As much as we try, parents cannot keep children wrapped in protective quilts.  However, when bad things happen there are ways to help.  Here are my  best tips for expanding a child’s ability to deal with secondary trauma.

Picture from Wizard of Oz - Dorothy and Toto watching the Tornado coming toward them.

What is secondary trauma? Being out of the actual trauma, but exposed to it in any number of ways.  Just watching the news around the Moore Oklahoma trauma triggers tears for me.  Even reading accounts hurts. Partly this is because of my exposure to 911. I was driving to work and saw the first tower burning, then worked all that day in the near by Bronx, trying to calm my staff, set up a crisis line and months afterwards helping with those traumatized by the aftermath.  My tears are part the secondary trauma related to that event.  Secondary trauma is more frequent then most people know.

Children are exposed to the possibility of being the victims of secondary trauma by adult fears, anger, or sadness whether caught in a personal tragedy or affected by distant ones.


Tip one:  If you are upset by something, do not claim all is fine, that is confusing and sends a message feelings are not okay.

Tip two: The younger the child, the fewer words needed to explain your feelings

I remember my oldest son, then under two years, found me crying. A good friend had just died of breast cancer.

Son gave me a tissue, and said, “Mommy’s sad.”

My answer, “Yes, thank you for caring.”

He didn’t ask why and I didn’t burden him with that. I was not always  so astute, but I am proud of that one.

Tip three: Even when you are not dealing with a trauma, teaching children to recognize and name  feelings  is important and strengthens.  Naming the child’s feelings starts that process, but it is equally important to name your own.

Tip four: Learning to rate emotions also helps.  Again rating can be taught to the very young by just saying big hurt or little hurt at the right time. With my grands I have learned to say ‘A little hurt you can handle it”.

When a child is learning to count, use numbers to rate feelings. Rate yours first and the child will soon follow. Make 10 the strongest feeling.

“My head really hurts, it is a 10 of head aches.”

“Seeing you laugh after being so sick,  filled me to a 10 of happiness. ”

Tip five: By the time a child can read, use  Feeling Thermometers to teach naming and rating of feelings.  Here is a simple one used to measure happiness.   Clarification: Sadness is one of the few feelings best measured on a downward scale. We speak of being down when sad and up when happy.

How Doing Widget

Tip six: Children who can read are ready to hear why you are sad.  Again simple does it:

About the tornado’s, “I am sad so many people were hurt by the tornado.”

Tip seven: Have an explanation for why bad things happen to good people.  This gets us into the area of personal belief.  Faith is both helpful and harmful in such explanations. 

Tip eight: Doing something for victims of a trauma is protective, teach that to your children by your example.

Tip seven: Have an explanation for why bad things happen.  We all do. Some that comfort many people are harmful to many kids.

The harmful explanations: “God is punishing sinners.”  ” God is trying to teach us something.” Such thoughts may comfort adults, but for children such ideas are confusing.  More to the point, such ideas  intensify a child’s natural tendency to take on responsibility for all that happens.   Not helpful, not at all helpful.

My professional advice is to keep it simple, If asked why, don’t answer. Ask the child for his or her ideas.  Listen and then end the conversation by noting that bad things happen all the time to all sorts of people.  It is a fact of life.  Good things also happen all the time to all sorts of people.  Make it clear that this is bad, but life will get good again.

Teenagers may want to pursue reasons why and may follow your lead or may have their own ideas. Again, listen more than you talk.

When pressed for my opinion I state it. I believe in a force of love what many call God and that I call God.  I agree with the Buddhist saying, “It is all all right.”  What might not be right for me, is probably right for a greater good that I don’t understand, so  I place my faith in the power of love to tend to the greater good of the universe.  

Much that happens is in my control, much is not. My job is to do the best I can with what I am given.  That is all I can do and the most anyone can do.  

Tip eight: Have a family safety plan.  Here is a link to what FEMA suggests all family’s need to have. FamEmePlan_2012

Tip nine:   Helping others builds inner strength. Start with having your child put coins in charity boxes, with events like the tornado have them help pick and pack donations.  In time encourage volunteering. You will be strengthened and so will your children. Here are some resources to help with the most recent disaster. 

Tip Ten: lf trauma strikes, do as much as possible to stay in or return to as normal as routine as possible.  Little rituals like saying grace at meals, or reading a good night story even if bedding down in a shelter build connections back to the good life and point toward its return.


And as usual for all you do, thank you.



One response to “TORNADO TRAUMA HELP

  1. This is invaluable advice for parents and particularly appropriate at this time.

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