Crisis or Traumatic Event

A crisis is an event, situation, or period that causes uncertainty, distress, pain, and difficulty. 

Examples of crises, which may have traumatic effects on a school community, include: bereavement caused by the death of a loved one or community member, a catastrophic environmental event, or a threat to physical safety.

Common Reactions

The emotional effects of a crisis on you and your child can be tremendous.

Common reactions in children include:

  • difficulty sleeping and/or nightmares
  • fears about safety
  • changes in eating habits
  • worry over safety of loved ones
  • poor concentration
  • fear of being alone
  • nervous behavior
  • withdrawal or isolation
  • irritability
  • repetitious play
  • physical complaints
  • reenactment of events in play
  • exaggerated startle response
  • changes in mood or affect
  • lack of energy
  • acting out

Helping your Child Cope

One of the difficulties that parents experience during crises is that they have not had adequate time to deal with their own reactions when they are called upon to help their child. Here are some of the things you can do to help your child deal with the impact of a crisis:

  • encourage your child to express their feelings through talking, drawing, and playing
  • be attentive and encourage your child to ask questions
  • offer support as your child interprets the events
  • find out what your child may be thinking and feeling in reaction to the traumatic event
  • be direct and give honest information
  • reassure your child that you will do everything possible to ensure their safety and that other adult authority figures (elected officials, school officials, the police) will do the same
  • do not flood your child with too many television images of the tragic event
  • acknowledge normal feelings and reactions
  • encourage healthy ways to cope

Supports During a Crisis

Some of the most important supports are talking together and listening to each other:

  • Children may want an honest accounting of the facts and relevant details
  • It can be helpful to actively process the event by talking, writing, drawing, listening to stories, hearing others talk, etc.
  • Everyone needs the opportunity to ask questions
  • Some people need to process the event over and over again
  • Allow your child (and yourself) to express feelings, share memories, cry, etc.
  • It is often helpful to have information on how the surviving family members are doing

Other supports might include:

  • Giving your child time for the event to sink in
  • Reassuring your child about safety and security
  • Finding opportunities to be actively involved in doing something helpful, such as putting up a feedback memorial board, collection donations, etc.
  • Offering a continued structure and a return to normalcy
  • Setting up a stable environment and predictable schedule

When Professional Help May Be Needed

Any of the following signs may be present following a critical incident or in the grieving process. Pay attention to these signs if they persist over time or if you notice a significant change in behavior from how your child normally acts.

Physical Signs

  • Changes in eating (less or more)
  • Changes in sleep (less or more)
  • Significant loss of energy
  • Nausea or headaches
  • Stomach aches

Behavioral Signs

  • Aggression and inappropriate displays of power and bullying
  • Withdrawing or regressing
  • Overachieving-—"Trying too hard"
  • Inability to focus or to concentrate
  • Self-destructive behavior
  • Excessive daydreaming
  • Compulsive care-giving
  • Frequent accidents or injuries
  • Stealing or other illegal activities
  • Use/abuse of alcohol and/or drugs
  • Inability to speak about the deceased

Emotional Signs

  • Persistent anxiety
  • Hopes of reunion with the deceased
  • Desire to die
  • Clinging to others
  • Absence and/or denial of all grief
  • Strong resistance to forming a new attachment
  • Expression of negative or only positive views of the deceased


Counseling Resources

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