Helping Children Cope with Critical Incidents


by Karen Solomon

Karen Solomon
Karen Solomon

You saw the news this week, Officer Jones was shot in the face, his wife is standing by his bedside and they are receiving support from the hospital staff and their friends. Did you hear about his kids? No, you didn’t. Unfortunately, we forget that many officers have families and there are children involved. We forget that they are also affected by the same circumstances as the spouse/parents of officers and they need help coping.

Too often, the children are whisked away to a safe place or information is kept from them in an effort to protect them and prevent them from being afraid. This very practice may amplify their fear and create long-term problems with children.

Having discussed critical incidents with at least forty officers around the country I have come to the conclusion that every incident needs a CURE, adults and children have a different set of needs therefore the CURE for a child is different from that of the adult.

Communicate
How you talk with your child depends on your family dynamic, what you tell them is crucial to their ability to cope in the future. Children need to know what their parents do for a living, what the risks are and what they are allowed to discuss outside of the immediate family. This conversation should start at an early age and be appropriate for the child’s emotional and intellectual maturity level.

Do not scare them and lead them to believe that any family member is more likely to be injured because of their profession. Be realistic, let them know that there are bad people and when good people try to help them, they sometimes get hurt. Discuss what they see on television and hear in the news so that they don’t have misconceptions or believe the inflammatory statements that are made. Talk to them regularly; keep them on an even keel.

Understand

Don’t presume to know what your child is going through, talk to them and ask them how they are feeling. They will not experience the same emotions as you. If you cannot talk to them about what is going on, find a family member, friend or professional who can. It is very important that you not project your feelings on to them and that you validate theirs. They will go through a range of emotions including anger, sadness, confusion and grief. Let them know what they are feeling is okay and that you are going through the same thing. If a child doesn’t feel understood and validated, they may engage in destructive behavior.

Do not push them aside, they are part of the family and they are experiencing the critical incident alongside you, even if they are staying with a relative. Make time for them, know that they are feeling vulnerable and neglected; they need to be remembered and included.

Research

Before a critical incident, it is your responsibility as the parent to know what resources are available after the incident. You can’t plan for an incident, you don’t know if or when it will happen or, what type of incident you will be involved in. But you can plan where you will turn for help if an incident occurs. Get the names of local support groups, therapists, hospitals and benefits counselors.
Construct a plan for the care of your children. Who will take them to solomon book coverschool? Activities? Children become more difficult to manage when our time and tempers are short, critical incidents will make them shorter than ever. Be prepared so they are not left behind.

Educate

Learn about PTSI [post traumatic stress injury] , depression in children and symptoms of destructive behavior. Decide how you want things handled, what you want your children to know and whether or not you want them exposed to the media. Educate yourself, your spouse and the people who will care for your children if an event occurs. Comfort and consistency will become very important.

Learn from others that have gone through the same experience, as painful as it may be to think of the unthinkable, it will be easier to do it now. Resources are available so that you can learn what has and hasn’t worked for other families. Find out what those things are. The more you learn now, the better prepared you will be.

About the Author: Karen Solomon is a graduate of Eckerd College, blogs as The Missing Niche and  author of Hearts Beneath the Badge. She is writing a second book which profiles the trauma police officers suffer. Her writing has been featured on PoliceMag.com and To Write Love on Her Arms. She lives in New England with her husband, 2 children and 2 dogs. Proceeds of the book will be donated to law enforcement charities.