7 year old girl keeps flashing back to accident
September 4, 2011 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Is there anything I can do about after effects of a (relatively non-horrendous) car accident in my 7 year old daughter.

My seven year old daughter was hit by a car crossing the street on july 6th. She had a mild concussion, a hairline fracture in her skull and 5 stitches. (I had a coronary, but that's not relevant to the matter at hand.) She had a lot of abrasion, lost a baby tooth and a lot of blood, but had no other broken bones. She was in the hospital one night for observation and came home the next day.

For a week she seemed sad and less excited about life then her normal 7 year old self. Then her best friend came back from vacation and the light came back on. I thought everything was fine.

Last week asked her if she had any pain or lingering effects from the accident. We are assessing what compensation to ask for from the insurance company. I was really asking about physical problems but, to my surprise, she described the following non-physical after-effect.

She said that 2-3 times a day she has flash backs to the accident. She says during the accident she had the feeling that she was 12 feet under water, drowing and sinking. Now, when she is frustrated (like trying to cut paper and she can't get it right) or if she is left out of a game that memory returns and she feels for a moment that she is drowning, 12 feet under and sinking.

As it turns out, she was hit right in front of the local child psychologist. I asked her if she I could take her to see the child psychologist. She said she didn't want to go because she did not want to make her private feelings public. I explained to her that talking to a psychologist is a private thing, but that is how she sees it.

I am a big fan of talking about things that bother me or are painful. Now I try to talk to her from time to time about whether the memory came back, what was happening and what it was like. Not so much analyzing it, but just recognizing it and letting her interpret it and try to make sense of it. Seems to go ok.

At the same time, she is not overly open to revisiting the accident itself. We walked the location the day she got out of the hospital. I asked her to draw a picture of what happened (I wasn't there.) She did these things because she is a kid who does what I ask her to, but she was somewhat disengaged from the process. I question their theraputic value for her. In sum, I can probably get her to do anything, including visiting a child psychologist, but I would not be following her lead.

I will go talk to the child psychologist myself to get her professional recommendation. But I was curious if anyone had personal experiences like this either as a parent or in an accident themselves. What can a caring mother do? More importantly what shouldn't a caring mother do?
posted by alcahofa to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Go to the psychologist.
posted by k8t at 5:41 PM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Take her to see someone. I think this is a case where you need to do it, regardless of what she says. Maybe she'll be surprised and find herself opening up.
posted by Sweetmag at 5:48 PM on September 4, 2011

I agree that going to the psychologist makes sense. If it helps you to think of it in this way, you wouldn't have asked her if you could take her to see the doctor after the accident - as her parent, you would have known that it was the right thing to do, and done it. This is the same, just in relation to mental rather than physical health. At seven years old, your daughter can't always know what help she needs, and, as Sweetmag says, you really don't know how the interaction with the psychologist will go until it's actually happening.
posted by impluvium at 5:57 PM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Play therapy.

But ya, I can understand why your daughter doesn't want to go to "the psychologist." The woman you have in mind witnessed the accident. Which, to an adult, seems like a very good person to see. BUT to a kid....it's like telling everyone who was at the scene how scared she was.

Perhaps, as her mother, you could have the witnessing psychologist consult on the case, but not be your daughter's "in the room therapist."

But don't just tell her "I'm taking you to see a psychologist whether you like it or not." This is a big boundary issue in and of itself, because you'll be teaching her whether she gets to decide who she gets to interact with. If she doesn't get to decide in a way that is meaningful to her....it has the potential to set up a long term pattern.

We're talking about adding this to the biggest boundary transgression of your daughter's life. Something BROKE a bone in her skull. She has come to realize that she is not indestructible, and she has seen you so very very afraid for her. She is also likely very confused about the recurring fear.

So, yes. I nth that she needs to see someone. But not the person you have in mind. Tell that psychologist your concerns, tell her you want to respect your daughter's agency (she'll know exactly what you mean) but that you know it's important she be seen. The psychologist can give you some ideas for how to discuss this with your daughter that are likely not to make her feel tricked into seeing someone.
posted by bilabial at 6:02 PM on September 4, 2011 [7 favorites]

On reading bilabial's comment, I realise I should probably have said that going to a psychologist makes sense -- there's no real reason it has to be the person who witnessed the accident, particularly if that might be one of the reasons that your daughter is averse to the idea.
posted by impluvium at 6:05 PM on September 4, 2011

I will go see the child therapist... it seems like the obvious thing to do and she will likely get robin into appropriate care with someone else but... why? Has anyone experienced this? Does psychology have a cure for this? How does it work? Has anyone, personally, experienced psychologists helping a condition like this? In a child?
posted by alcahofa at 6:13 PM on September 4, 2011

May I venture off-topic and suggest you be careful about assessing, without the help of a very good personal injury attorney, what compensation you are asking of the insurance company? I don't mean a cheesy ambulance chaser, but a highly esteemed attorney with a good firm who happens to do personal injury work. Insurance companies will prey on your inexperience in settling cases and your uncertainty about what this is worth. Get a good attorney to serve as your negotiator and chances are you will get much more money (even considering the Attorney's third).
posted by jayder at 6:33 PM on September 4, 2011 [8 favorites]

I had a serious of traumatic accidents/health emergencies between ages 9 and 14 (well, and later on too), and started seeing a therapist around age 15, mostly because my mom thought I needed help processing some of the things I'd been through (although we ended up talking about lots of other things too) - I realize this is a good bit older than your daughter, but I think that going earlier would probably have been really good for me. I wonder if you could somehow frame it in terms of having someone to talk to just about feelings of being frustrated or scared, and not necessarily having to talk directly about accident itself unless/until she wants you (without it seeming like a means of tricking her into talking about it)...? The psychologist herself (or another one, I agree with the above comments that someone less immediately connected to the accident may be better) may have better ideas about how to bring the idea up with your daughter again in a way that doesn't feel threatening or pushy, if you can consult with the psychologist alone in advance of bringing your daughter in. I think therapy is absolutely a worthwhile thing in this situation.
posted by naoko at 6:37 PM on September 4, 2011

Physical manifestation of fear is a known after effect of many kinds of trauma. Therapy can mitigate the effect, and probably "cure" her because she is young and you're getting on top of this early. But I'm not kidding when I say it's very important that her sense of agency be nurtured. I'm always a strong believer in the rights of children to set boundaries, but after a trauma, I'm extra vocal about it.

You also experienced a trauma, knowing that your daughter was injured that way. It would be good for you to see someone also. She knows that you are concerned about this. The flavor of that worry is adding to her anxiety. There may be a part of her (this was the case for me in a slightly different way) that feels she needs to protect herself to prevent you from having this worry in the future. Kids also have a great deal of magical thinking, and there is likely a huge part of her that thinks, even subconsciously, that this is her fault. Telling her it wasn't will help, but therapy will help more.

As for this:I asked her to draw a picture of what happened (I wasn't there.) She did these things because she is a kid who does what I ask her to, but she was somewhat disengaged from the process. I question their theraputic value for her.

Your having done these things are of no therapeutic value to her because you are not a therapist. These activities are not healing in and of themselves, they are healing in the context of guided discussion and process. Please do not do any other healing activities with your daughter unless a therapist describes them (and their purpose) to you. Hold her, massage her back, tell her you love her. Yes, to all of those things. But No probing questions about how this makes her feel, no more visiting the scene of the accident, and no reliving the accident.

I have the same reaction to some circumstances years after (repeated) untreated traumas. I know exactly the underwater drowning sensation your daughter describes. However, as an adult, I've had therapy (I did a few years of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, which focuses on being here, now. This really helps to stop some instances of me from reliving the trauma. As with any skill, the more I practice, the easier it is. When I'm not practicing, it gets harder. Because your daughter is young, with practice now, she likely won't be troubled by this as an adult. But you also need to work on not hovering and doing other things that worried people often do.
posted by bilabial at 6:38 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had things like what you say she's describing after I was attacked by a dog when I was 7 or 8 years old. A psychologist will help, but make sure to listen to her talk about the sessions and be sure it's helping. Bonding with the therapist is very important. I had trouble with mine for a stupid reason (from an adult perspective) - she stole my sister's name and said it wrong (literally, like my sister was named Susan and said it "soo-ZAN" and this lady was named Susan but said it "SOO-zuhn.") And I got little out of it as a result of that fixation.
posted by SMPA at 6:53 PM on September 4, 2011

Has anyone experienced this? Does psychology have a cure for this? How does it work? Has anyone, personally, experienced psychologists helping a condition like this? In a child?

I'm a children's social worker who, as part of my work, do Trauma Focused Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy with children. Without diagnosing your child with anything over the internet, let me just say that what your child is experiencing is normal for her situation. The accident is very recent, and she is likely still processing what it means to her. If she continues to have intrusive thoughts, flashbacks, and a sense of depersonalization (the "12 feet of water" feeling), she may need assistance.

Let me reassure you that I've seen many children, some of whom have walked around with negative feelings related to traumatic events for years, return to "normal" after treatment. Children can be amazingly resilient. I hesitate to call anything counseling-related a "cure", but some very effective treatments are out there if your child continues to have problems.

It would be a good idea to speak with the child therapist in order to get an idea of what to watch for to indicate that's she's struggling to cope with the accident.
posted by Benjy at 6:58 PM on September 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

Why not talk to your doctor first, to get his/her advice? This seems like a better idea, because of the seriousness of what happened.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:05 PM on September 4, 2011

She had a mild concussion, a hairline fracture in her skull and 5 stitches... She had a lot of abrasion, lost a baby tooth and a lot of blood, but had no other broken bones. She was in the hospital one night for observation and came home the next day.

I'm not sure how this qualifies as a "non-horrendous" accident, especially for a 7-year-old. Losing "a lot of blood" at any age can be scary and it's no wonder she's having flashbacks. Definitely take her to a therapist and follow his or her lead on the best way to help your daughter.
posted by Nathanial Hörnblowér at 9:29 PM on September 4, 2011

I just stopped in to tell you that your daughter's reaction is quite normal. I hope that calms your fears some.

Take her to see a child psychologist as suggested above. Aside from requiring that she attend those appointments, decrease other demands in her life slightly. (i.e. lighten her chore load, don't sign up for sports this year, whatever.) Don't cut out too many things though, her life should remain interesting and challenging but pay extra diligence to make sure she doesn't get overwhelmed for a bit.

I had a similar sensation as a result of trauma as a child. The last time I remember experiencing it was sometime in middle school, a five or so years after it began. I would perceive the world as moving incredibly fast all around me, though I would seem to move sluggishly, as if very heavy or being pulled down. There was an element of dissociation involved, too.

You're lucky your child is articulate and trusting enough to tell you about these experiences. I didn't tell anyone and it was very scary.

All this is to say: Your kid's okay. There's totally good treatment for what's going on with her and you're a good parent for seeking it. You and she are both very lucky.
posted by dchrssyr at 10:03 PM on September 4, 2011

I would not assess compensation from the insurance company without a lawyer (and a doctor). Given your daughter has a head injury, I would be careful to leave the door open in case she has any other problems (development, headaches, odd behaviours) that could be related.
posted by zia at 10:08 PM on September 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

My child was traumatized. I chose play therapy. I did not say we were going there to talk about the trauma or our feelings. I said it was to help us feel better. Play therapy helped my children immensely. I would recommend it over talk therapy - perhaps the psychologist can refer you or use this as a tool.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 11:21 PM on September 4, 2011

I've experienced serious brain injury-- worse than your little girl's by the metric of diagnosis, anyway-- and your account of your daughter's description of her experience when she's attempting a task: Now, when she is frustrated (like trying to cut paper and she can't get it right) or if she is left out of a game that memory returns and she feels for a moment that she is drowning, 12 feet under and sinking, reminds me strongly of how I felt when I was trying to do the things that had come as naturally as breathing to me before, and which were now almost impossible for me in the immediate aftermath of my injury.

In other words, I think there is a good chance this is a symptom of physical trauma to her brain rather than any variety of PTSD.

I urge you to arrange to have her given a thorough neurological assessment without undue delay, and certainly before you accept any settlement.
posted by jamjam at 11:40 PM on September 4, 2011 [2 favorites]

Seconding what jamjam said about the possibility that this may be caused by the brain injury itself rather than PTSD. Something similar happened to a family member of mine but I can't get into medical detail in a public forum - check your memail.
posted by tr0ubley at 7:39 AM on September 5, 2011

thank you for all your input. they all give me perspective on this that is very helpful.

i have to say i feel so lucky that that this is the problem i've got. it seems to be a learning opportunity and manageable challenge for my daughter instead of all the much worse things it could have been.
posted by alcahofa at 8:03 AM on September 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

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