If you usually cope by rationalizing, relying on your training, telling jokes or blaming, be aware that these coping mechanisms may not work when dealing with the death of a child.

These are common ways people cope with some critical incidents.  However, these tools may not work as well when the victim is a child.

“My kids wear seatbelts, so they will be safe. This won’t happen  to my family.”

This effective coping strategy may be lost when you respond to an accident where the child who died was strapped in his seat belt.  If you can’t rationalize anymore, then the call becomes personal.

Then you may feel powerless, if the child was dead before you arrived on scene.

Then you may find it impossible to tell a joke, if the victim is a child. Dark humor is an effective way to reduce stress.

“Smoking in bed? That guy had it coming to him.” Then you may lose an effective coping strategy, because adults should protect children. Children cannot be blamed for their death.

When you can’t blame the victim, do you start to blame yourself? Do you find yourself saying, “If only I had…, then the child would be alive today.”

It is ok to be ok

Do you find solving a child’s murder rewarding? Do you get a sense of pride finding a missing child’s body and being able to give the family closure? Do you consider it a place of honor to notify parents after their child was killed in a car accident?

If these calls for service do not bother you, that is ok. It is ok to be ok. It is ok not to have reactions even if your colleagues do.  You don’t have to feel guilty for not having a reaction.

What is not ok is to keep your lack of reactions to yourself and worry you might be a calloused you-know-what. It may help your colleagues to know what a healthy perspective you have on the situation. Share it! Don’t keep it to yourself when you could help a college  with your perspective.

A critical incident can have some positive effects on an emergency responder. Perhaps after seeing the first dead body of a child you take less for granted, appreciate each day more, and don’t put off fun activities with your family. If you have been called to the scene of a seemingly random or freak fatal accident you may re-connect to your spiritual roots or values. Maybe after seeing a chronically ill child lose their battle in the ER you develop even stronger bonds with your loved ones or gain more compassion for others. It is possible to make some positive changes in your life, better accept how things work out or develop personal strength as a result of emergency work with a child who dies.

It is possible to be ok.
It is ok to be ok.

Here is a book about post traumatic growth that provides further insight.

What are adaptive coping skills?

  • Call your Spouse, check in on the Kids
  • Call a Chaplain
  • Ask for a diffusion by a CISM team
  • Tell someone: “I went on a really sad call today”
  • Tactical breathing
  • Supervisor should take the officer out for coffee or a talk, even for a few minutes
  • Exercise off-duty – 30 minutes of cardio

What makes things worse?

  • Read media accounts or internet blogs of the incident
  • Drink alcohol for the first few days after the call
  • Pretend it did not affect you
  • Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda…
  • Isolate
More on Anne Bisek, Psy.D. can be found at her website
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