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September 09, 2010

Shocking News

There are positive aspects to life's challenges:

Like most children hit by a disaster or tragedy, 8-year-old Laurel Shepard was upset for months after her brother and grandparents were killed in a plane crash, says her mother Julie Shepard. Haunted by nightmares, she rarely left her mother's side.

Three years later, Laurel is still anxious, but Ms. Shepard is also seeing some new qualities: more empathy for other kids, deeper relationships with family and a new creative energy that led her to produce a documentary on her brother. "I was shocked" by the growth in Laurel, now 11, says Ms. Shepard, Beaverton, Ore.

As the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks draws near, research on children traumatized by disaster is revealing that some children have a surprising capacity not only to bounce back, but to grow stronger than before. Once thought possible only in adults, this "post-traumatic growth" is marked by increases in self esteem and compassion, a greater appreciation for relationships and a deeper sense of meaning or spirituality.

Children may say, for example, that they learned as a result of a disaster "how nice and helpful people can be," based on a scale developed by Ryan Kilmer, an associate professor of psychology at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte, and others to measure post-traumatic growth. They may feel better able to handle big problems. Or they may appreciate each day more, feel closer to other people or believe they understand better "how God works."

Surprisingly, those who at first may seem the most upset, ruminating on their fears or sadness and what the disaster means to them tend to be the ones who later exhibit post-traumatic growth. The rumination and distress catalyze the growth process, Dr. Kilmer says.

Posted by Cassandra at September 9, 2010 08:36 AM

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Internalizing it takes time.

Very thought-provoking post, Cassandra.
We have been worried about them since it happened, and it is wonderful to see there is healing, and moving forward.

Posted by: Cricket at September 9, 2010 12:05 PM

When you have seen the face of hell, normal everyday human-monkey problems seem far less problematic.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 9, 2010 05:15 PM

I had this link to this site about people surviving life and death encounters, but can't find the link.

Anyways, the synopsis tends to be that people who survive life and death experiences are always those who think of the present, rather than the past or future. They devote all energies to managing to take one step at a time, and not worry about the future or what "could be". That is the lizard brain mode of thinking.

Other elements also include optimism or resiliency. Resiliency is taking negative stimuli and making them positive and self-reinforcing. This applies after the trauma. Say a broken leg that you had to put back together yourself otherwise you would be stuck in place and die. After a person has had that, he could either go into flashbacks and PTSD, or he could take that as a positive experience and use it to motivate him to achieve greater things in life. As well as to appreciate his time with loved ones more. Fear of moral consequences and fear of physical death, affects such a person less. It limits that person's full potential less.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 10, 2010 09:22 AM

Kids are more resilient, but their lack of life experience tends to disadvantage them as it is easier to sink into a hole and be "pampered" rather than think up things they can do themselves for themselves.

If the kids had more life experience, they would have some idea of what they could do. Write a book. But a kid is young and is still experiencing life, so they need to be lucky or well prepared to be able to turn negative experiences into positive self-reinforcement.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 10, 2010 09:24 AM

This post was a great one to read, and personally reassuring to me. It means that in the seven years since my son's death, his siblings have been able to rise to the challenge his absence left.

My brother told me at the time that his death would take our family in a direction that we might not want to go; i.e., without him, but that we had an opportunity to step up to the plate, as it were.

It was not easy, through the years, and we are still on that journey, because it won't end until we see him again. At that point, there will be more.

So, it is a process and one that takes time. Our youngest child was 2, and he is now 9. He has spent most of his life without his big brother. There have been times he was a holy terror, because he grieved for something he couldn't remember, but that his heart and soul missed.

Each family has their coping mechanisms, and they change as the children and adults age. One thing that is a constant is the hope that the departed one still knows and loves them and will be proud of them.

Posted by: Cricket at September 10, 2010 06:22 PM

That's good to hear, Cricket.

Posted by: Ymarsakar at September 10, 2010 07:21 PM

Little kids are a joy to watch. They can be so cute and so wonderful without realizing it. They are in their own little world. Too bad that they have to grow up. On second thought, I have a fondness for senior citizens, too.

Posted by: SPQR at September 12, 2010 09:57 AM