[S]pecialist therapists from Barnardo’s have put together advice for families whose children were present at or affected by the attack at Manchester Arena on Monday, to help their young ones deal with trauma and emotions they may be experiencing.
Parents and carers may be worried about the best way to help their child in distress and worry about doing the ‘wrong thing’, but whatever the child’s experience, the most effective support they can be given immediately after an event is often best provided by parents, friends and family members.
Lois Wignall, Manager of Barnardo’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing Services in the North West said: “If a child or young person has been traumatised after being at the Arena during Monday’s attack, or knows someone close to them that was, it’s important to be aware that it’s entirely normal for these young people to experience distress and difficulties, and this behaviour could well last for quite a while after the event.”
The following reactions and changes in behaviour are a normal part of recovery and can be expected in the first few weeks:
- Becoming angry, upset or overwhelmed
- Difficulty sleeping / nightmares
- Difficulty concentrating and / or problems at school
- Avoiding activities they used to enjoy
- Memories or ‘flashbacks’ to the event
- Being jumpy, clingy or anxious
- Not wanting to think or talk about the event
- Talking excessively about the event or re-enacting it through play
- Physical complaints like headaches, stomach pain or feeling sick
- Feelings of survivor guilt.
Lois explains: “Young people there in person on Monday will all have had different experiences and this will impact upon their reactions and resilience levels – some may have been further away from the attack location but encountered the panic, some may have witnessed the attack itself or been injured, and tragically, others may have lost a loved one.
“Children and young people can sometimes start to withdraw from friends, family and situations following traumatic events. This may make them feel very isolated and alone and will reduce their opportunities to talk to supportive people about their experience.
“Children need to make sense of what has happened to them and by encouraging a supportive conversation about the facts of the event can really help a child to do this.”
The following guidance is aimed to help parents and carers best support their children through this difficult period:
- Explanations provided to children and young people need to be honest and appropriate for their age – be guided by the questions they ask.
- If they don’t appear ready to talk, don’t force the situation but do make sure you continue to provide opportunities for them to talk when they feel ready. If we don’t provide this clear factual information, they may reach their own conclusions about what has happened or, in the case of older children, seek out the information via social media and the internet.
- If your child experiences physical changes (they may feel like their heart is racing or their tummy is upset) or feelings of guilt as they recall pushing past people in the panic to try and get out of the Arena, they may need some guidance to understand these are all part of their body’s way of dealing with the overwhelming situation they found themselves in. Explaining to them that their reactions are to be expected and not unnatural – this was their survival instincts kicking in and doesn’t make them a bad person – may help them. It could be beneficial to try some relaxation techniques or use a mindfulness app to help children to calm themselves.
- It’s important to help your child gain perspective around what they have experienced: although it is a terrible thing, these things are extremely rare and there is no need for them to be scared all the time or change what they do because of this experience.
- Try to provide opportunities for children to spend time with people they know and trust, and try to talk openly about how they are feeling.
- Wherever possible, return to normal routines and activities as soon as possible. The more predictability a child has in their lives at this time, the safer they are likely to feel.
- Sensationalised stories, graphic imagery and descriptions, anger and blame will all impact on our children’s overall perception of the event and ongoing threat. This needs to be kept in mind during all communications with children and young people.
- If you are unsure about allowing your child to return to school, speak to school staff to agree how you are jointly going to support your child.
Lois continues: “Children and young people look to adults to put scary situations into context and to set boundaries to ensure the message they hear is one that is appropriate for their age and level of understanding. It’s to be expected that many people caught up in Monday’s traumatic event will be unsettled and upset for a period of time afterwards. These support methods will help children to regain their previous state of wellbeing and the vast majority of young people will cope with this trauma and be OK.
“However, if their levels of distress are very high or they continue to experience changes in mood and behaviour several weeks after the event, this may be a sign they require further help. If this is the case you should contact your child’s GP for further assistance.
“By reminding children of the strength and resilience they possess and helping them to draw on the strength and support of family, friends and professionals, will help them through this difficult time.”
Full details of professional guidance on how to talk to children and young people following the tragic events in Manchester are available on Barnardo’s website: Advice to families to help children deal with trauma
Barnardo’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing teams provide a range of support services to young people across the North West, including specialist counselling to care leavers, young people affected by homelessness and those who have suffered trauma or been abused. Online counselling is also available in some areas and qualified therapists work in conjunction with existing Barnardo’s services to provide specialist help where needed to the young people we work with.