Tuesday, April 21, 2015

How can I help my child after an injury?

Beyond tending to wounds and rehabilitation, it is just as important for parents to remember to look at their child's mental health after an injury, and sometimes stress reactions can get in the way of recovery.

How can I help my child after an injury?

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Right now, thousands of children in the Delaware Valley are recovering from an injury, and they rely on their families to help them heal. While it is important to tend to their wounds and rehabilitation, it is just as important for parents to remember to look beyond the physical injuries. Injury is stressful for children and their families, and sometimes stress reactions can get in the way of recovery. 

Whether it’s a dog bite or a broken arm caused by a motor vehicle crash, the impact of injury for your child goes beyond the physical. In the first few days after an injury, many injured children feel upset, jumpy or worried at times, and many parents do, too. Despite what you might think, it’s not just the most severe injuries that can lead to strong emotional reactions. Any injury that is frightening for you or your child can lead to traumatic stress symptoms. These can include reliving what happened, avoiding reminders of what happened, and difficulty sleeping, eating, or concentrating. It may be helpful to rate your child’s and your own reactions over the first few weeks after an injury. Here’s how.

A recent Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia research review shows that unfortunately about 1 in 6 injured children -- and a similar percentage of parents -- experience more severe and persistent traumatic stress, lasting more than a month and getting in the way of full recovery.  

How can you help your child fully recover after an injury? The first step is to understand what is going on emotionally after the injury and then to get the help you and your child need to respond in a healthy way.

When traumatic stress reactions last for more than one month and are so severe that they get in the way of injury recovery or getting back to normal life, your child may have posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a serious medical condition and needs to be addressed to help your child fully recover. The good news is that effective treatment is available. Look to your child’s doctor to screen for PTSD and to coordinate follow-up care.

Here are some tips to help your child after an injury:

Understand new fears and worries. When something scary happens, like an injury, anything connected to it can be viewed by your child as a signal of danger. It can be a place, a person, a sight, a sound, or even a smell to make the scared feelings come back. It’s natural to want to stay away from things that remind your child of the injury. Of course, keep your child safe, but also help him or her face new fears with you there for support.

Be a haven. In the first days and weeks following an injury, your child may fear that something bad might happen again. Provide reassurance that you are doing all you can to keep your son or daughter safe. Give extra hugs, even to your teen. Tell your child that it’s okay to feel upset, worried, or confused after getting hurt. If he or she is ready to talk about it, great. If not, suggest drawing a picture or writing a story about how it feels.

Go back to normal routines. To promote healing, help your child get plenty of sleep, eat regular meals and keep up with schoolwork. Your child may need more time with you – not necessarily to talk but just to hang out. You might read, play games, or watch movies together. Encourage visits from friends and family, as much as the injury allows. Children who get extra support from family and friends seem to do better after upsetting events.  

Take time to deal with your own feelings. In addition to all the things you are doing to help your child, remember to take good care of yourself. It will be harder to help your child if you are worried, upset, or overwhelmed. Talk about your feelings with other adults, such as family, friends, clergy, your doctor, or a counselor.

Keep in mind that family members can react in different ways. Remember that your child’s feelings and worries about the injury might be different from yours. Brothers and sisters can feel upset, as well, even if they were not involved.

For more information, my colleagues and I translated more than a decade of research into an award-winning website, AfterTheInjury.org, to help you in assisting your child recover after an injury.


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The Healthy Kids blog is your window into the latest news, research and advice around children's health. Learn more about our growing list of contributors here.

If you have questions about your child's health, ask them here.

Anna Nguyen Healthy Kids blog Editor
Sarah Levin Allen, Ph.D., CBIS Assistant Professor of Psychology at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Stephen Aronoff, M.D., M.B.A. Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Temple University Hospital
Peter Bidey, D.O. Medical Director of Family Medicine at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Christopher C. Chang, MD, PhD, MBA, FAAAAI, FACAAI Associate Professor of Medicine in division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Clinical Immunology at UC Davis
Katherine K. Dahlsgaard, Ph.D. Lead Psychologist of The Anxiety Behaviors Clinic at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Gary A. Emmett, M.D., F.A.A.P Director of Hospital Pediatrics at TJU Hospital & Pediatrics Professor at Thomas Jefferson Univ.
Magee DeFelice, M.D. Division Chief of Allergy and Immunology at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
Hazel Guinto-Ocampo, M.D. Chief of Pediatric Emergency Services at Nemours duPont Pediatrics/Bryn Mawr Hospital
Rima Himelstein, M.D. Adolescent Medicine Specialist at Crozer-Keystone Health System
Jessica Kendorski, PhD, NCSP, BCBA-D Associate Professor in School Psychology/Applied Behavior Analysis at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
Anita Kulick President & CEO, Educating Communities for Parenting
Janet Rosenzweig, MS, PhD, MPA VP for Programs & Research for Prevent Child Abuse America
Beth Wallace Smith, R.D. Registered Dietitian at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia
Emiliano Tatar, M.D. Pediatrician at Einstein Healthcare Network Roxborough Plaza
Jeanette Trella, Pharm.D Managing Director at The Poison Control Center at CHOP
W. Douglas Tynan, Ph.D., ABPP Director of Integrated Health Care for American Psychological Association
Flaura Koplin Winston, M.D., Ph.D. Scientific Director of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Injury Research and Prevention
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