We know that parents are incredibly important for children’s recovery from a traumatic event. Social support is one of the strongest predictors of trauma recovery. On the other hand, parental distress after trauma is related to children’s posttraumatic stress later on.
But how do parents exactly influence children’s trajectory after something bad has happened? We know about these ‘crude’ associations between stress levels (which is important), but these are often based on questionnaire studies: we don’t know a great deal about families’ actual interactions after trauma.
If we had a clear picture of which behavior can help or hinder children’s recovery, we could give much more specific advice to parents about how they can support their child. How often and how do families talk about the traumatic event? How often do they express emotions, and in which way? How much time do they spend together? Is there variation in these behaviors, and how do they relate to recovery?
To find the answers, we have recently started the ‘Ear for Recovery‘ project, in collaboration with Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne. We follow the recovery of children who have been seriously injured (e.g. in a car crash). We still ask parents and children (if they are old enough to do so) to fill out questions about stress reactions and support experiences. But we also ask the children to wear an iPod to make recordings over two days at home. After 6 weeks and three months we conduct a telephone interview to measure children’s wellbeing.
The iPods record snippets of sound (e.g. voices) for 30 seconds, about 10% of the time. This method is called the EAR (Electronically Activated Recorder), developed by Matthias Mehl and colleagues in the US. The recording gives us a ‘sound sample’ of children’s daily life after a serious injury. The beauty, in my view, is that it is as non-intrusive as possible (90% of the time it is off; we don’t ‘listen in’ on whole conversations) and relatively efficient; we can potentially include a large group and come to robust conclusions. I’m very curious what we’ll learn from this project… we’ll keep you posted!