Helping Children Overcome Psychological Trauma after Car Accidents

By Roger Foisy on September 1st, 2016

Ontario Personal Injury LawyerA motor vehicle collision is a traumatic experience for everyone involved. The psychological effects of such an accident can last for a long time, regardless of age, whether you were the driver or passenger, or whether you were physically injured or not.

Parents and caregivers should be particularly aware of the potential psychological fallout for children involved in car accidents – and even for those whose parents were in an accident without them. About 15-25% of children involved in car accidents show symptoms of depression that remain even months after the accident.

The good news is that many children are quite resilient and can overcome the trauma if they receive the right support.

Behaviours that May Indicate Psychological Trauma in Children

Children who experience the trauma of a motor vehicle accident (or who have a parent severely injured or killed in a motor vehicle accident) may exhibit certain outward warning signs that they are having difficulty coping.

Some of the behaviours to monitor include:

Under 5 years old:

  • Behavioural regression
  • Sucking on the thumb
  • Wetting the bed
  • Fearing the dark
  • Excessive clinginess and separation anxiety

6 to 11 years old:

  • Disruptiveness
  • Extreme withdrawal
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Nightmares and/or difficulty sleeping
  • Problems at school
  • Unexplained physical symptoms, like stomach-aches or headaches
  • Anger
  • Appetite changes
  • Excessive crying

12 to 17 years old:

  • Nightmares and/or difficulty sleeping
  • Academic decline
  • Skipping school
  • Increased risk taking
  • Problems with friends
  • Unexplained physical symptoms, like stomach-aches or headaches
  • Anger
  • Appetite changes
  • Excessive crying
  • Depression and/or suicidal thoughts

How to Help a Child Experiencing Psychological Issues after a Traumatic Car Accident

Ontario Personal Injury LawyerIf a child has been involved in a motor vehicle accident, or has a parent who has been, do not wait until you see the above signs to seek help.

A study in The Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health suggests that a single psychological intervention for preadolescent children 7-10 days after the incident can reduce depressive symptoms and behavioural problems. Adolescents may require more support to work through their trauma and depression, but it’s also important to start as early as possible.

PsychCentral has a great article that provides guidelines for parents to help their child cope with trauma. Key points from these guidelines include:

  • Offer to listen to your child and help them, but don’t overwhelm them if they aren’t ready to talk.
  • Talk about what happened or what is happening, but in tolerable doses.
  • Do not underestimate a young child’s awareness or understanding of what has happened or may be happening.
  • It is often helpful for young children to draw pictures of what happened or play the event out with toys.
  • School-age children will be more able to verbalize their feelings and concerns.
  • Teenagers may prefer to talk to their peers.
  • Teenagers can benefit from prosocial activities, such as helping younger children or taking a role in recovery work in their community.

I encourage you to click here to read the full article.

Any child who has been through a traumatic experience will need more attention and reassurance to facilitate a healthy psychiatric recovery. It is normal for the child to be afraid of getting back into the car, having loved ones get into a car, or of being left alone.

Be sure to talk to your doctor or current mental health professional about obtaining psychological services for your child as soon as possible. The sooner your child receives the support they need and has the chance to work through their trauma in the right environment, the more likely they will have a successful recovery.

Roger R. Foisy is an experienced Ontario Personal Injury Lawyer. If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident, please contact us for immediate support and a free consultation.

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