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Mental Health Needs for Children and Adolescents Following Injury

Feb 20, 2019
How to Help Your Kids Support Their Friends Who Have an Injury or Illness

Experiencing an injury can be a traumatic event for children and adolescents as well as their parents and caregivers. Children hospitalized for an injury are at increased risk for behavioral health concerns and increased stress.

Children hospitalized with unintentional injuries have an average 63 percent increase in mental health diagnoses and a 155 percent increase in medications prescribed to treat a mental illness.

While not all children experience long-term emotional problems related to injuries, there are some things to be aware of to help your child during recovery.

After the Injury, you may see:

  • Difficulty sleeping (nightmares, jerky movements during sleep, frequent awakenings)
  • Behavioral regression (will no longer sleep in own bed, toileting accidents)
  • Behavioral changes (angry outbursts, aggression, clinginess)
  • Mood changes (irritability, lack of emotion)
  • Inattention (cannot focus on schoolwork or activities)
  • Hypervigilance (overly anxious, acting as if they are waiting for something to happen)
  • New or excessive fears (fear of riding in a vehicle or returning to activity where injury occurred)
  • Avoidance of typical or normal situations or objects
  • Visions of frequent memories of the event (flashbacks)

These are normal responses to trauma, especially within the first several weeks. However, these symptoms should not be ignored.

What should you do?

  • Return child and family to regular routine
  • Establish structure in daily routine – this increases predictability and decreases fears or worries
  • Set limits on behavior (return to regular rules)
  • Be consistent with feedback to minimize inappropriate behavior
  • Be open to discuss events related to the injury event with your child
  • Encouraged independence when possible to help regain confidence and sense of safety
  • Use the incident as an opportunity to teach safe behaviors
  • Whenever possible, do not avoid situation or place where injury event occurred – this will help your child be more cautious and overcome fears

If you have concerns about your child’s behavior following an injury, consult a pediatric psychologist to address your concerns. To learn more about Nationwide Children’s Department of Pediatric Psychology and Neuropsychology, click here.

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Julie Leonard, MD, MPH
Center for Pediatric Trauma Research

Dr. Leonard is an associate professor of pediatrics at Nationwide Children's Hospital and the Ohio State University College of Medicine. She is a board-certified pediatric emergency medicine subspecialist and practices medicine in the emergency department at Nationwide Children's Hospital. At Nationwide Children's Hospital Research Institute, she serves as the director of clinical research for the Center for Injury Research and Policy and the associate director for the Center for Pediatric Trauma Research.

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Sarah VerLee, PhD
Pediatric Psychology

Sarah VerLee, PhD, is a psychologist in the Pediatric Psychology Program at Nationwide Children's Hospital and a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Dr. VerLee is a team psychologist for the Burn Program.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.