DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) – Following the Memorial Day tornadoes, parents across the area have expressed concerns regarding Post Traumatic Stress Disorder with their children.
Parents fear that the devastating storms, loud sirens, and damage across the area may affect children going forward when placed in similarly high-stress situations or future storms.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is a disorder that generally develops after an intense or highly emotional experience. Citizens that are diagnosed with the disorder can range from military veterans to someone experiencing a sudden death in the family. Many reported symptoms of PTSD followed recent devastating storms such as Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.
“It’s really normal for kids to have worries and anxiety and feel extra scared after a big natural disaster like that,” said Dayton Children’s Hospital Pediatric Psychologist Dr. Jacqueline Warner. “Post Traumatic Stress is when that persists for a period of weeks.”
Dr. Warner said that parents should be looking for patterns of change in their children and their behavior.
For example, Dr. Warner said one major change can be in the sleep patterns of children. Some children may have been previously easy to put to bed and now find it to be a stressful activity.
“After the event, something changes,” said Dr. Warner, “they’re clinging to a lot more, needing a lot more assistance at bed time, and that goes on and on for a period of weeks; then that might be more indicative of some kind of problem emerging.”
Symptoms may be stimulated by sounds or images that subconsciously remind the individual of the traumatic events. For example, loud noises such as horns may remind a child of sirens they heard the night of the tornadoes, which can then elevate the child’s stress and anxiety levels.
“It wouldn’t be totally unusual for a kid to start responding to other really loud noises,” said Dr. Warner, “even though they’re not tornadoes themselves or sirens themselves. It’s possible that a kid may be triggered by something like fireworks or the exhaust from a car backfiring or something like that.”
One overlooked practice that concerned parents should remember is controlling their own behavior during a child’s difficult moment. Children are often taking their cues from parental figures and will relax more easily if the parent also remains relaxed.
“If you are feeling triggered yourself it’s really important that you manage those emotions and display some level of calmness and reassurance. If you’re going to have an anxious reaction, sometimes it’s helpful to narrate out loud for your [child] how you’re dealing with it in a healthy way.”
Professionals say that parents should use their own knowledge of their child’s behavioral history to assess whether their child’s stress levels are abnormally high. Often times modeling calming behavior, providing reassurance, and other practices may deescalate a child’s anxiety before a hospital visit becomes necessary.
More information on addressing childhood trauma is available through The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.