How to help kid recover from traumatic event?
June 1, 2017 1:25 PM   Subscribe

Aside from therapy, which is already booked, how do I help my 15 year old Kid navigate through a traumatic event? Bonus question: How do I help me?

Kid has best friend J. Kid and J have both dated Boy. Tuesday night, Boy sent a series of disturbing texts to J culminating in a threat to kill her. Boy has a history of mental illness and a weapons collection. The principal was notified (by me and I believe by J's mother), Kid and J were called to the Dean's office today, and the Boy has been removed from school and is currently in the hospital. It's the best outcome for everyone involved, but now that it's over, Kid and I are in a state of shocked disbelief and having a hard time coping. I'm good during pressure, and Kid is even better, but we're both a mess in the aftermath. I have a therapist, and an appointment has been made for Kid, so I have the standard AskMe answer covered. In the meantime, though, how do we recover our sense of safety? How do we get normal back?
posted by Ruki to Human Relations (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Feeling shocked and disoriented is normal right now; if it were me, I'd want to make sure I wasn't pressuring my kid to be "tough" and suppress feelings, or modeling that as the only or best way to cope.

"Psychological first aid" is a good term for googling for more info. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network site has a book available online with more info. They also have a number of brochures available on childhood traumatic stress.
posted by lazuli at 2:25 PM on June 1, 2017 [4 favorites]

So sorry that you are going through this. It's very scary.

I think one thing you can do is focus on how well the system worked: J disclosed and was taken seriously, and Boy is getting help while also being removed. I think too that it is okay to have a few days of that kind of feeling because it is scary. Of course you want to get back to normal but it is also okay to acknowledge that this is happening.

On a practical level to calm down, you could both do some physical exercise to deal with the adrenaline, watch some comedy, and maybe spend time with your community -- there's a comfort in groups when we feel under threat, for many people.

I would also recommend at some point reading The Gift of Fear as it adddresses a lot of facets of violence or fear of violence and women. And training like self-defense can be empowering in terms of giving you both a few ideas for how to respond to threats. But right now I think it really is okay to have the feelings you have. Remember that the "p" in ptsd is post, as in it becomes maladaptive to continue to have rotten feelings, but it doesn't mean having them the first time is wrong.
posted by warriorqueen at 2:29 PM on June 1, 2017 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Quick clarification, and then I'll disappear. I've told Kid that I'm really proud of them for how they handled this situation, that they did everything right, and the end result was best for everyone. We've also talked about how scary and mentally draining this was. Kid's taking a nap and I'm ordering takeout. I definitely want Kid to be able to express their feelings naturally, and the Mister and I are trying our best to be supportive and helpful (without being overwhelming). Kid and I had a big teary talk this afternoon, which was good, but while I wouldn't tell Kid to tough it out, I also don't want Kid to use this as an excuse to remove themselves from daily life, if that makes sense.
posted by Ruki at 2:38 PM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]


It will take time. You have to process. You're going to have trauma symptoms - anxiety, sleep disruption, flashback/intrusive thoughts, a need to retell the story over and over maybe dozens of times* - and you should treat them with the help of your physician/pediatrician and therapists.

*This is normal, just be mindful of the narrative you're building yourselves. Like, try to work through realistically that people make threats and it's good to take them seriously, but mostly threats like that are expressions of pain rather than intent. Also, this happened to someone else, so don't rewrite it as "this person was definitely going to kill us personally". Adrenaline and the fight-or-flight response write some very intense programming to the brain, there's no avoiding that, but make sure you aren't adding additional lines of code that you're going to have to undo later. It also takes the body real clock time just to recover from that shock and adrenaline and physical reaction. Like, 3-5 days.

Perform good self-care: do the best you can for sleep, stay hydrated, eat well and routinely, get light exercise every day, get some sunlight exposure every day. Allow yourselves some healthy escapism and fun. If you feel the need to take extra (reasonable) security precautions, you can. For the next few days, treat yourselves for shock, and after that made sure none of you are starting maladaptive habits you'll have to deal with later. Have a daily check-in, do some relaxation exercises, be extra kind to yourselves.

I think it's probably worth a call to Kid's doctor and see if they have recommendations for best practices, but hopefully you're only waiting a few days to get with a therapist who can also do that. Understand that trauma doesn't resolve in a day or two, this is a process that will take weeks and months. It takes six months of persistent symptoms to even qualify as "post" trauma, and in that time with general self-care and mental health care they should measurably diminish. If not, get more help.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:47 PM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, and I have done a lot of the things mentioned here. For me, perhaps because of the nature of the abuse, the regular self care things could soothe me but not really fix the main issue. What really helped me was a combination I was fortunate enough to hit on, where I had a therapist who also worked with martial arts as well as more traditional methods. We would do a quick round robin of talking about what has been going on the past few days, and then we would change gears and get up, do some exercise and learn martial arts and self defense. There was something powerful for me in the change from just talking about the trauma, which has the effect of re conjuring the experience for me. Talking and then doing movement, exercise or energy release or what have you was life changing for me, and I've been messing around with the therapy end of things for a while.

All of this said, I wish you healing and strength.
posted by ottergrrl at 3:02 PM on June 1, 2017 [13 favorites]

I went through a similar thing as J in this story when I was that age (20+) years ago. Nobody took me seriously . Luckily I was never physically harmed, but the of nobody believing me and taking my concerns seriously was really, really damaging. So, the fact that Not is actually getting the help he needs is great. Just keep reinforcing that Kid and J did the right thing, they were right to be concerned, they should always trust themselves, and that you will always take their concerns seriously.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 5:06 PM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Probably something to remember *and* communicate to her during this process is that this is not going to be the last time something bad is going to happen - even very charmed lives are going to be touched by accidents and scary events and shitty diagnoses and mortifying mistakes and brushes with danger, and part of growing up is learning skills for dealing as healthily as possible with those things as well as supporting our friends and loved ones when they go through them too.

Learning self-care is a valuable skill, figuring out what works for you individually to ground and center and process is important. Learning to articulate your anger (ESPECIALLY if you're a girl) and other hard feelings is important. That's not to say "it's great this happened to you" but "hey, we're going to deal with this and we're not going to just sweep it under a rug and pretend we don't have feelings because it'll eat you alive, so we're a team and we're going to work through it."

For you, this is probably a hybrid of modeling that process for her and also encouraging/allowing her to find her own outlets and sources of strength. Teenagerdom and young adulthood is hard (and filled with an especially high volume of unfamiliar bad things), this is a thing almost all of us could have used more practice in before we were out on our own.
posted by Lyn Never at 5:21 PM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

I'm not suggesting ignoring things, and I know that doing something 'fun' seems awkward... but is there anything the two or four of you could do together that you all enjoy to get your mind off of this and give yourself some space to feel safe and together for the next few days? Something no-pressure? Something that you can pick up and put down to deal with feelings as you feel them? They'll come and if the four of you are close - it may be good to have each other to talk through...
posted by Nanukthedog at 5:45 PM on June 1, 2017

Go hiking, camping, to the beach, to a place like skyzone, take an indoor climbing class, or go to a spa hotel for a two day stay.
posted by jbenben at 6:07 PM on June 1, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you all so much. After many years of being a MeFite, I finally bought the Gift of Fear today. Boy was Kid's first real relationship, and they only broke up two weeks ago, so, aside from worrying about J, Kid's got this sense of "Who IS he?" going on right now.

Green Eyed Monster, I'm so sorry about what happened to you, but I'm so grateful that you shared your story because I was worried if I did the right thing, because it didn't happen to Kid directly. From what I've heard from Kid, I took this more seriously than J's mother, so I know now that I did right by J.

Tomorrow, Kid and I getting ice cream at our favorite place, and I've entered the three of us (at Kid and J's request) into a charity LGBTQ 5K and then we're going to the local rally next weekend.
posted by Ruki at 7:46 PM on June 1, 2017 [2 favorites]

There are some really great suggestions in Peter Levine and Maggie Kline's Trauma-proofing Your Kids, as well!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 9:25 PM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just came in because I am googling the above book or whatever it is "trauma-proofing your kid." Gosh, I love this place.

Also, a charity run is just an exceptional idea. This is a skill these young adults will be able to use as they get older. It's awful what happened, so grateful it did not end in tragedy. And the lessons moving forward will support them into full adulthood because their parents and community were engaged. The world really is getting better in so many ways, I think this thread reflects these changes from past to present, and lay the groundwork for expanding better practices for dealing with each other and rebounding from traumatic life events. This was a skill my parents did not have and could not teach me. My son is luckier for examples like this one. Much gratitude.
posted by jbenben at 11:56 PM on June 1, 2017 [1 favorite]

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