Largescale traumatic events

Children and young people may have witnessed traumatic events either in person on through the media where someone or several people have died. The following are examples of children’s common reactions:

  • Sudden images or memories of the event popping into mind.
  • Sleep problems including nightmares.
  • Feeling like it is all happening over again.
  • Not wanting to think or talk about the event.
  • Becoming more anxious and clingy.
  • Getting angry or upset more easily.
  • Playing or drawing about the event repeatedly.
  • Having physical complaints such as stomach aches or headaches.
  • Having difficulty concentrating.

Whilst it is to be expected that pupils may be scared when such events happen and to feel frightened, confused, angry or sad or a mixture of feelings, it can help if you explain that it is normal to have these feelings.

Things you can do to help:

  • Keep things as normal as you can – stick to normal routines and activities
  • Give pupils a narrative for what has happened – help them to make sense of what has happened. Pupils will benefit from having an honest explanation of what has happened, at a level appropriate for their age and understanding.
  • Encourage pupils to ask questions and give them honest answers at an appropriate level of detail. You don’t need to give all the information at once and you can always build in further detail later.
  • Younger children in particular may need to ask questions repeatedly and to be given honest and consistent responses.
  • Allow opportunities for the pupils to talk about what has happened if they wish to but do not push them to.
  • Most children and young people will adjust over time to such traumatic events. A minority of pupils will need additional help. Look out for those that continue to experience significant distress after several weeks.

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