Being a parent can be the most rewarding and the most challenging job in the world. When a child is exposed to a potentially traumatic event, such as an injury, parental support is key in helping children recover, both physically and emotionally. Yet parenting doesn’t come with an instruction manual, and many parents may be unsure what to say or what to do when a traumatic event has occurred.
As medical professionals, we can guide parents in helping their children recover, but do we know what works and what doesn’t? For example, while we know that certain types of appraisals (e.g., a child’s impression of the event) and coping solutions (e.g., avoidance) can place children at risk for more problematic emotional reactions, we still have a lot to learn. To better guide parents, we need to understand their natural interactions with their children after injury and how these interactions affect current and later functioning.
To date, much research has focused on what children and parents tell us, but we have yet to observe how parents support their children in the early aftermath of trauma. To facilitate this learning, we created the Trauma Ambiguous Situations Tool (TAST) to observe how parents talk with their children about appraisals of situations and how to cope with challenges. The TAST also allows us to examine the process between parents and children during these discussions:
- Do parents make supportive comments agreeing with their children?
- Do parents disagree with their children right away or do they use a questioning approach to try to influence changes in their children’s point of view?
In a recent publication in the European Journal of Psycho-Traumatology, we describe a pilot study of 25 child-parent pairs that completed the TAST within two weeks of the injury, while the child was in the hospital for treatment. In brief, the study showed:
- The TAST can be implemented in a short period of time (taking less than 15 minutes on average).
- Children and parents engaged well during the TAST.
- Parents influenced children’s reported appraisals and coping solutions.
Future research with this tool may be able to help us better understand these early interactions after a traumatic event. We also hope to learn how to best partner with parents to support our pediatric patients.
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