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4 weeks ago some weirdo shot at my balcony (probably for fun) with a gun used for practice. Anyway, the glass of my balcony door broke. At the same time my daughter of 6 was sitting just next to it, having her dinner. Of course that scared her a lot. My wife was at home at that time and took care of her immediately.

Since then my daughter is generally scared to be alone. She wasn't before. Almost every night (she sleeps at 9pm), she wakes up at 3 or 4am (sometimes earlier) and comes to our bed and continues her sleep. She wasn't doing this before. Whenever something is suddenly heard (like the beep sound of the oven) in the house, she is startled. In general since then she is startled very easily.

I must mention that her social interactions haven't been affected that much (for example at school, her friends or her teachers see no difference in her behaviour whatsoever).

Should we be worried? We don't know how to handle a situation like this. Any advice?

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4 Answers 4

Small traumas are a part of life, and learning to accept that is part of growing up. Some thoughts:

  • Talk about it. When discussing the incident use calming language: It was an accident, and sometimes accidents happen. One time I had an accident (describe briefly) and I hurt my leg (or whatever). It scared me, but then after a while I didn't really think about it any more. We're so glad no one got hurt in this accident.
  • Make sure she feels safe. Until she is feeling confident again, be available to her, even in the middle of the night. Six is young to process things like guns. One night she will sleep through, and the episode will begin to fade.
  • Separation and sleep issues may be unrelated. Kids go through phases of this even when life is perfect.
  • Set her up for good sleep. If you can help her to sleep through the night, it will probably speed up her recovery. Make sure she gets plenty of sunshine and exercise in the day. Limit screen time in the evening. Find relaxing things to do together in the evening (bathe, read, bake, play a table game) to send her off to sleep in a comfortable mental place.
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I think her reaction is not unusual. Her safe space was violated, and it takes a while for it to start feeling safe again. My parents had similar reactions when their home was broken into: startling at shadows and sudden sounds, fitful sleep, and some apprehension when entering the house. It goes away slowly.

My gut reaction is to offer as much comfort as possible: try to be her safe beacon. Be gentle with her in daily interactions. Let her sleep with you until she's had enough of it and decides she wants to be in her own room. And just wait it out. However some people don't feel comfortable with their kids sleeping with them, so if you want to transfer her back to her room just make sure to spend some time comforting her when you do. Also, since she seems to feel fine in interactions with her friends, maybe you could invite her friends over every so often, so that she has a fun time in the place which right now feels unsafe. What you want is the good experiences at home to slowly overcome the emotional memory of the bad experience.

I am a bit unsure if it would be beneficial to talk it out with her at this point or not. It has been shown that for traumatic experiences it is better to let some time pass before talking about it, but I don't know what the suggested waiting time is (and the rules might be different for kids)! However at some point, where the talking doesn't trigger too many bad emotions, it is beneficial to talk. This is something I would play by ear if I were you.

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One of the key elements of a parenting course I attended was to introduce the accidents/dangers in controlled environment. (ofcourse it was with respect to fire, sharp things etc, but could be tried here).

You need to understand what part of the accidents the child is remembering. The gunshot or breaking of glass with no apparent reason (to her). If it it is the glass breaking part, big sound etc I would definitely show the child breaking some big glass. (Not faimilar with guns, no comments there)

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2  
Hi Jayan and welcome to the site. I would agree with your answer for a younger child (perhaps) but this is a six-year-old that has the capacity to remember the entire event and understand that it was a gunshot. Working on desensitizing her to loud sounds again, would probably be a good thing to do IN ADDITION to some other strategies as well. –  balanced mama Oct 23 '13 at 22:22

Mary Jo Finch and Ana both have it right when they say, "be there for her" (I'm paraphrasing). Letting her sleep with you and recognizing that she will be jumpy for awhile is a natural response to such an event. I'm not sure by what you mean "gun used for practice," but even so, that would be traumatic for almost anyone. Having a window break - one you were sitting near - because of a gunshot is probably not a "small trauma" to her and shouldn't be treated as though it is. At the same time you don't want to make it even bigger by playing up the drama either.

However, I wouldn't hesitate to talk to her about it with the caveat that you speak WITH her about it, not At her. If she feels fearful it could happen again, and you try to simply play it off with "accidents happen" you aren't really reassuring her of her safety OR acknowledging her fears and offering a coping mechanism.

It is a big deal for a child to confront the idea of serious "accidents" that cause injury or death. Mortality just isn't usally on their radar yet at this age at this time in History, in our society. She may be looking at this as a near-death moment depending on how she is understanding things, or she may just suddenly feel her safe space was invaded and she is lucky she wasn't scratched - or anywhere in between (I don't know) and your question doesn't indicate so I assume you may not be sure either..

Instead, I suggest asking her the questions. "It was a scary moment and I'm so glad no one was hurt. What is it that is still scaring you?" Then respond calmly and honestly. When she answers, offer her your coping mechanism. What do you think about to help you feel less scared? Understand where she is at in terms of her feelings about how "in danger" she really was. Acknowledge her feelings. "It is understandable to feel scared - I was a little scared at first too." THEN address her fears. Explain how dangerous the situation really was - the glass may have injured some one if the window shattered, but . . .

Find a way to empower her Allow her to brainstorm some ideas for things that might make her feel safer. Can she help install the new window? Would she like to sleep in a room further away from that neighbor or change where her bed is so it isn't in line with whatever window is in her room (to help her feel safer?) Again, if you offer up the ideas, it might actually scare her more - my examples are only that - I don't know all the specifics, but see if she has any ideas that are reasonable and realistic or at least simple enough to offer her a sense of power over her situation.

In your conversations, include telling her what you have done or will be doing to lessen the chances of it happening again. Unless you live in a war-torn area, or a city with very little police protection and a lot of violence, you can probably at least assure her that your neighbor will take his/her gun to a range, or a safer place next time for his/her practice, but only do this if it is the truth. OR if he was using rubber bullets you can reasure her that these can bruise, but won't kill. If the neighbor/weirdo won't be using safer gun habbits or wasn't apprehended in some way, and you haven't already done so, please report him/her and the whole incident. Include your daughter in the reports - let her share her version of events - officially speaking to an officer can be intimidating, but she could write a letter describing the events to add to the police file. As the daughter of a deputy, I know if a person is using proper gun safety measures, this should never have happened.

Finally, consider a therapist. Seeing a therapist still has a stigma, but having a well-trained and un-biased ear can be a great help. Pediatric therapists are specifically trained in helping kids break through their specific barriers and a therapist might be able to get her talking about it much more quickly and easily than you (Not because you aren't an awesome, loving, super parent, but because some times it is easier to open up to a stranger than some one you love and a therapist has the training to get her to open up on top of it too). A Therapist might also be able to offer up ideas for coping mechanisms you do not have at your disposal. Even a one-time conversation might make a HUGE difference for your daughter and it is worth considering.

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A child therapist is an amazing idea, especially getting their thoughts on approaching the problem. –  kleineg Aug 29 at 18:49

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