Child Traumatic Stress
The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary has been especially distressing to families with young children. This resource is designed to help parents navigate this very challenging time.
The primary role of parents is to protect children. One important way to do this is to prevent their exposure to information they cannot handle. Young children do not need to be told about traumatic events that they have no way of understanding. So it is best to:
- Turn off TV and radio news reports; don't leave newspapers lying around.
- Ask friends and family not to discuss the scary event around your child.
- Maintain your child's regular routine.
Behaviors you might see in young children who have been exposed to a scary or traumatic event:
- Increased clinginess, crying and whining
- Greater fear of separation from parents
- Increase in aggressive behavior
- More withdrawn and harder to engage
- Play that acts out scary events
- Changes in sleeping and eating patterns
- More easily frustrated and harder to comfort
- A return to earlier behaviors, like frequent night-wakening and thumb-sucking
What you can do:
- Respond to your child's need for increased attention, comfort and reassurance. This will make him feel safer sooner.
- Pay close attention to your child's feelings and validate them. Ignoring feelings does not make them go away.
- Help your child identify her feelings by naming them (scary, sad, angry, etc.).
- Offer your child safe ways to express feelings, such as drawing, pretend play, or telling stories.
- Don't discourage your child's play because you find it disturbing. Young children work through frightening events by reenacting them through play. If your child seems to be distressed by his play, comfort him and redirect him to another activity.
- Be patient and calm when your child is clingy, whiny, or aggressive. He needs you to help him regain control and feel safe.
- Answer children's questions according to their level of understanding: "Yes, a bad thing happened but we are keeping you safe."
Tune in to your own feelings and get the support you need to cope. Managing your own emotions allows you to exude a sense of calm, and lets your child know that you are strong and in control, which is the most powerful way to let your child know she is safe.
The above information was excerpted from Zero to Three, a national organization working to improve the lives of infants and toddlers. For more information and resources about coping with a traumatic event, click on the Zero to Three link above.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network has developmentally appropriate resources to help parents, caregivers and other caring adults talk with children and adolescents after a tragedy of mass violence. Go to http://www.nctsn.org/trauma-types/terrorism to find information about talking to children, exposing children to news media, restoring a sense of safety and more.
The National Association of School Psychologists also has resources at http://www.nasponline.org/index.aspx. Look especially at the article that reminds us that as caretakers, we must take care of ourselves to retain our own well-being and be there for our children.
If you feel the need to talk to someone about the emotions you are experiencing or want to know about local resources, call Infoline by dialing 211 on your phone. They are available 24 hours day/7 days week and they will connect you with what you need.
In New Haven, CT as in all other towns across the state, the school superintendent has sent out information to the parents of all school-aged children. The following is a reprint of his letter.
I know the horror and tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School weighs heavy in the hearts and minds of families everywhere. I want to reassure you that your child will be safe and well-cared-for at school this week.
The School District is taking extra precautions to tighten security at all of our schools. The Police Department is also increasing its presence around schools throughout the week.
Our greatest defense in protecting our schools is human vigilance. We have asked our principals, teachers and staff to be on heightened alert throughout the week.
You, as parents, can also play a role. Be alert and report any suspicious behavior you see at a school to staff or security personnel.
Additionally, we asked principals and staff to tighten security protocols already in place. That includes:
* Keeping doors locked during school hours and using the camera and buzzer
systems to allow parents and visitors to enter school buildings.
* Having staff stationed at the front entrance to every school throughout the
* Continuing to enforce entry procedures at schools, including the
use of metal detectors (where available), bag searches, sign-in sheets and other entry protocols.
As a reminder, we also have school resource officers in many of the high schools and community-based officers visiting elementary schools. These police officers offer an additional resource for keeping our students safe at school.
Hearing about a school shooting can be traumatic for children and adolescents. We want you to know our school social workers and psychologists are standing by to offer counseling to any student who needs it. Additionally, we have posted links on our website, www.nhps.net to resources that will help parents talk to their children in the aftermath of a tragedy. Those links are posted in English and Spanish.
The following are general tips for how to talk to your child about a tragedy after one occurs:
* Make an extra effort to provide comfort and reassurance.
* Reassure the child that you and other grown-ups will protect them.
* Encourage expression of feelings and emotions through play,
shows, and storytelling.
* Limit media exposure.
* Provide extra attention and consideration.
* Set gentle but firm limits for acting out behavior.
* Give clear explanations of what happened whenever a child asks.
that would scare a child. Correct any misinformation that your child
whether there is a present danger.
* Provide opportunities for children to express concern.
* Limit media exposure.
* Encourage expression of thoughts and feelings through conversation
* Point out kind deeds and the ways in which people helped each other
disaster or traumatic event.
Pre-adolescents and Adolescents
* Provide extra attention and consideration.
* Be there to listen to your children, but don't force them to talk
* Encourage discussion of trauma experiences among peers.
* Urge participation in physical activities.
* Encourage resumption of regular social and recreational activities.
I want you to know that the safety and well being of our students is
the top priority at New Haven Public Schools. We will be doing everything we can in the coming days to make sure parents and students feel safe coming to school and can focus on learning.
Our hearts and prayers continue to be with the families and victims
of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy. We stand with Sandy Hook and we
pray for the healing to begin.
Dr. Reginald Mayo
Again, if you feel the need to talk to someone about the emotions you are experiencing or want to know about local resources, call Infoline by dialing 211 on your phone. They are available 24 hours day/7 days week and they will direct you to the right place.
Child AbuseFacts About Abuse and Neglect
The National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect defines child abuse and neglect as
- Any ...act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or
- An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm
The CT Department of Children and Families website describes abuse and neglect:
- a non-accidental injury to a child which, regardless of motive, is inflicted or allowed to be inflicted by the person responsible for the child's care and
- any injury which is at variance with the history given
- maltreatment such as, but not limited to, malnutrition, sexual molestation, deprivation of necessities, emotional maltreatment or cruel punishment
Neglect is the failure, whether intentional or not, of the person responsible for the child's care to provide and maintain adequate food, clothing, medical care, supervision, and/or education. A child may be found neglected who:
- has been abandoned
- is being denied proper care and attention physically, educationally, emotionally, or morally
- is being permitted to live under conditions, circumstances or associations injurious to his well-being
- is being abused.
The statistics can feel overwhelming. In Connecticut State fiscal year 2008, the CT Department of Children and Families fielded over 68,000 allegations of child abuse and neglect, accepted over 24,000 reports and substantiated 17,437.
How You Can Help
At Family CT we are developing programs to reduce risk and increase protective factors to prevent child abuse and neglect. We make home visitations and use evidence-based parenting education curricula to increase knowledge of child development and improve positive parenting practices and strengthen the nurturing bonds between parents and children. We help families to identify and develop support networks and assist them to obtain the concrete supports they need such as food and diapers.
You can help. Research has shown that support from family, friends, neighbors and communities can be essential in helping parents develop safe and healthy homes for their children. Volunteer at a local school or community organization. Assist your friends and family members by babysitting or helping with chores or errands. Know how to identify and report signs of abuse or neglect so a family will get help. Make a donation to your local child abuse prevention agency.
For more informtion on child abuse prevention, visit the Child Welfare Information Gateway at http://www.childwelfare.gov/ and Prevent Child Abuse America at http://www.preventchildabuse.org/index.shtml.
Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect
Anyone can report suspected child abuse and neglect. Anyone who makes a report in good faith having reasonable grounds for making the report has immunity from civil or criminal liability. Making a report of child abuse or neglect can help protect a child and get needed services to the family.
Reports of child abuse and neglect should not be made to Family CT. In Connecticut there is a single point of contact for reporting and it is the Department of Children and Families Hotline at (800) 842-2288. The Hotline is available 24 hours/day, seven days/week. If you wish to ask about services for yourself and your family, you can call the Information and Referral line at the same phone number, available Monday-Friday, 8:30-5:00 pm. For fuller information about identifying and reporting abuse, access the DCF website at http://www.ct.gov/dcf/cwp/view.asp?a=2556&Q=314388#Hotline.
Get Help for Yourself
In Connecticut, if you would like to request help for yourself and your family, contact Infoline by dialing 211 on your telephone. Infoline has information about parenting classes in your area and other parenting and family supports including help to meet basic needs such as food and diaper banks. If you disclose abuse or neglect to certain professionals who regularly work with children, they may be required to make a report to the CT Department of Children and Families. You can also call Childhelp®, a national organization that provides crisis assistance and other counseling and referral services. This national child abuse hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with professional crisis counselors who have access to a database of 55,000 emergency, social service, and support resources. All calls are anonymous. Contact them at 1.800.4.A.CHILD. (1.800.422.4453).
If you feel that you need immediate help to avoid injuring your child, call a friend, neighbor, church member, or anyone who may be able to give you encouragement and respite. Make sure your child is in a safe place and, without leaving the house, give yourself a break. Practice deep breathing or visualization. Play soft music. Take a shower. When things are calm, make a plan of how you will handle this situation the next time. Taking care of children can be challenging!
Child Abduction Prevention
GENERAL TIPS TO KEEP YOUR CHILDREN SAFER
- Know where your children are at all times
- Never leave children unattended in an automobile
- Be involved in your children's activities
- Listen to your children. Pay attention if they tell you they don't want to be with someone or go somewhere. That may be a clue that something is wrong.
- Notice when someone shows your children a great deal of attention or gives them gifts.
- Teach your children that they have the right to say NO to any unwelcome or uncomfortable touch or actions by others.
- Be sensitive to changes in your children's behavior or attitude. Encourage open communication. Pay attention to clues that something may be troubling your children.
- Practice safety skills with your children. Create experiences in which your children can practice using pay phones, using the restroom with a friend, and locating adults who can help them if they need assistance.
- Remember that there is no substitute for your attention and supervision.
(From the National Child Traumatic Stress Network)
What is child traumatic stress, how does it develop, and what are the symptoms? To answer these questions, we first have to understand what trauma is. From a psychological perspective, trauma occurs when a child experiences an intense event that threatens or causes harm to his or her emotional and physical well-being.
Trauma can be the result of exposure to a natural disaster such as a hurricane or flood or to events such as war and terrorism. Witnessing or being the victim of violence, serious injury, or physical or sexual abuse can be traumatic. Accidents or medical procedures can result in trauma, too. Sadly, about one of every four children will experience a traumatic event before the age of 16.
When children have a traumatic experience, they react in both physiological and psychological ways. Their heart rate may increase, and they may begin to sweat, to feel agitated and hyperalert, to feel “butterflies” in their stomach, and to become emotionally upset. These reactions are distressing, but in fact they’re normal — they’re our bodies’ way of protecting us and preparing us to confront danger.
However, some children who have experienced a traumatic event will have longer lasting reactions that can interfere with their physical and emotional health.
Children who suffer from child traumatic stress are those children who have been exposed to one or more traumas over the course of their lives and develop reactions that persist and affect their daily lives after the traumatic events have ended. Traumatic reactions can include a variety of responses, including intense and ongoing emotional upset, depressive symptoms, anxiety, behavioral changes, difficulties with attention, academic difficulties, nightmares, physical symptoms such as difficulty sleeping and eating, and aches and pains, among others. Children who suffer
from traumatic stress often have these types of symptoms when reminded in some way of the traumatic event. Although many of us may experience these reactions from time to time, when a child is experiencing child traumatic stress, they interfere with the child’s daily life and ability to function and interact with others. Some of these children may develop ongoing symptoms that are diagnosed as post-traumatic stress
disorder (PTSD). When we talk about child traumatic stress, we’re talking about the stress of any child who’s had a traumatic experience and is having difficulties moving forward with his or her life. When we talk about PTSD, we’re talking about a disorder defined by the American Psychiatric Association as having specific symptoms: the child continues to re-experience the event through nightmares, flashbacks, or other symptoms for more than a month after the original experience; the child has what we call avoidance or numbing symptoms—he or she won’t think about the event, has
memory lapses, or maybe feels numb in connection with the events—and the child has feelings of arousal, such as increased irritability, difficulty sleeping, or others. Every child diagnosed with PTSD is experiencing child traumatic stress, but not every child experiencing child traumatic stress has all the symptoms for a PTSD diagnosis.
And not every child who experiences a traumatic event will develop symptoms of child traumatic stress. Whether or not your child does depends on a range of factors. These include his or her history of previous trauma exposure, because children who have experienced prior traumas are more likely to develop symptoms after a recent event. They also include an individual child’s mental and emotional strengths and weaknesses and what kind of support he or she has at home and elsewhere. In some instances, when two children encounter the same situation, one will develop ongoing difficulties and the other will not. Children are unique individuals, and it’s unwise to make sweeping assumptions about whether they will or will not experience ongoing troubles following a traumatic event. For children who do experience traumatic stress,
there are a wide variety of potential consequences. In addition to causing the
symptoms listed earlier, the experience can have a direct impact on the development of children’s brains and bodies. Traumatic stress can interfere with children’s ability to concentrate, learn, and perform in school. It can change how children view the world and their futures, and can lead to future employment problems. It can also take a
tremendous toll on the entire family. The way that traumatic stress appears will vary from child to child and will depend on the child’s age and developmental level. The good news is that over the past decade the mental health community has developed treatments that can help children suffering from traumatic stress. It’s important to
seek help from someone who has experience working with children and knows how to access resources in your community. Although not every child will experience traumatic stress, it’s unlikely that any of us are immune from exposure to trauma. To learn more about child traumatic stress, please visit the National Child
Traumatic Stress Network website at www.NCTSNet.org
This article first appeared in the fall 2003 issue of Claiming Children, the newsletter of the Federation of Families for Children’s Mental Health, www.ffcmh.org, which was co-produced by the Federation and the NCTSN.
Child Trauma Online Resource for Parents
The popular online resource for parents and caregivers devoted to children's mental health information, www.kidsmentalhealthinfo.com, is launching a new "Child Trauma" section. The new trauma content includes important information for parents and caregivers to help them with a child who has been a victim of a traumatic event. Much like the overall kidsmentalhealthinfo.com website, this section is filled with frequently asked questions, an extensive resource library of publications, facts and figures and links specifically focused on childhood trauma.
The new Child Trauma section also includes:
- Examples of potentially traumatic events for children
- Detailed explanations of the signs and symptoms of childhood traumatic stress
- Information on when parents should seek help
- A comprehensive list of effective childhood traumatic stress interventions available in Connecticut and nationally
- Trauma-focused supports and services
National studies estimate that as many as 71% of all children are exposed to a potentially traumatic event by the age of 17. In Connecticut, providers and DCF estimate that 60-80% of children seeking treatment have experienced at least one potentially traumatic event. The actual numbers of children exposed are likely higher, as most incidents of trauma exposure are not reported. Children who are exposed to potentially traumatic events are at risk for a number of emotional and behavioral challenges. Fortunately, effective treatment options are available.
The Connecticut Center for Effective Practice (CCEP), a division of the Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut (CHDI) initially developed www.kidsmentalhealthinfo.com in November 2010 to serve as a free, comprehensive resource on children's mental health issues for parents and caregivers in Connecticut. The website provides a range of information in English and Spanish impacting toddlers to late teens. For more information, visit www.kidsmentalhealthinfo.com
Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your internet and/or computer usage might be monitored, please use a safer computer, call your local hotline, and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−800−787−3224
Defending Childhood Initiative-A fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Justice
What is Domestic Violence?
The CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV) defines it as a pattern of abusive behavior in an intimate relationship where one partner tries to control and dominate the other. The behavior may be verbally, psychologically, physically or sexually abusive. Assaulting, threatening or stalking an intimate partner is a crime in the state of Connecticut and all crime victims have rights that are protected by law.
CCADV offers the following checklist to help determine if you are a victim of domestic violence.Does your partner:
- constantly criticize you and your abilities as a spouse or partner, parent or employee?
- behave in an over-protective manner or become extremely jealous?
- threaten to hurt you, your children, pets, family members, friends or himself?
- prevent you from seeing family or friends?
- get suddenly angry or "lose his temper"?
- destroy personal property or throw things around?
- deny you access to family assets like bank accounts, credit cards, or the car, or control all finances and force you to account for what you spend?
- use intimidation or manipulation to control you or your children?
- hit, punch, slap, kick, shove, choke or bite you?
- prevent you from going where you want to, when you want to, and with whomever you want to?
- make you have sex when you don't want to or do things sexually that you don't want to do?
- humiliate or embarrass you in front of other people?
- prevent you from attending work or school
- threaten to hurt or kill your pets
- take your money or refuse to give you money
- threaten to kill you
- threaten suicide
It you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you may be in an abusive relationship.
Who are the Victims of Domestic Violence?
Although men can be abused, domestic violence is primarily a crime against women, and women account for 85% of all victims. It affects people of all ages, races, cultures, countries and religions. You are not to blame and you are not alone - millions of women are abused by their partners every year. Help is available in Connecticut by calling 1-(888)-774-2900 or, outside of Connecticut, the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−(800)−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−(800)−787−3224
Are you an Abuser?
The National Domestic Violence Hotline asks you to think about whether or not you are abusing someone else by examining these behaviors:
- Calling bad names or putting someone down
- Shouting and cursing
- Hitting, slapping and/or pushing
- Making threats of any kind
- Jealously and suspicion
- Keeping someone away from family and friends
- Throwing things around the house
Go to http://www.ndvh.org/is-this-abuse/are-you-abusing-2/ for helpful information about what you can do if you, or someone you know, is abusing someone else or call 1−(800)−799−SAFE (7233) or TTY 1−(800)−787−3224.
Services that can Help
Family CT provides risk assessment, safety planning, crisis counseling and court accompaniment to victims of domestic violence, elder abuse, robbery, assault and hate and bias crimes. This is a partnership with the New Haven and East Haven Departments of Police Services, funded by the CT Office of Victim Services. Services are also available in West Haven and Hamden, CT For more information call the Neighborhood Victim Advocacy Program at (203) 789-1425 x0.
Domestic Violence Services (DVS) of Greater New Haven, a program of Birmingham Group Health Services, Inc. helps thousands of victims of domestic violence every year, in a wide variety of ways. All services are free and confidential. Call the DVS hotline at (203) - 789-8104 or the state-wide hotline at 1- (888) 774-2900.
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CT Office of Victim Services
Parenting Education teaches parents of infants, children and teens successful strategies to raise healthy, happy and competent young people. By increasing knowledge and confidence, parenting education can strengthen families and ultimately, communities.
Family CT is a member of the Connecticut Parenting Education Network (CT-PEN), working to expand the knowledge of Best Practices in parenting education. All Family CT Parent Educators are trained and certified in the Parents As Teachers model which uses an evidence-based curriculum to
- Increase parent knowledge of early childhood development and improve parenting practices
- Provide early detection of developmental delays and health issues
- Prevent child abuse and neglect
- Increase children's school readiness and school success
For information about a parenting education program in Connecticut, call Infoline at 211, your town's department of Adult Education or local Family Resource Center. To access helpful articles for parents of newborns and toddlers, click on the following link Right From the Start: Love and Learn
Another comprehensive resource for families from the US Department of Education - http://www.ed.gov/parent-and-family-engagement
At a recent Family CT Staff Meeting, we held a quick Suggestion Circle to get easy ideas for healthy eating. Here are some of the suggestions:
- Farmer’s Market takes EBT cards for payment
- Limit junk food and each time you have a treat, balance it with something healthy
- Buy in bulk to save money and portion it out in zip lock bags
- Begin to exchange some of the processed foods with healthier choices
- Read the labels for the nutritional value and the amount of salt the food contains
- When reading the label, notice how many servings are contained in the package
- Replace artificial juices with real orange or apple juice or better yet, drink water (children age one and older)
- When preparing a baby formula, follow the directions carefully - too much water can result in a rare condition known as water intoxication
- Angel Food Network has a price of about $30-35 a month and you receive a box of a variety of foods (http://www.angelfoodministries.com/)
- Have dinner together as a family
- Get a simple recipe and make dinner as a family
- Puree vegetables into snacks and baked goods and use lots of spices
- Increase the activity level in families
- Always carry fruit with you
- Stick with portion control like the size of your fist
- Children eat by example – start their lives with healthy foods, i.e. no sodas
- Popcorn is a good snack for older children and adults. Instead of butter or salt, flavor it with grated parmesan cheese or spices
For more information about healthy eating go to healthy eating
There are many theories of child development but broad agreement that healthy child development, the biological and psychological changes from prenatal through adolescence, is necessary for the optimal development of children and a productive society. Understanding the cognitive, emotional, social and educational development of children is necessary to meet their developmental needs and help them grow into healthy, confident and competent adults.
We are also learning much more about children's brain development. We know that the nerve cells in the brain are like a group of unconnected electrical wires. During the early years of life, these wires connect at a very fast pace, facilitated by activities such as singing to your child, rocking, holding, talking and reading. For example, babies of parents who talk to them have better language skills and know significantly more words than babies of parents who seldom talk to them. Healthy brain development is really all about the interactions between children and their parents or caretakers.
For more information about child development, activities for parents and children, and answers to your questions, visit the following web sites:
Infant mental health is a critical component of a child's development. A new website provides information and resources for parents and caregivers. See www.kidsmentalhealthinfo.com for information, resources, publications and useful links about infant and early childhood mental health issues.
The Importance of Play in Child Development
Play has been described by some as the work of childhood. Experts agree that it is vitally important to healthy child development. Play helps children understand and gain mastery over their universe. Play helps build self-esteem, social skills, fosters language development, stimulates creativity and imagination and develops fine and large motor skills. According to the Parents as Teachers National Center (PAT) play also helps your child learn self-regulation.
Self-regulation refers to child’s ability to focus attention and control his behavior. By the time a child enters school he must understand what is asked of him in a given situation, monitor his own behavior to see if it matches, and maintain or change what he is doing based on his evaluation. Self-regulation allows a child to stay focused, pay attention to the teacher, and initiate productive activities.
Parents can help children develop self-regulation through play. Parents as Teachers (PAT) state that playtime is an excellent opportunity to build your relationship with your child while helping him regulate his behavior. Since children have an innate desire to play they will be motivated to focus their attention and continue behaviors that allow the play to continue.
PAT encourage parents to model language for their child to use during playtime. Using words to describe what your child is doing helps him to make a connection between his actions and words. In time he will be using “self-talk” to help control his behavior. As language and emotional development progress you can encourage him to use his words to express feelings instead of acting on them.
According to PAT, when children begin to pretend they have very simple scripts. When you join in play with your child you can help him to extend his play by suggesting new roles or new uses for play materials. Role playing helps a child learn to conform his behavior to the role and increase his self-regulation. As your child progresses to playing board games or playground games, keep games rules simple, be patient as you model following the rules for your child and don’t be surprised if he wants to change the rules in his favor.
Playing with your child daily not only helps you bond with your child but it also teaches your child self-control, attention to task and helps to prepare him for success in school. PAT encourages all parents to play with your child daily and watch his self-regulation grow!
Information for this article was adapted from the Parents As Teachers National Center, Inc. 2001 Newsletter.
Guidelines for Children’s Use of Electronic Media
According to the Parents as Teachers National Center too much television watching, regardless of its contents, is not good for young children. When a child is watching TV, she is not involved in other activities that are important for brain and body development. Young children need to move, manipulate, smell, touch, and repeat as they learn. Studies have found that watching television does not increase attention, promote social skills or foster creative play. Parents as Teachers recommend the following guidelines for children’s use of electronic media:
- Completely avoid shows, movies and games that have violent or sexual content
- Watch TV with your child and discuss the program
- Limit the time your child watches or uses electronic media every day
- Be a media role model by limiting your use of electronic media
- Watch shows with adult content when your child is not in the room
- Emphasize what your child could do besides use electronic media
- Remove Televisions and computers from your child’s bedroom to create a “media free zone”
Teach your child to look for the purpose and message in electronic media, and make good choices for himself/herself.Back to Top