Trusted advice for children, families and professionals after a major disaster or attack

Newtown tragedy

I wrote this blogpost for those involved in the tragedy in Newtown. A few days ago, it was sadly directly relevant again, for the survivors of the attacks in Boston. And today (18/4), it goes for the survivors in Texas. Please find resources below and let me know if you have any questions.

An extended version of this blogpost has been published on the Huffington Post.

With the storm of media attention for the terrible events and the enormous social media response, it may be difficult to tell what is evidence-informed advice and which are well-intended-but-ungrounded tips.

Therefore, below is a quick and limited overview of links that can be trusted:

In particular, I find the five core elements described by Hobfoll et al (2007) very helpful:

  1. Promote a sense of safety. Make sure survivors feel as comfortable as possible, and reassure them that they are safe now (when they really are).
  2. Promote calming. For survivors who are overwhelmed by emotions (e.g. a panic attack), help them to breathe slowly (with an emphasis on breathing out) and to be aware of their body (e.g., feet on the ground) and surroundings.
  3. Promote a sense of self- and community efficacy. It is important for survivors to feel in control (as opposed to in the traumatic situation). Empower survivors by facilitating their own decision making. It often helps to pick up normal routines as soon as possible.
  4. Promote connectedness. Social support turns out to be one of the most important predictors of recovery. Help survivors to activate their network and receive both emotional and material support (e.g., have someone cook a meal).
  5. Instill hope. Most people are resilient and will recover from a traumatic event without needing professional help. Survivors who are optmisitic and feel confident about their capacitie to recover are more likely to experience a good outcome.

While writing, I’m wondering whether you feel these resources answer the questions that people have at this moment? The families and professionals who need the information will not have much time or energy to surf on the internet. Do we reach them at all and in a way that is convenient for them?

For further reading and more resources, including international ones, see the earlier posts on helping children after disaster, the shooting in Norway, the shooting in Luik/Liège, and the bus crash in Switzerland.

3 thoughts on “Trusted advice for children, families and professionals after a major disaster or attack

    • Hi Viv, I very much agree with the “Honest. Open. Age appropriate” that Martha mentions. I think that’s the key; children will hear about the tragedy and probably have questions about what happened, their safety and the safety of others. It’s important that they feel safe (provided that they are). Sometimes, for us it’s clear that they are safe but we don’t explicitly say it; telling them is important. Regarding questions, make sure they know that they can ask questions and then let them be in control. This is a good tipsheet: http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/talking_to_children_about_the_shooting.pdf

  1. Hi! Very useful advices for anyone working with trauma! I commonly used approach within crisis interventions are the “watchful waiting” approach, meaning that the professionals must be at close to the people in crisis that they are experienced as available (in other words, taking a watchful position), and as distanced to the people in crisis that they do not feel “overrun” by the professionals (in other words, taking a waiting position). Crisis interventions done provides an empowering effect on the people in crisis!

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