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Watching for stress: suggestions and resources for parents this week

Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy  April 22, 2013 10:51 AM

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Thumbnail image for IMG_7400.jpgIt's a new week, bringing with it relief, now that the suspects are no longer out there, and yet still sadness--because catching the suspects doesn't make all those people any less dead or injured. It's going to take a while before life feels normal again, if it ever does.

School vacation week is also over. This is good, because kids can really get back to their routines, and this helps. But it's also bad, or at least possibly bad. For some children, being away from their family will be hard. And any hope that parents might have had of controlling the messaging about the bombing with their young children, well, that's gone.

This may lead to new questions and new conversations, some of which may be hard. It also may be a week when children start to show signs of stress if they haven't already. Here are some suggestions for parents:

  • Be watchful of, and patient with, your child's behavior. Stress could play out as worry and clinginess, but it could also show up as irritability or defiance. Children may seem sad for no reason, have difficulty concentrating, not want to be alone or even regress. This is all normal after a traumatic event--but it's not normal if it's really interfering with daily life, if you think your child may hurt himself, or if the changes last more than a week or two. Call your doctor if you have any concerns.
  • Be more proactive about conversations. Just because your child hasn't told you that she heard something at school that upset her doesn't mean she hasn't. Ask questions. Make yourself available to your child--try to have some undivided attention time, some hanging out time, so that your child can talk to you. Answer your child's questions simply and honestly.
  • Keep in touch with the school. If your child is having a tough time, let the teacher know. Even if your child seems okay, it's a good idea to talk to the teacher and principal about what is happening at school--in the classroom and on the playground. Working together is always best.
  • Continue to reassure your child that you, and many other people, are working hard to keep them safe. The fact that the suspects were caught in four days is a good example. Talk about that, and about the firefighters and the police and other people whose job it is to help us be safe, as well as about all the people who care about them and watch out for them every single day.
  • Keep hugging them. I just can't say that enough, I think.

Here are some resources that might be helpful:

How to Talk to Your Child After a Scary Event, a very helpful handout from Boston Children's Hospital

After the Trauma: Helping My Child Cope, a nice handout from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, which also has a list of resources to help children after terrorism.

Talking to Children About Disasters, from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The page has additional resources as well.

Helping Children Cope With Disasters, from FEMA and the American Red Cross.


This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About MD Mama

Claire McCarthy, M.D., is a pediatrician and Medical Communications Editor at Boston Children's Hospital . An assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a senior editor for Harvard More »

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