When children are in distress, it’s important adults react in a comforting way, according to Joyce Prusak, executive director of Coffee County Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC).
As a director of CAC, Prusak often sees children in tough situations.
CAC serves children who are victims of severe abuse through prevention, education and intervention.
“Our vision is for a community where children are safe, families are strengthened, and victims are healed,” Prusak said.
Most of the time, children meet with CAC specialists after a traumatic situation.
“There have been times when children have come into the center in distress, but it is not common,” Prusak said. “Most of the time, children come to the center after having made a disclosure of abuse to a family member, teacher or friend.”
And that’s usually the first person that would interact with the child while the child is in distress, added Prusak.
“Most of the time, children will say what happened to them as a matter of fact,” Prusak said.
Sometimes the way adults act in response can cause more distress than the child was experiencing initially, according to Prusak.
“That’s why we encourage adults to stay calm when a child tells you about an experience he or she had,” she said. “Children learn to model behavior.”
Signs showing a child is in distress
Children react to trauma and stress in different ways.
“Some children withdraw emotionally,” Prusak said. “Others may hide. Other children may get angry or act out against you or other children. Some children may begin harming themselves or others. Noticing the change(s) in behavior is probably the most telling.”
How to comfort a child?
Listening to the child is essential.
“Listen,” Prusak said. “This may be the most important thing that an adult can do for a child. The instinct may be to fix the situation, but if the child feels safe enough to talk to an adult about a situation or something that makes him/her feel unsafe or worried, listening is the best thing you can do.
“Listening helps you understand what the child’s main concerns may be and those concerns may not be what you expect as adult.”
It’s important to be truthful.
“Provide comfort, but don’t promise,” she said. “Children need to know that you are there and although you can create a sense of safety, don’t promise to do something that is out of your control.
“For instance, we tell adults not to promise a child that the person who may have abused them will be arrested and put in jail. As much as we all would like that to be the case, the situation is usually more complex and the results are not often immediate. So, you can tell that child that you will do what you can to keep him/her safe, but please don’t promise when many things are out of your control.”
If you or a child you know is experiencing trauma, seek support.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” Prusak said. “Both children and adults can benefit from having someone to talk with and process experiences. Seeing a professional counselor or therapist is not a bad thing.”
Since opening its doors in 2005, thousands of children and their non-offending families have been referred for services to the center.
CAC provides child abuse prevention workshop for children and adults in the community.
All CAC services are provided free of charge.
The center is located at 104 N. Spring St., Manchester.
For more information, call 931-723-8888.