Children and Car Accidents: Part 2

In part one of this series, the general nature of car accidents, children and emotional trauma was discussed. This post will delve further into issues surrounding child trauma stemming from car accidents.

Remember: Children And Adults Process Trauma Differently

When parents think of healthy, appropriate ways to approach their child after an automobile accident, they should note that the mind of a child and the mind of an adult are different in measurable and important ways.

Children and adults process information, especially information surrounding traumatic events, very differently. Because children interpret and react to traumatic events based on their age and ability levels, there is is no one-size-fits-all approach to emotional and physical recovery after an automobile accident, just as there is no one-size-fits-all approach for adult recovery.

One “Rule” For Approaching Children After An Automobile Accident

One “rule” to for parents to remember when approaching children after an automobile accident is to always interact with children with care and sensitivity.  Just as each and every situation is different, each and every child is different. All children should be treated with patience, sensitivity, and understanding after a car accident to ensure the best emotional outcome.

Your child should never be shamed or made to feel guilty for expressing their emotions following an automobile accident. Some children will experience little or no difficulty following a car accident, while others may have nightmares or show other signs of emotional trauma. Although your child’s reactions may not make sense to you as an adult, you should not minimize or make fun of them in a misguided attempt to get them “move on”.

Experts suggest ignoring or making fun of a child’s emotions is an unwise strategy for many reasons.  First, dismissing emotions without understanding their cause can harm a child’s ability to deal with emotions in a healthy way over the long term. When children don’t learn how to interpret and understand why they feel a certain way, the adults in their lives may very well be robbing them of a natural opportunity to develop emotional resilience and emotional intelligence. Being emotionally resilient, knowing yourself and your limits mean that as an adult, a child will be better able to understand, describe and handle their emotions. Furthermore, understanding their emotions now will help your child should they encounter any other traumatic situations again in the short term.

Why Identifying Trauma In Children Is Important

Helping your child recover emotionally after a car accident is of the utmost importance. Research indicates that children who have suffered a traumatic event before they turn 11 are as much as three times more likely to develop psychological symptoms than children who experience their first trauma as a teenager or adult.

The good news for parents and caregivers is that children are far more able to cope in healthy ways with traumatic events if they receive appropriate guidance and support from trusted caregivers and adults in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic event.

So, following a car accident, it becomes even more important for caregivers to watch for signs of trauma and step in immediately if a child needs guidance and support.  Parents and caregivers should never force a child to talk about a car accident  This can actually make trauma worse, or even traumatize a child who wasn’t experiencing problems in the first place. Although it’s important for adults to monitor children closely for signs of physical and emotional trauma so that they can offer loving sensitive, consistent and appropriate support as soon as they see a child is suffering, an adult should never force a child to talk about their feelings if they aren’t ready.

Common Signs of Physical and Emotional Trauma

  • Unusual amounts of irritability, anger, tantrums
  • Lots of whining, sudden bouts of tears, crying
  • Child shows unusual misbehavior at home or school
  • Regression (child reverts to behaviors such as thumb sucking or bed-wetting)
  • Physical symptoms (headaches, stomach aches, etc.) that are not associated with any clear pattern of illness

Stay Connected and “In Tune” With Your Child After A Car Accident

As a parent or caregiver, it’s always important to be in tune with your child’s needs and personality. But in the aftermath of a car accident, it’s even more important to stay close. Parents must know their children in order to accurately assess their emotional and physical well being because signs of trauma in older and younger children may mask themselves as “normal” and can, therefore, be extremely difficult to tease out from more abstract and developmentally appropriate childhood behaviors.

Signs of Trauma In Younger Children 

In younger children who are experiencing emotional trauma as a result of a car accident, parents may notice changes in play. Younger children are typically less able to verbalize or express their feelings, so it can be harder for parents to “see” emotional trauma in this age group. But it’s not impossible, by any means.

If your baby or toddler stops playing or begins playing aggressively (e.g. banging toys, biting others, abruptly becoming very shy or alternately becomes violent during play), this can be a sign of emotional trauma. Younger children may also develop sudden fears or phobias, such as concerns about losing favorite toys (special blankets or stuffed animals) or abruptly lose trust in adults who they were formerly comfortable with.

Sadly, in the aftermath of a car accident, younger children may reason that if an adult couldn’t protect them from the car accident, perhaps they can’t protect them at all.  If a normally confident child doesn’t want to play with friends, go to grandma’s house or preschool, it may have something to do with emotional trauma from their car accident. Young children may also develop generalized fears in response to the trauma of a car accident (e.g. fear of loud noises, school, other children, dogs), which to an adult would seem to have no relation at all to the car accident, but in the child’s mind are clearly related.

Signs of Trauma In Older Children

In older children, signs of emotional trauma may be similar to those of younger children. But, older children can also develop unique signs of child trauma that are more representative of an older child’s way of looking at and relating to the world. Older children may “clam up” and refuse to talk about the car accident. Alternately,  they may fixate on details of the car accident and want to discuss the car accident nonstop, perhaps asking to drive by the scene, or suddenly begin asking questions about death or wanting to watch scary or violent movies.

After a car accident, older children may also withdraw from friends, have trouble concentrating in school, secretly feel they said or did something to cause the accident, have thoughts or fears about death (their own or their parents/siblings) or lose interest in their favorite activities. In some cases, older children feel more comfortable “talking” about the car accident with the help of action figures or by drawing.

Our Attorneys Are Here To Help

If you or anyone in your family is dealing with emotional difficulties in the aftermath of a car accident, it’s always wise to consult with a qualified mental health professional or your pediatrician. The personal injury attorneys at Hardy, Wolf and Downing are also here to answer questions regarding your car accident and options you may have regarding settlements and insurance claims. We can help you understand why your insurance company may be trying to deny or minimize your claims following your automobile accident. Best of all, we can help your family get the settlement you deserve.

The Maine car accident attorneys at Hardy, Wolf and Downing provide our blog as a service to our clients.  They are meant to be purely informational. If you or a loved one has been in an accident or has been involved in a crash and would like a free consultation with a personal injury attorney, please call our firm today at 1-800-INJURED to start understanding your legal rights.