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Coping with Traumatic Events

Increasingly events in our modern life have the potential to impact on our sense of safety and security. It is important to understand that adults and children will respond to these events in a wide variety of ways. The information on this page may assist you to understand these responses and offer support.

People respond differently to traumatic events

It is important to realise that there is not one 'standard' pattern of reaction to the extreme stress of traumatic experiences. Some people respond immediately, while others have delayed reactions - sometimes months or even years later. Some have adverse effects for a long period of time, while others recover rather quickly.

Many people are able to cope effectively with the emotional and physical demands brought about by a traumatic experience by using their own support systems. For some people, however, emotional and physical symptoms persist and continue to interfere with daily living. For example, some may feel overwhelming nervousness or lingering sadness that adversely affects job performance and interpersonal relationships.

Prolonged feelings of stress

Individuals who feel that they are not coping with their normal daily stressors should consider consulting a trained and experienced trauma counsellor. These professionals work with individuals affected by trauma to help them find constructive ways of dealing with the emotional impact.

Children and Traumatic Events

The intense anxiety and fear that often follow a disaster or other traumatic event can be especially troubling for children. Some may regress and demonstrate younger behaviours such as thumb sucking or bed wetting. Children may be more prone to nightmares and fear of sleeping alone. Performance in school may suffer. Other changes in behaviour patterns may include throwing tantrums more frequently, or withdrawing and becoming more solitary. It is important to understand that children have great powers of recovery from traumatic events.

How to help children cope with their feelings

  • Give children the facts about what is happening
  • Encourage them to express their emotions
  • Talk together as a family about the event
  • Reassure children they are safe and loved
  • Maintain family routines as much as possible
  • Restrict media coverage of the event
  • Talk to school teachers and counsellors about what is happening at school

Children with persistent emotional and physical symptoms

Children who have continual and aggressive emotional outbursts, serious problems at school, preoccupation with the traumatic event, continued and extreme withdrawal and other signs of intense anxiety or emotional difficulties all point to the need for professional assistance. A qualified professional can help such children and their parents understand and deal with thoughts, feelings and behaviours that result from trauma.

Teenagers and Traumatic Events

Encourage teenagers to talk about confusing feelings, worries, daydreams, and disruptions of concentration by accepting feelings, listening carefully, and reminding them that these are normal reactions following a very traumatic event.

Discuss their perceptions of media descriptions of events. Information focused on safety will be important.

Local Community Support

Local communities are the best place for support. The support provided by families, friends, neighbours, family doctors and churches are the most effective in helping people through these traumatic events. Some municipal Councils also have services which can support individuals and families. Below you will find details of local support services.

For more information and the latest news

Emergency After Hours Counselling:

Emergency After Hours Counselling:
Lifeline - phone 131 114

The Department of Human Services (DHS) web site provides general information on coping with traumatic events and emergencies.

For up to date news and Travel Warning Information visit the ABC News and Federal Government's Smart Traveller website.

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