Monday, December 17, 2012

Managing the Stress of Tragedies: Guidelines for Families

Tragedies, such as school shootings are unsettling and stressful for children and their families. Stress makes it hard to concentrate and go about daily routines. Long-term stress can hurt a family's health. How can we recognize signs of stress overload in children, and how families can manage stress and become resilient?

Unfortunately, the world has tragic events. Children of all ages may overhear adult conversations or see acts of aggression, hostility, and death on the news. These events are unsettling and stressful for children and their parents. Stress makes it hard to concentrate and go about daily routines. Stress that lasts a long time can hurt an individual's and family's health. On the other hand, children and their families can learn to be resilient in times of stress.

Signs of Stress Overload for Adults
·         Tired all the time
·         Can't concentrate
·         Have trouble sleeping (too much or too little)
·         Use alcohol or drugs more
·         Trouble getting along with friends and family
·         Have tension headaches, stomach aches, or lower back pains
·         Feel depressed, anxious, or helpless
·         Recurrent thoughts
·         Mood changes (Irritability)
·         Decline in performance at work

Signs of Stress for Children and Teens
·         Express feeling afraid or scared
·         Very emotional
·         Grades drop suddenly; school problems
·         Extra clingy or needy
·         Go back to behaviors they've outgrown (bed wetting, thumb sucking)
·         Withdraw from others
·         Nightmares or difficulty sleeping
·         New behavior problems
·         Change in appetite

Signs of Stress in Families
·         More disagreements that aren't solved
·         Family members pull apart from each other
·         Family members become too close and clingy
·         Blaming one or two family members for problems
·         More problems with children, like unruly behavior or poor school performance
·         Strain between spouses/partners

What Families Can Do to Manage Stress and Become Resilient
·         Listen to children. Don't push aside their fears. Answer their questions and let them share their feelings. Tell them that you will do everything you can to help them stay safe.
·         Talk with others. Don't withdraw. Tell family members and friends about your feelings. Encourage your children to talk about their feelings.
·         Follow daily family routines and work together. Children thrive on predictable patterns of waking, eating, working, and sleeping. All children like to feel that they are important to their family. Work together to get things done.
·         Limit exposure to TV programs about tragedies. Adults may want to be glued to the television to get the latest updates, but this can be harmful for children. If you do watch, limit the amount of time and make sure to discuss with children what they saw.
·         Spend time together. Make your home a fun, welcoming and emotionally safe place. Do things together as a family, such as puzzles, games and outdoor activities.
·         Reassure children and help them feel safe.  
·         Take time to relax. Cut down on stressful activities. (It is especially important that children not be exposed to explicit news coverage.) Schedule times to do whatever you find relaxing.
·         Get physical. Regular exercise reduces stress. Walk, bike, garden, work out with your children.
·         Avoid alcohol and cigarettes. These cloud your judgment and lower your energy.
·         Think positively. Try to be optimistic about the future. Remember that your family and the country have survived hard times before. Seek spiritual support in whatever ways help you.
·         Feeling in control is helpful in a stressful situation. You may want to talk about establishing simple family emergency plans.
·         If you notice a change in your child’s behavior, take the time to talk and listen to your child. Some children will pay little or no attention to tragic events, while others will dwell on it. Remember, you are the expert on your child.  

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