1. Try to stay calm yourself
Kids model your moods and reactions, and look to adults for cues on how to feel about things. If you’re frantic, they’ll be frantic. If you act as though the sky is falling, they’ll assume it is too. If you’re calm and collected, they’ll be able to draw strength from your composure and feel that this is something they can handle.
2. Delay sleep
If you were fortunate enough to reach this information immediately after a trauma, delay sleep on that first night. Stay up late playing a game or distracting yourself with something else. Let the kids stay up past midnight and then get them up at the normal time the next day. Because sleep facilitates memory formation, disrupting sleep the night after a trauma can weaken the intensity of the memory, resulting in fewer PTSD symptoms. Unfortunately, this only works in the immediate aftermath of a trauma. After that first or second night, sleep has the opposite effect, and promotes healing.
3. Offer distractions
Try to keep kids busy and mentally stimulated. Play card games, sing songs, watch movies, let them play video games, arrange for something fun with a friend–the more they are kept busy with their brain occupied on other things, the harder it is for them to dwell on whatever trauma they experienced, which in turn translates to less intense memories and fewer trauma symptoms. There will always be time to confront the situation later. But in the week or so following a trauma, you want to keep them busy and distracted.
4. Keep to stable routines
Traumatic experiences leave children feeling discombobulated. Trying to offer some semblance of normalcy can help. When people are rattled, they find comfort and reassurance in what’s familiar. So doing your best to keep to stable routines provides a sense of normalcy and predictability, which helps your child feel their life is still under control.
5. Provide lots of love and TLC
Physical affection releases many positive neurotransmitters in the brain that counteract stress hormones while promoting a sense of calm and contentment. Put simply: touch and affection are the antidote to stress. So make a point of giving children more physical affection than you normally would. Hold them, carry them, snuggle them more often, give an impromptu back massage or foot rub, maybe let them sleep in your bed a night or two–whatever you can do to add more touch and affection to their daily routine will help.
Even simple gestures such as wrapping your arms around them and snuggling for 5 or 10 seconds will cause neurochemical changes in their brain that counteract the effects of stress. If you add another 5 or 10 of these gestures each day, it makes a huge difference. Just be sure not to make a big fuss about this or get too carried away, or they might interpret your sudden clinginess as a sign that something is seriously wrong. You want to increase your affection…just not to the point where you’re acting as though it’s your last night on earth together.