Tonight my family witnessed one of the most horrific events I can imagine. We were in line behind a car that burst into flames at a Christmas light display. I was terrified, of course, but not as scared as the kids who escaped from the car before it exploded in flames. I managed to talk with the family as emergency personnel took care of the injured and put out the flames.
Kids get so scared
Children get so afraid in a trauma. My own kids, safe in our van, were shocked and scared to the point of tears. The kids who escaped the burning car, and the others from the same family were completely traumatized.
Two kids escaped the car before it really flared. The little girl looked like she was around the same age as my twins, about age 10. The boy looked a couple of years younger. They sat with other kids in a second vehicle driven by the family, who had traveled more than an hour to see the popular light display. Every child was scared. Tears streamed down their cheeks and they wanted to know what happened to the women who were injured, and what was going to happen to them next.
Kids focus on odd things
Children going through a trauma may focus on things that would seem trivial to an adult. The little girl, for instance, was devastated over the loss of her Nintendo DS, which she’d left in the car when she ran. But this is normal. That’s why parents are warned to teach their children not to go back into a burning house for their stuffed toys or other possessions. Kids get so shaken, the only thing they can really focus on are the tangible, material things.
Kids need support
As the reality of a traumatic event sinks in, kids really need support. They need to be able to talk over their fears and be reassured that everything is okay. Even kids who just witness a horrible event need to be able to talk about it. The adults tonight did a good job of comforting and reassuring the kids, but they’ll still need time to really open up. Just talking with family can help, but counseling may be needed if a child seems really affected by a scary ordeal.
Be honest about your feelings
One of the best ways you can help a child cope with a traumatic event is to let them know you were scared, too. Be honest with them, and let them see how you are coping with your own feelings. Help them understand that while you were scared or felt helpless, you are feeling better and things will be okay. I think my kids really responded to our honesty about how we felt after what we saw. They opened up and talked more, and even gave some comforting words to help me feel better, too.
More by Tavia:
Car in Flames at Christmas Light Display
How My Kids Reacted to a Fire Drill
Do Your Kids Know What to Do in an Emergency?