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Western Psychiatric Institute And Clinic Childhood Specialists Provide Advice On Helping Children Cope With War Anxiety

PITTSBURGH, March 20, 2003 As American soldiers take to the battlefield in Iraq, all Americans will be affected in one way or another, but children's emotional well-being is of particular concern.

Child mental health experts from Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, part of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, are providing the following information on common stress reactions that may be expected from children over the coming days and what parents can do to help them cope with their feelings.

General Stress Reactions in Children and Teens

  • Absentmindedness, trouble concentrating; preoccupation with the events;
  • Feeling vulnerable, fearful, or worried;
  • Nightmares and difficulty with sleep;
  • Concerns about parents safety, wanting parents nearby;
  • Irritability; moodiness;
  • Withdrawal from typical activities, pastimes, and friends;
  • Immature behaviors; returning to outgrown behaviors;
  • Physical complaints such as headaches, stomachaches;
  • Changes in eating habits;
  • Renewed fears of darkness, being alone, strangers, bad guys;
  • Risk-taking behaviors (driving carelessly, drinking and using other drugs to calm down).

General Ways to Help Your Child Cope with Trauma

  • Provide reassurance that your child is safe and is being protected at school and at home.
  • Limit your child's exposure to media coverage of the events, especially visual images, as these are difficult to forget.
  • Avoid adult conversations about the events when children are present.
  • Listen to your child. Set aside private time to be together, so that you can read your child's reactions. This is especially important for young children at bedtime.
  • Listen for your child's perception of the events and correct misconceptions; answer questions clearly and honestly without unnecessary details that may overwhelm or confuse your child.
  • Help your child identify stress reactions. Normalize these reactions by telling your child that this is a natural way to react.
  • Review with your child how to reach you when you are at work. Identify other caring adults whom your child can contact.
  • Be more tolerant of unusual behavior (e.g., absentmindedness, irritability), but do not abandon normal family and school routines.

Remember that children react to stress in different ways. If your child has experienced a recent loss, trauma, or has psychological concerns, you may want to check with your family physician or school for more help.

WPICs STAR (Services for Teens at Risk)-Centers Outreach Services has led crisis response teams for such events as the TWA 800 crash, USAir 427 crash, school shootings, suicides and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. STAR-Center, funded by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, provides on-call consultation and training services to agencies and schools across the commonwealth.

Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic is part of the largest clinical service system in western Pennsylvania and is one of the nation's leading clinical, research and training programs. Its inpatient, outpatient, partial hospital, residential, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, consultation, emergency and community support programs serve more than 40,000 people annually in more than 75 locations in western Pennsylvania, including community mental health centers, group practices and community and specialty hospitals in rural as well as urban settings.

The University of Pittsburgh's department of psychiatry is housed in WPIC and is the largest recipient of National Institutes of Health research funding for mental health research.

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