Suffering trauma

Q: Our youngest daughter was in an accident while she was on her way to kindergarten on the school bus. The bus hit a soft spot on the side of the road and got pulled into a fairly steep inclination. There were a few bruises, two broken arms, scratches and cuts, but no one on the bus was seriously injured. Life since has not been the same for our daughter. She has gone from being a fun loving and independent little girl to a child who mopes, clings to her father and me and lays in bed at night awake rather than sleeping. We are not sure what to do about this. What would you suggest?

A: Your daughter may not have been physically hurt but the experience itself may have been traumatic for her. If she had it in her head that her life was in peril while the bus was slipping off the road, she was really scared. You need to help her deal with this.

I suggest that you find someone in mental health services who deals with trauma in children. A good counsellor will help her resolve her fears while at the same time giving you a little guidance for her ongoing care.

I am sure that you are tempted to talk to your daughter about the accident but you might find it preferable to save your family discussions with her until you have seen the psychologist.

Talking to her about what happened could inadvertently traumatize her again. That is less likely with professional help involved.

I also suggest that you and your husband become super parents for the next while. By clinging to you, your daughter is invoking that part of the parent-child unwritten contract that ensures that the two of you will protect your daughter against any and all harm.

You are not responsible for the bus leaving the road but you are the ones who have to reconnect your daughter to a world that is imminently safe. That safety comes from the structure you have in your home that makes her life predictable and safe. Bed times need to be written in stone, the same time every night, and not compromised by sympathy. Your daughter needs to join the family at mealtimes and the mealtimes themselves should be as regular as possible. You have to get your daughter to school and she needs to spend time with her friends.

Help your daughter feel safe and confident and provide her with with some sessions with a counsellor, and you could have that happy and confident little girl in your home once again.

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