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Psychologists give tips for parents after daycare bus crash in Quebec

Click to play video: 'Quebec daycare crash: Command post in Laval offers support, counselling to grieving residents'
Quebec daycare crash: Command post in Laval offers support, counselling to grieving residents
WATCH: A growing number of stuffed animals, flowers and letters are being left near the site where a bus crashed into a daycare in Laval. It’s left some people wondering how this could have happened. Global’s Elizabeth Zogalis reports. – Feb 9, 2023

Psychologists say parents should be willing to talk honestly with their children about traumatic events, such as the case of a bus crashing into a daycare in Quebec, killing two kids and injuring six others.

For parents who want to talk to their children about what happened in Laval, Que., on Wednesday, Tina Montreuil, professor of educational and counselling psychology at McGill University in Montreal, said that it’s important to have a responsive approach rather than a reactionary one.

“Parents need to prepare for these discussions and listen instead of being reactive,” Montreuil said Thursday. “With any tragedy or anything that elicits a reaction of distress or sorrow, we want to be sure that we’re available, we’re listening, because we need to validate and create space for them.”

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The bus crashed into the daycare in the morning when parents typically drop off their children. One witness said children inside were screaming and crying and a mother who arrived at the scene collapsed.

Montreuil said parents often try to downplay the severity of events or difficult topics for their children. While adjusting communication for different age groups is wise, she said parents should still try to be factual about the events.

“You want to be honest.”

Click to play video: 'Driver accused of deliberately ramming bus into Quebec daycare'
Driver accused of deliberately ramming bus into Quebec daycare

Montreuil said screen time might be an easy distraction, but spending quality time with children gives them the opportunity to open up about their feelings.

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For parents who feel anxious about sending their children to school or daycare, Montreuil said engaging with and reaching out to community members can help. This could be by mobilizing the community to support families affected by the crash in Quebec, or having conversations with others about what happened.

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“I think that’s a really critical element of resilience that takes us from feeling powerless to doing something proactive to create a stronger community,” Montreuil said. “That’s how resilience is built, through that sense of autonomy, of contributing and acts of kindness, and then mixing that with gratitude for what we have and the people in our lives.”

“All of these things together can really help parents feel better equipped to support their children through this.”

 

Laura Offrey, a school and clinical child psychologist and professor at MacEwan University in Edmonton, said witnessing traumatic events can increase the risk of post-traumatic stress for children.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that is triggered by either experiencing or witnessing a terrifying or life-threatening event.

Click to play video: 'First Responder Trauma'
First Responder Trauma

Offrey said symptoms of PTSD, such as feeling frightened, being withdrawn and having nightmares, are normal and should pacify after a few weeks.

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She added, however, that if the symptoms persist for more than a month, parents should seek professional help.

Parents need to create a space for their children to open up and understand what they’re feeling, Offrey said.

“If I’m coaching parents, I would first help them understand that feelings aren’t good or bad — feelings are just indicators that maybe we need to pop the hood and take a look.”

Offrey added that parents should use a “wait and see” approach when helping their child deal with difficult emotions.

“See how your child reacts naturally and just give them a space that is very safe for them to respond, whichever way it is authentic to them.”

After a child goes through a traumatic event, Offrey said it’s normal for parents to be anxious and protective of their child, but it’s important to keep the bigger picture in mind.

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“Engaging in a lot of self-awareness and validating those parts of you that are scared is important, because you have every right to be scared,” said Offrey.

“At the same time, parents can recognize that the situation in Laval was super rare. This is not something that’s common.”

She said finding a reasonable line where parents aren’t restricting their children too much when it comes to protecting them is important to the healing process.

“You want to make sure you’re not restricting your child from engaging in social interactions and from doing the things that they love to do,” Offrey said, adding that children are sometimes inclined to pull back from regular activities.

“Doing the things that they love is going to be really important during this time when they’re trying to cope.”

While there is a possibility of children developing PTSD, Offrey said most children who experience a traumatic event don’t when they are given the space to process their emotions.

“Children are incredibly adaptable,” Offrey said. “They are far more resilient than I think we give them credit for.”

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