In recent weeks, hardly a day seems to go by without trauma and tragedy occurring on a national or worldwide level. Witnessing tragedies and violence, whether through the news or social media or from living in communities with high rates of violence, takes a toll on children and families.
Research shows that exposure to violence is associated with depression, anxiety, and symptoms of traumatic stress. Furthermore, people who are exposed to violence are more likely to engage in aggressive or delinquent behavior.
A constant fear of being unsafe or perceiving danger in the environment can accumulate over time and causes physical and behavioral health problems.
As we all grapple with how to process these events, many question what can be done and how do we cope? The American Academy of Pediatrics has called upon pediatricians to address violence with children and families as a part of regular care:
We care for children in the communities where violence erupts, and we talk to parents about how to keep their children healthy and safe. Pediatricians who work in urban and suburban pediatric practices, emergency rooms and rural clinics, can come together to understand what is happening and how to address it.
This initiative follows the acknowledgment of the effects of poverty on child health and call to screen families as well as the research on adverse childhood experiences and long term health outcomes.
What can you do, starting today, to help children and families? Shift towards a trauma informed practice. Why? Practicing from a trauma informed lens helps frame your interactions with patients by acknowledging the trauma of the medical issue which brought them to your bedside but also the day-to-day trauma they may witness. It helps you work towards finding ways to reduce frightening or painful aspects of medical care as a way of minimizing additional trauma. It guides you on how to work with your patients and families to address fears and worries, barriers to utilizing existing support, and other family needs beyond medical care. It calls for you to universally screen patients to help identify those who may need additional help. And, practicing trauma informed care helps you remain aware of both the rewards and challenges of caring for traumatized children and families, and promotes the importance of self-care.