Sunday, December 2, 2012

How to help kids cope with PTSD

The sound of crashing limbs is still seared into Laura Whisenhunt's memory.

"I was actually asleep on the couch, and the tree that used to be there fell on this window," she recalls. "We didn't have time to even go in the basement."

On the morning of April 27, 2011, three trees toppled down onto her family's house near Birmingham, Alabama.

"I just thought, ‘This is it. One's going to fall in on top of us.' And there was a lot of pressure -- it was very, very scary," Laura says.

When it was over, the Whisenhunt family decided to seek shelter at a relative's home nearby.

Then came round two.

"We could hear everything coming down, and I know that they were scared," says Laura.

The home was spared, but what they saw around them the next morning left psychological scars -- scars that resurface with every new storm warning.

"It makes me nervous to sleep sometimes when there are severe thunderstorms," says Laura's young son.

Counselor Tiffany Alexander explains that post-traumatic stress symptoms like this usually start showing up three to six months after a traumatic event has occurred.

"They [start] feeling a little bit more nervous when they start talking about a storm coming. They'd want to get their children out of school; they just noticed some heightened anxiety, even if they hadn't sustained a direct hit," she describes, referring to many of those she has counseled.

"The sooner you can get back to some sense of normalcy, safety, and then some preparedness is the key to moving forward," she adds.

To do that, Laura and her family made a safety plan that starts with meeting in the hallway, grabbing their storm kits and heading to the cellar to wait for the storm to pass.

Their plan was put to the test during another tornado.

"I finally said, ‘Guys, it's ok. Here's what we're going to do,' and after that they went outside and rode their bikes and played with the kids in the neighborhood," says Laura. "Definitely a plan of safety helps tremendously."

Her daughter says she still gets scared, but that having a plan has helped her cope.

That kind of fear or trauma can also produce positives, however.         

"They actually see a lot of what they call post-traumatic growth, where people actually come out on the other side of something better than before," explains Alexander.

And even Laura agrees.

"I think it's made everybody's relationships better, because we've all had to stick together," she says.

Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.

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