How to Prevent Post Traumatic Stress in an Injured Child

RWB symbol: hospital

Last night, my husband and I rushed our son to the emergency room. During horseplay, he had felt a sharp, searing pain as his chest cracked. Clutching his chest, he couldn’t stand. Was it pain or fear or both?

With calm presence, I picked him up and bypassed our big, Italian family gathering. Finding a quiet room in the house, I continued to hold him.  Upon gently questioning him, we decided a hospital visit was necessary.  I transferred him into my husband’s arm and left the house very quietly while plainly stating we were going to the hospital. I knew everyone getting up in arms would freak my little guy out! I wasn’t going to let that happen.

During this time, my son kept yawning. The yawns were unusually large and he scrunched up his lips in a weird way.  In the driveway, my father-in-law yelled that we should call 911.  He said he yawned that way when he was at the hospital with a heart ailment and it wasn’t good.  Now, I was worried!

What did this yawning mean? Did something happen to his blood supply when he sustained the chest injury?

Aha! Finally it clicked in – trauma release was happening.

When a sudden trauma happens to anyone including a child, it is a shock to their system. They can feel intense fear and become dissociated from their body.  All this held energy needs releasing in order for the system to come back into balance.   If the energy isn’t released, the child may experience continuing anxiety and fear.

During trauma release, one may spontaneously cry, shake or yawn. Fortunately, my son’s strange-looking yawns were his way of releasing the trauma from his nervous system.  His injury was high on his chest.   Perhaps that is why the trauma released through his throat and jaw.  The combination of staying calm, holding him, gently reassuring him that he was ok allowed his body to naturally release the energy stored in his nervous system.  By the time we arrived at the hospital, he was incredibly calm and remained so during the duration of our visit.

Thankfully, my studies and experiences of trauma and post traumatic stress enabled me to act in my son’s best interest.

From my bookshelf, I highly recommend “Trauma-Proofing Your Kids” by Peter A. Levine and Maggie Kline. Directly from the section, “First Aid for Accidents and Falls” with additional comments from me in italics:

Eight-Step First Aid Guidelines 

1. Attend to your responses first.Calm yourself first or you will add to the fear.

2. Keep your child still and quiet. 

3. Encourage plenty of time for safety and rest. – Don’t let them jump up immediately and act as if nothing happened.

4. Hold your child.My son was cradled all the way to the emergency room. This enabled him to feel safe and calm.

5. As the shock wears off, guide your child’s attention to his sensations. I gently asked how his chest felt.

6. Allow one or two minutes of silence between questions. Talking a lot overloads their senses and interrupts the natural healing process.

7. Do not stir up discussion about the accident or fall during first aid.This is not the time to admonish or blame.

8. Continue to validate your children’s experiences.As needed, I agreed that what happened was scary and I would be scared also it that happened to me.

The book goes into greater detail for each step.

Good news: our little guy is ok. Nothing broken.  Minimal pain. Fortunately, he is on the mend both physically and emotionally.

Preventing post traumatic stress is imperative for your child’s well-being.  Please share this important information with your friends before they actually need it.

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