How to Help Your Child Navigate the Emotional Aftermath of a Traumatic Event

By Dr. Sheila Modir, pediatric psychology post-doctoral fellow at CHOC Children’s

It’s difficult for adults to make sense of a tragedy, so consider how difficult it can be for children. To help parents support their children as they navigate trauma either in their own lives or process a tragic event they see on the news, consider the five E’s of helping a child navigate the emotional aftermath of a traumatic event: 

  • Explore what your child already knows in a gentle and calm manner. You can start with a neutral question inquiring about how their school day was or if anything happened while they were at school.
  • Explain what has happened in a way that your child can understand based on his/her age.
    • This is the time to address any misinformation your child might have picked up at school and help them understand that a scary thing did happen, but also reassure their sense of safety as schools and adults work hard to keep their children safe on daily basis.
    • Limit information that you provide to your child to the questions that they ask you, so that you avoid overwhelming them with information that they may not already have been exposed to.
    • You can provide examples of ways you and others in your community keep your child safe every day (i.e., how when you drop them off at school in the morning and you look both ways before crossing the road, how doctors are working hard to help the children that have been hurt).
  • Express to your child that feelings are normal and it is okay to feel sad, mad or angry when a tragic event occurs. Remember to reduce media exposure after a traumatic event, as repeated exposure to the event has been associated with psychological distress and intensifying already heightened emotions.
  • Emotionally model for your child healthy expression of feelings as children take their cues from their parents. Describe how you cope with your distressing emotions to your child (i.e., When I feel scared when something bad happens to me, I talk about it with someone who makes me feel safe or I take three deep breaths).
  • Ensure stability by continuing to adhere to your child’s daily routine. This will provide them with a sense of reassurance and safety during a chaotic time. Engaging in a daily routine is not meant to ignore what has happened, rather to continue to provide the child with structure, stability, and predictability.

If you are struggling to help your child process a traumatic event, or if you feel your child could benefit from additional support, ask your pediatrician for a referral to a pediatric psychologist or psychiatrist.

Below are a few additional resources on coping with trauma that I often share with my patients and their families:

Helping Children Survive the Aftermath– Florida International University

Mobile App: PTSD Family Coach– U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Responding to a School Crisis– The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Resources for Parents and Caregivers– The National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Helping Traumatized Children: A Brief Overview for Caregivers– Child Trauma Academy

Tragic Events: Parent Resources – The Fred Rogers Company

Learn more about mental health services at CHOC

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What to Say to Your Kids About Politics

With election season here, it’s hard to miss the onslaught of media coverage and chatter about political issues and candidates. While this is an important time for our country, it can be a bit overwhelming for parents and even children.

According to KidsHealth.org, if you think your child is probably not interested in these issues, think again. More than 2,000 kids and teens throughout the United States were asked what they thought about recent presidential elections and how they might affect them. A whopping 75 percent of kids and 79 percent of teens answered “yes” when asked whether they thought that the outcome of an election would change their lives.

Mery Taylor, a CHOC Children’s pediatric psychologist, says it’s important to talk openly about the election with your kids in an age-appropriate way.

“Ask your kids what’s important to them,” says Dr. Taylor. “Above all, it’s important to be loving and reassuring.”

Dr. Taylor offers the following tips when talking about politics:

  • Acknowledge your children’s feelings. Ask what they feel and why. Listen closely and try to connect with your child’s emotions before problem solving. If they have concerns or fears about a particular issue or how it may affect your family, reassure them that they are safe and that your family will work out any issue together.
  • Keep the conversation light and positive. Focus on the positive aspects of a candidate or an issue. Take this opportunity to explain to your kids how to voice their opinions with respect, even when he/she doesn’t agree with someone else. Talk about what you believe and why in a respectful way, too.
  • Talk about the election process. Talk to your kids about the importance of voting and how the process works. Explain to them that everyone has a voice. While they may not be able to vote, encourage your kids to get involved at school or in the community, with issues that are important to them, such as the environment or the economy, for example. Let them know their contributions can make a big difference.

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CHOC Children’s Announces Plans to Address Pediatric Mental Health Crisis

CHOC Children's Mental Health Inpatient CenterCommunity leaders and executives from CHOC Children’s recently announced a transformative initiative to ensure children and adolescents with mental illness receive the health care services and support they currently lack in Orange County’s fragmented system of care.

One in five children experience a diagnosable mental health condition during childhood — about 150,000 children in Orange County alone; yet there are no psychiatric inpatient beds for patients under 12 years in Orange County . Due to the absence of designated space to treat young patients, sometimes children with serious mental health episodes remain in the emergency department for days at a time. In addition, there aren’t enough inpatient psychiatric beds for adolescents either, with many needing to be hospitalized outside of Orange County.

“We recognize that pediatric mental illness has become a nationwide epidemic, and are committed to ending it,” Kimberly Chavalas Cripe, CHOC president and chief executive officer, said. “CHOC and our partners are excited by the opportunity to create a scalable model for pediatric mental health care that other communities nationwide can replicate.”

Establishing a Caring, Healing Home for Children in O.C.

Children’s advocate Sandy Segerstrom Daniels, managing partner, C.J. Segerstrom & Sons, donated a $5 million lead gift to help establish CHOC Children’s Mental Health Inpatient Center. The new center will provide a safe, nurturing place for children ages 3 to 18 to receive care for mental health conditions. It will also provide specialty programming for children ages 11 and younger.

CHOC Children's Mental Health Inpatient CenterLocated on the third floor of CHOC’s Research Building, the Center will feature:

  • 18 beds in a secure, healing environment
  • Outdoor area for recreation
  • Specially trained pediatric staff

Construction is expected to begin by fall 2015 and finish in late 2017.

CHOC has launched a fundraising campaign to raise $11 million for inpatient capital and startup costs, and $16 million to endow the program. CHOC is raising additional funds for outpatient mental health services.


1 in 5 children experience a diagnosable mental health condition during childhood.


Recognizing the urgency to help meet the community’s need, last fall CHOC and Rick and Kay Warren, co-founders of Saddleback Church formed a taskforce — led by Dr. Maria Minon, CHOC chief medical officer, and Dr. Heather Huszti, CHOC chief psychologist, and comprised of community leaders, educators and faith-based advisors — to begin discussing a comprehensive pediatric system of care for patients with mental illness.

CHOC’s support of the pediatric system of care includes:

  • expanding mental health services this year for CHOC patients being treated for serious/chronic illnesses (these children are more likely to have mental health problems, such as depression and severe anxiety, than their healthier peers);
  • opening an intensive outpatient program in 2016 to keep struggling children out of the hospital and assist those who have been released;
  • expanding CHOC’s outpatient eating disorders program by 2016;
  • and continuing to facilitate and work on multiple county-wide projects with the task force.

“We know our plans are ambitious, but they are critical and life-saving. The vision begins with establishing a caring home at CHOC for our children and families to turn to for help,” said Cripe.

To learn how to support CHOC’s mental health campaign, please visit www.choc.org/mentalhealthgiving.

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Help! I Don’t Like My Teen’s Date

Your 16-year-old daughter’s new boyfriend is sullen and disagreeable. What do you do? And when should a parent really become concerned about their teens’ romantic relationships?

Dr. Christopher Min, a pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s who specializes in issues relating to adolescent development and treatment, says parents need to reflect before acting.

He recommends parents ask themselves some questions: What is it that I don’t like about this boy? Is this a case where no one is good enough for my daughter or I want her to have the “perfect” boyfriend? Or, is this something really worrisome like he’s a drug user?

“If it’s something that is really severe, and the parents conclude there is something wrong with that child, prepare your child first,” Dr. Min says. “Tell her, ‘This is what I see and I don’t like.’ Perhaps talk to your child about it and tell her that maybe it’s not the best time for this relationship. Try to discourage the relationship.”

Dr. Min offered the following tips for handling teens’ love lives:

  • Once you notice your teen is interested in romance, discuss –your family’s standards, beliefs, expectations and values with regard to dating and sexual activity.
  • Be honest with teens about their relationships and the people they are dating.
  • Seek help from mentors or other parents with older kids who have experienced these situations. Develop a support network of other parents for advice.
  • No one knows a child better than his or her parents, so trust your instincts about your child, especially if you notice a significant change of mood.
  • Give your teen the opportunity to share. Ask open-ended questions and listen. If they don’t want to talk when you approach them, give them some time and leave the door open for future discussions should your teen change his/her mind.
  • If you see signs of injury or abuse in your teen, or if he or she talks about hurting herself or taking his own life, seek immediate medical/psychiatric help at your closest emergency room or call 911.

Learn more tips to help you help your teens:

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Anger Management Tips for Parents

It’s perfectly normal for parents to get mad at their children sometimes, but anger can have a negative effect on a child’s development, a CHOC Children’s psychologist tells CHOC Radio.

In podcast No. 21, Dr. Nadia Torres-Eaton offers practical advice for parents to manage their anger:

  • how to reduce stressful situations at home;
  • what to do if a parent gets close to snapping;
  • how to head off potential outbursts; and
  • when to seek professional help

CHOC Radio theme music by Pat Jacobs.