Is My Daddy Dead?

An injury or death has just occurred. It might be involve your officer or another member of the police family. Frightened and worried, you try to cope. Looking down into the small face staring back at you. What do you say?

Some children have strong reactions and behavior changes after an upsetting event; while others will show little indication he or she has been affected. Keep in mind, just because a child doesn't exhibit signs of trauma it does not mean he or she wasn't affected and doesn't need support. Everyone deals with stress in different ways. The Red Cross emphasizes children struggle with trauma "because his or her view of the world as a safe and predicable place has been lost," and lists some children's reactions:

  • Bed-wetting
  • Thumb sucking
  • Clinging to parents or fear of strangers
  • Older, more independent children want to spend unusual amounts of time with family members
  • Nightmares
  • Refusing to sleep alone
  • Fear of the dark
  • Physical symptoms, such as stomachaches
  • Difficulty concentrating

The Red Cross encourages parents to seek professional help if certain symptoms, which are listed on their web site, last longer than three months. Kirschman stresses, "It is important to set limits on unacceptable behavior while recognizing that there are no unacceptable feelings."

Dealing with a traumatic event is a struggle for the most mature adults. For the children of police officers, an on-duty injury or death often results in the culmination of their greatest fears. Fortunately, many things can be done to help. "Helping your child cope with a parent's trauma can be an opportunity for a child to mature and for you to become closer as a family," Kirschman states. Looking back on the incident with her children's father, Denise states she would handle the situation differently now. "I think they should have been able to go see him, so they could see he was okay. It should have been encouraged." When asked to speculate on why they didn't realize the importance of easing their girls' fears at the time, Denise said, "He just didn't think it was that big of a deal. The police department never taught the officers how to deal with their families."

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