In parts 1 and 2 of this series, children and car accidents are discussed, along with generalized suggestions for parents to identify possible emotional trauma in children following a car accident.
This post, part 3 of the series, will identify additional ways children might react to being involved in an automobile accident and discuss issues parents should be aware of when relating to children who may be suffering from trauma in the aftermath of an automobile accident.
Other Ways Children May React To Trauma
Sometimes, children feel more comfortable talking indirectly about their experience of a car accident (e.g. when mom or dad is in the next room). What’s most important about their actions following an accident is that they are expressing themselves openly, not necessarily that you are engaging directly with them at that exact moment.
Some children feel more comfortable “telling” you about their feelings when a trusted adult is within earshot but isn’t directly “listening” to their conversations. Children may want to confide in a friend, mom and dad or a teacher or even the family dog. Whoever they talk to, make sure that person knows how to respond to your child. When a child “eases” into a conversation about an accident, it’s their way of gently bringing themselves into a difficult conversation about their feelings without feeling overwhelmed. As a parent, you can use that moment as a jumping off point for future conversations. Always rely on your instincts and cues from your child to get a good sense for when your child is ready to talk about the accident in a more direct way.
Children Who Put On A Brave Front After A Car Accident
Sometimes, children pretend to be “fine” after a car accident because they are afraid of their own “big” feelings, or because they are trying to put on a “brave face” for the sake of an already overwhelmed or traumatized family. In some cases, another adult may have unwittingly given the child the message that they shouldn’t talk about the accident. Or, a child may feel they can’t handle their own emotions, so they avoid the topic of the accident and their feelings at all costs.
In any case, adults should be very cautious when it comes to children who appear too happy-go-lucky after a very traumatic car accident (or any other kind of car accident) and allow those children the time and space necessary to work out their complex emotions with a trusted adult or trained counselor.
If you are a parent who is trying to help your child heal while trying to heal yourself, make sure to be extra kind to yourself. Reach out for help, especially when it comes to the added support of friends and loved ones, and perhaps the therapeutic support of a trained professional who can help you sort out your feelings about the car accident and give you tips to help your entire family heal emotionally.
Calm Adult Reassurance Is Key After A Car Accident
Immediately following a car accident, adults should reassure any aged child that they are indeed safe, despite the fact that a car accident has occurred. Although the car accident may have been scary or upsetting to your child, take time to explain that car accidents are relatively rare events. After a car accident, children should be encouraged to discuss their feelings if they want to, and given lots of emotional and physical support. Give lots of extra hugs and reassurance throughout the day, and make it a special point to spend time together as a family so that you can talk about the car accident if need be, or simply provide your child with that all-important sense of well-being being near a loving adult provides.
Don’t Pressure Your Child To Talk After A Car Accident
Although children should be encouraged to discuss their feelings about a car accident, don’t pressure your child to talk about their feelings if they aren’t ready or don’t want to discuss the accident. Children, even if they appear fearful or upset, can become more traumatized if they are forced to talk about their feelings before they are ready.
Allow your child to approach you with their feelings about the car accident by giving them opportunities to discuss their feelings, but only when they are ready. This may happen when you least expect it: young children may act out their feelings during playtime, and older children may want to draw pictures. If a child appears so traumatized that they can’t bring themselves to discuss the events of a car accident, yet they are clearly emotionally distraught for a significant length of time after the event (2-4 weeks), or if emotional symptoms suddenly appear, seek professional guidance from your pediatrician or other trained healthcare professional.
Stick To Your Routine After Your Car Accident
If at all possible, maintain your normal routine after your car accident. Although your child might be afraid to get back in the car after an accident, don’t allow them to avoid the car for too long. Getting back to normal activities within a safe and reasonable amount of time is a good idea because it helps signal to your child that although being in a car accident might feel scary, those feelings are normal and they don’t mean something bad is going to happen again.
Helping guide your child past his or her fears gently and lovingly as a parent or caregiver is important; never tease or minimize your child about their fears, but don’t allow them to take over and run away, either. Let your child know you are going to help them stay safe and deal with their fears respectfully and naturally, and that you’ll do everything within your power to keep them safe.
NHTSA Car Seat Recommendations After A Car Accident
After a car accident, even a slow speed car accident, the NHTSA recommends that all child restraints be replaced. Tell your child that you understand the latest safety recommendations of the United States Government. This is one way to help reassure them that you as a parent understand how to keep them safe. Perhaps you can involve your child in the purchase and installation of their new new safety seat. Let your child know you have installed their new booster or car seat properly and have gone to great lengths to purchase the right safety seat that will protect and help keep them safe. Use your instincts as a parent. Depending on your child’s age and personality, this might be a good tactic. For others, too much talk of car seats or safety may bring back memories of the accident.
Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First: Parents Need Help Too
If you have a child who wants to talk about a car accident often, it can pose unique challenges for a family who was involved in a car accident, particularly if an accident was traumatic for both the caregivers and children. If this happens to be the case in your family, it is extremely important that both the adults and the children find supportive professional help.
As any good airline attendant will tell you, when you are a passenger on a distressed plane, you must help yourself before you even begin to think about helping anyone else. A struggling passenger can’t help anyone until they have put on their own oxygen mask!
When it comes to emotional trauma, the same holds true. As a parent or caregiver, you’ll be in a much better position to help your child heal emotionally if you are in a healthy place. So, don’t put yourself last, thinking your child is the only one who deserves help. If you feel overwhelmed, frightened or depressed after your car accident, seek the guidance of a trained professional. Extend the same care and concern to yourself that you would to your child and you’ll both be better off and stronger emotionally and physically when all is said and done.
Our Attorneys Are Here to Help After Your Car Accident
The personal injury attorneys of Hardy, Wolf and Downing are here to assist your family after your car accident. We make it a point to see our clients wherever they need us, whether that be in their homes, the hospital, or in one of our three office locations (Portland, Downtown Portland or Lewiston).
As parents, lawyers and citizens of Maine, we treat the people who call us asking for help and guidance with the utmost care and concern because above all, we know that our clients are people who have been injured and hurt. They are worried parents, partners, spouses and family members who have been hurt in accidents that they didn’t cause. We treat each and every client as we would want to be treated if we were standing in their shoes. It’s what matters in life, and it’s what makes us the best choice to represent your family.
The Maine car accident attorneys of 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.