Kids deal with loss in different ways

Kids deal with loss in different ways
Members of Outram Secondary School's water polo team made 1,000 paper cranes and put them up on a wall at Tanjong Katong Primary School yesterday. The death toll from last Friday's quake in Sabah is now 18 - 10 of whom were on a Mount Kinabalu expedition with TKPS.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Emotional trauma can set in any time - immediately after an incident, a week, months or even more than a year after.

It also has no fixed duration, and how long it lasts depends on how deeply involved one was, said Mr Daniel Koh, 44, a psychologist with Insights Mind Centre.

Talking about the emotional trauma that children who survived the Sabah earthquake may face, the psychologist of 15 years explained that because of their age, children may not have the resilience, reasoning power or coping skills that adults have to deal with such events.

They may face post traumatic stress disorder, and those who have lost people dear to them may develop depression, stress, sadness and anger.

How well they handle their feelings depends on their personal experience and coping skills, said Mr Koh.

"For instance, a child who has (already) experienced the death of someone close to him may be able to cope better."

Knowing how to communicate their feelings, approach people for support and explain what is going on by themselves also helps children.

"Some kids may just stay put. Their well-being may deteriorate, they may not want to go to school and they may isolate themselves from others. They may not be able to cope with their studies and their relationships with others may weaken," said Mr Koh.

He suggested three steps for parents, teachers and guardians to help children overcome emotional trauma:

Teach or show the child how to be in touch with his emotions. Help him understand that he may experience a range of feelings, including grief, anxiety and depression.

Once a child's feelings are identified, help him understand how the feelings affect him.

Help him to resolve the issues and problems. For instance, if a child is depressed because a friend has died, talk to him about the loss. If the child is severely affected, seek professional counselling.

"The healing process may be faster (with counselling) as professional counsellors and psychologists can see if the child requires further intervention or assessment, for instance, group or family therapy," Mr Koh said.

He stressed that correct identification of a child's feelings is crucial, and it is important not to assume how a child is feeling.

This article was first published on June 14, 2015.
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