How Can I Help My Child Get Over The Car Crash?

Dear Mamas,

My daughter, age 8,  was in a car accident a week ago. Her arm was broken but otherwise she is fine. She was in the car with another mother and her child. Nobody was seriously hurt but the other two were banged up a bit. My daughter (Sophie) is still feeling anxious about the whole thing and is very nervous when we have to go somewhere in the car. My mother says it’s best to just move on and not give a lot of attention to it. She feels we should just insist she get in the car and get on with life. I feel like we should back off and give her a lot of space and not push it. What do you think?

Thanks, Emily

Dear Emily,
I’m so sorry that your daughter was hurt and I hope she will be feeling all better soon. It’s really tough to see your child in any kind of pain and it must have been really frightening for you, too. Your question is a really good one and the short answer is that in a way, both you and your mother are right. But it isn’t an either/or proposition. It’s actually a little more complicated.

There are some specific things to keep in mind as you work to help your daughter heal. First of all, an accident or injury of any kind can be very frightening to a child whether she is 5 or 15. It’s important for her to know that feeling upset after the event is normal and will get better with time. Kids who have gone through an experience like an accident are likely to feel jumpy or worried for a while.

One of your most important jobs is to give her the chance to talk about her feelings– if she wants to. You can start it off by saying something like, “It must have been really scary when the car got hit. What was that like? How did you feel? How do you feel now?” If she doesn’t want to talk, you can suggest that she draw a picture about it instead. Encourage both. Don’t force the subject but don’t tip-toe around it either.

It’s also important for her to know that she is safe now and that being in a car accident is a very rare thing. Keep reminding her that she is okay and that her arm will heal and soon she will be back to doing all her regular activities.

Give her a lot of extra physical support (hugs and kisses) as well. Cuddle up together on the couch and read a book together. Play Monopoly or cards together. Have family movie night and include the whole gang. Be conscious of the fact that your physical presence (and that of other family members) will help her to feel more secure and heal faster.

On the other hand, keep her regular routine going as much as is possible, given her broken arm. Bedtimes, mealtimes, chores etc. should all be continued as usual.

Although she may shy away from going in the car, don’t overindulge that fear. Let her know that being anxious about driving in a car after an accident is normal but it doesn’t mean something bad is going to happen again. In fact, the more experience we have getting in the car and going about our business the quicker we will forget our fear and see that it’s okay. But until that happens, make sure that you (or your other children or family members) do not tease her about her worries. Everyone needs to remember that her feelings about this are normal and to be expected.

Make sure you take care of yourself, too and talk to another adult if you are still struggling with your own anxiety. Raising kids is so nerve wracking! We go through it all with them at the emotional level so we need to acknowledge that and make sure we take time to debrief ourselves when something traumatic happens to them. Otherwise, our anxiety can be picked up by our child. It is pretty contagious.

Don’t forget that your other kids may be worried or upset as well. Having a sibling get seriously hurt or injured can feel very threatening to them. Give them the opportunity to talk about their concerns and give them the chance to do something special for their sister to cheer her up. Kids are naturally compassionate and like to help when someone is having a hard time.

If after a few weeks she is still not improving, you may want to consult with your pediatrician or a child or family counselor. In particular pay attention to whether she is still really preoccupied with the accident and fearful of the car; not wanting to do the things she normally likes to do; having a hard time in school or not wanting to go to school. If these things are happening, she may benefit from a few counseling sessions.

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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3 responses to “How Can I Help My Child Get Over The Car Crash?”

  1. Lindsey

    Well my child got in car crash she didn’t get hurt or did anybody else,But she is still worried what might of happened and she said every time so closes her eyes she imagines the scene.She also hasn’t slept for 3 days what could help?

  2. Kim

    Well I dOnt have a child cause I’m 11 but when my brother and his band got into the battle of the bands me and my mom were driving there and this drunk driver with a lot of people In the car and so he was weaving lanes and got in front of the car in front of us and braked and started spinning which scared
    The heck out of me now I’m scared of being in the car for long distances

  3. Rachel Zahn

    We’re sorry that happened, Kim! It must have felt very scary at that moment. One way to feel better is to keep talking about it … to your mom, to your friends, to other adults in your life. Sometimes when you get the feelings out there they can begin to lose power and strength. Time will help, too. But the most important thing is to keep sharing your concerns with your parents. We’re so glad you’re safe!

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