger, sadness, fear)
Changes in Thoughts, Beliefs, and Attitudes
Changes in thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes may include:
- Thoughts about the world being less safe
- New beliefs about people being more or less trustworthy than they used to believe
- Changes in views of self-worth and abilities
- Guilt related to aspects of the injury event (for example, guilt related to a belief that the event was the child’s fault, or ‘survivor guilt’ if the child lived through the accident and someone else was killed)
- Thoughts that life will never be the same
- Strongly identifying with other children who have experienced something similar
- Decreased self-confidence
How do I help my child manage these changes in thoughts and beliefs?
There are many ways to help your child increase awareness of their thinking patterns and develop more helpful and flexible thinking.
Click here to read our Healthy Thinking Tips for Children
Click here to read about Coping Flexibility for Children
Changes in Feelings and Emotions
Changes in feelings and emotions may include:
- Increased fear (of getting injured again or locations where the injury took place)
- Separation anxiety
- Numbness or seeming apathetic
- Grumpiness or becoming easily upset
- Sadness and crying at reminders of the experience (sounds, sights, smells)
- Feeling unreal or detached
- Feeling out of control or overwhelmed
- Loneliness or isolation
- Loss of confidence
- Doubts/confusion about sense of safety
- Gratitude that nothing worse happened
When your child is experiencing difficult emotions, there are things you can do to make the emotions more manageable:
- Talk to your child about how they are feeling. Let them know that it is okay to express their emotions, and that you are there to help.
- Do things that help your child to feel better when they are having a hard time
- Be flexible. Remember that your child’s recovery after an injury will not always predictable.
Behavioral changes are a normal part of coping and will vary dramatically by age. They may include:
- Nightmares or trouble sleeping
- Re-enacting parts of the event
- Avoiding conversations about what happened
- Avoiding people, places, thoughts, or memories that remind them of the event
- Asking lots of questions
- Changes in appetite
- Difficulty at school
- Difficulty getting along with others, being argumentative, withdrawing from others
- Difficulty expressing oneself
- Increased interest in religious or spiritual activities
- Increased sensitivity to or interest in the emotions of other people
Physical and Body Reactions
The physical reactions your child experiences after an injury can be confusing, and they may be connected to their emotions. These symptoms may include:
- Nausea or upset stomach
- Sweating or shivering
- Feeling faint
- Muscle tremors or uncontrollable shaking
- Changes in appetite
- Elevated heartbeat, respiration, and blood pressure
- Extreme fatigue or exhaustion
- Feeling ‘jumpy’
- Experiencing pain
Exercise, diet, proper sleep, talking with your medical provider, and seeking support from family and friends can all make these symptoms more manageable for your child.