Wednesday, March 6, 2013

My Experience Dealing with a Child with Post-Traumatic Stress

I want to talk about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in children today. It is March 6th.  Exactly 6 years ago today I was hit by an intoxicated driver while I was walking with my Little Son on the sidewalk. {You can read a detailed account of my accident and miracle HERE). I was 6 months pregnant at the time with Baby Girl and Little Son was 3 years old.  We were walking on a sidewalk that crossed over a ditch.  The intoxicated driver drove up onto the sidewalk and hit me in the back.  The force of the hit caused me to flip over the railing of the bridge and fall 9-10 feet into the cement ditch below.

 Somehow I let go of Little Son's hand.  He was not hurt, but he was a witness to the terrible accident.  I was knocked unconscious and Little Son was left at the top of the bridge alone.  He was crying.  He was terrified.  Luckily, there were 3 men working nearby who witnessed the scene.  One of them came to the aid of Little Son and tried to calm him until paramedics arrived.  When I awoke, I could here him crying.  More than anything I wanted to comfort him.  I never got to talk to him though.  He was eventually led away by the principal of the nearby school and given to my friend until I came home from the hospital.

(Last year on March 6th, I took Baby Girl to the scene of the accident so she could see where she was miraculously kept safe inside my womb).

This is where I was hit.  This is the sidewalk I was on when the intoxicated driver drove up onto the walkway and hit me from behind.  I fell over this railing.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is defined as a type of anxiety disorder. It can occur after you have gone through an extreme emotional trauma that involved the threat of injury or death.

I think a lot of times we forget how much a 3 year old feels and understands.  We often assume they'll forget what they hear and see.  But I learned first-hand that this is not the case.  Little Son remembered for a more than a year the horrific scene of his pregnant mother falling off a bridge and looking as if she was dead.  We thought at first that he was okay.  The night I came home from the hospital after the accident, he hugged me.  He had missed me for sure, but then he went right back to playing with his toy cars.

Although children are often not able to verbalize how they feel or what they think, they still have feelings and thoughts that need to be taken seriously.   We found that even though Little Son couldn't explain what was going on inside, he showed his fear and distress in many ways.  He began wetting the bed on  a regular basis.  He also had bad dreams almost every night for many months.  He would wake up sweating and crying from a dream and yet would not be able to explain the dream, except say that it scared him.  He was scared of loud car noises.  He loved cars at the time, but now the noise of a car reminded him of his mom getting hit.  He also became angry.  Not being able to understand why mommy had to stay in bed, or why other people had to be his caregiver each day during this was hard.  He was patient with it at first, but eventually he started hitting us a lot, and throwing massive emotional tantrums.

So what did we do?  Well, I didn't know enough back then about therapy to know that he probably needed that.  I was dealing with my own post-traumatic stress and how to handle everything, and I worried at the time that therapy would make it worse for him.  I'm not sure if that was the best parenting choice, but in the end we were able to solve it and help him overcome it at home.  Here's what we learned:

1. Patience.  Dealing with a post-traumatic child took unbelievable amounts of patience.  I had to actually tell myself over and over each day, "Be patient with him."  To have me act out or get upset only made his feelings and worries worse.  He needed me to be calm, so that he could see that things were going to be okay.

2. Love.  Tons of extra love.  Little Son needed extra hugs, loving words, and praise.  The post-traumatic stress he felt, made him feel down on himself sometimes.  We talked a lot as a family how he needed more love, even his older sister understood.  Many people would commented on how loving our family seemed to be during this time.  Love is a good feeling and it took some of the worry away.

3. Positive Experiences.  We tried to engage Little Son in happy, fun things.  We enjoyed lots of sunshine and fresh air, lots of family outings, and signed him up for soccer (a sport he loved and brought many smiles).

4. Calm Experiences.  We also tried to find soothing activities that he liked.  We bought him sand box because that seemed to calm him when he was frustrated.  Reading was another soothing thing for him.  He loved being snuggled with a good story.

5. Prayer.  For us, prayer was very important during this time.  We are quite religious and believe praying to God brings much peace and help.  Praying with Little Son helped him feel that things would be okay.  And as parents, prayer helped us feel that God would help us heal our little boy.

6. Talk about it.  If Little Son wanted to talk about my accident, we would always allow it.  We always focused on the good things that happened (like him not getting hurt) and the miracles that occurred.  We emphasized also how it was a scary thing, and it was okay to be scared, but that soon we would feel better about it.  We were told to never diminish his feelings and that seemed to help.

I can happily report now that Little Son is a happy, regular kid.  He doesn't not remember the accident at all.  He remembers a few things that happened after it, during my recovery and such, but the actually scary accident has left his memory.  It took him pretty much 2 full years to get over it completely. We are truly thankful for this.

This is also why I support BADD: Bloggers Against Drunk Drivers.  You can read more about that {HERE}.

I hope this helps anyone whose child has experienced something scary or worrisome.  What worked for us, may not work for you, but it's something to think about.

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