from The Attorney General
As a parent, you worry often
about harm coming to your child. You go to great lengths
everyday to shelter your child from accidents, illness, and
violence. This "ounce of prevention" is a natural part
of parenting. Yet, few parents consider the "pound of
cure" that may be needed after the unthinkable happens.
Trauma upsets the secure
predictability of a child's life and a parent's life.
Children may experience intense fear or a sense of helplessness
and their view of the world may be dramatically altered. It is
common for children to regress or withdraw. You are vitally
important to a child's emotional recovery. Parents and children
need information and support to recover from the trauma of being
a crime victim. Delaware has excellent resources to assist your
family. Please contact my office's Victim Services Unit.
Symptoms of distress
Different children react to
trauma differently. Much depends on the severity of the events,
the child's personality, coping styles learned from adults and
the availability of support. It is normal for children to:
- experience a denial phase in
which they fail to accept the reality of what has happened.
- become unusually fearful, or
have nightmares. They may find it difficult to sleep or eat.
They may "cling" to their parents and demand
unusual amounts of attention or comfort.
- show feelings of irritability,
anger, sadness and guilt.
- exhibit other warning signs:
complaints about headaches or stomachaches, regressive
behavior, lack of concentration, and a loss of interest in
Some children may show signs of
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder:
- may repeatedly "act
out" the traumatic event while playing with toys.
- may have dreams about what
- may become upset by reminders
of the events
- may startle easily.
Children are resilient, though,
and with assistance from you, will likely recover from the
traumatic event as will you.
What you should do:
It is important that you feel
comfortable handling this incident so that you can help your
child. Your child will be watching you for cues on how to manage
1) Reinforce the
"safe zone". Meet all of the child's basic
needs for love, care and closeness. Spend extra time together.
easy for parents to underestimate the impact that traumas have
on a child. A child victim needs empathy and patience. Your
child may find it easier to tell the story about what happened
before they can express how they feel about it. They may want to
tell the story repeatedly. This can be hard for you, but
retelling is an important part of the healing process.
3) Help your child
express emotions. Talking to your child about what
happened will help them cope. Encourage them to
re-enact the events with their
toys; give them an opportunity to draw pictures or write about
what happened. Encourage them to imagine alternate endings to
the events. Validate their feelings by letting them know that
feelings of anger, sadness, guilt, or fear are normal and to be
4) Give your child room
Children need space to
emotionally recover. They may "unlearn" some skills
and behaviors. For example, they may return to thumb sucking.
They may become unusually aggressive. Keep in mind that this
regression is usually temporary, and it is important to be
patient and tolerate it.
5) Clear up unfounded
Your child may have inappropriate
feelings of guilt, shame or fear about what happened. Correct
your child's misunderstandings regarding the events.
6) Prepare your children
whenever possible. If your child needs to appear in
court, explain each step of what will happen. Let them ask
questions. The Delaware Attorney General's office has developed
a coloring and activity book for children who are victims an
witnesses. It is available in each of our offices, or you can
request one by calling us.
7) Tap the support
network. Consult with your doctor, clergy and friends.
Inform your child's school. Teachers can be observant and
helpful. If you seek professional help, be certain the therapist
has experience with children and has treated crisis and trauma.
8) Establish a sense of
Take time out for fun. Try to
return to routines at home. In addition, your child needs you to
express confidence in their ability to recover.
What you should say:
Knowing what to say can be
difficult. When in doubt, your expression of love is more
important than words.
1) Be honest about what
happened and what may occur next. Honest communication
will rebuild a child's trust.
2) Respect your child's fears. Offer assistance rather
than asking them to be brave. Ask, "Let's see what we can
do to make this less scary for you."
3) Let your child know
you are aware that the situation is serious.
4) Recognize your child's
feelings and put them into words.
Association of School
New Castle Co. 577-8500
Kent Co. 739-4211
Sussex Co. 856-5353
Victim Counseling 800-870-1790
Crimes Compensation Board
Mental Health Crisis Line
633-5128 or 800-969-4357
STATE OF DELAWARE DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
Wilmington, DE 19801
Water Street, Suite 2
Dover, DE 19904
Georgetown, DE 19947