Physical injuries that kids sustain are often obvious whether they range from minor to severe. Less obvious and often under-diagnosed are the emotional and psychological repercussions. About 30 percent of kids, regardless of how they are injured (car crash, bike wreck, falling off playground equipment or sports injury) will suffer from acute stress disorder (ASD). The toll this takes on kids, families and communities needs just as much attention as their physical injuries.

No parent anticipates needing to be versed in how to help a child deal with a traumatic injury but given that pediatric trauma is a leading cause of death and disability in the U.S., here are some important facts and tips to know.

ASD Signs and Symptoms Include:

* separation difficulties (The child clings to you and wants to be with you more than before);

* changes in eating and sleeping habits;

* regressive behaviors;

* flashbacks or reliving what happened over and over again;

* mood changes (feeling anxious, jumpy, angry or sad);

* avoiding reminders of the trauma; and

* physical complaints when reminded of the traumatic event.

How to Help

* Reassure children that the emotions they are experiencing are normal and will get better with time.

* Take your child’s lead and allow them opportunities to discuss their feelings, but don’t force it. Some kids cope by talking frequently about what happened while others avoid discussing it.

* Answer your child’s questions simply and honestly.

* Try to return to the normalcy of your life as soon as possible. Children get comfort from their routine.

* Be sure to provide opportunities for social interaction if your child has to miss school, sports or other activities due to injury. Friends are great medicine!

* Make sure not to transfer your distress or stress to your child. Your child looks to you for reassurance.

* Take care of yourself. You’re at just as much risk for developing ASD as your child. By caring for yourself, you’re serving as a positive role model.

* Accept help. Enlist the help of family, friends and neighbors. Providing meals, cleaning house, attending to putting out trash at the curb, carpooling, and planning fun things for siblings so they feel special are just a few ways others can help ease your burden during this difficult time.

ASD is considered a normal reaction to a trauma. It is a child’s way of adapting to a stressful event. The signs and symptoms of ASD should slowly get better over the course of one to three weeks. But for a small subset of kids, these symptoms persist beyond a month and can greatly impact how they function in their everyday lives. If that happens, it’s considered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and you should seek professional help for your child from your pediatrician, counselor or local mental health provider as soon as possible. 

Heidi Almodovar is a trauma nurse practitioner at Boston Children’s Hospital Injury Prevention Program; 617-355-7332.