Thursday, December 3, 2009

Psychological and Physical Scars After the Indianapolis Daycare Crash

An SUV with two robbery suspects lost control and crashed into a daycare center today just as a group of 3 year olds were getting ready for nap in the front room.  One child is in critical condition, and three more had less serious injuries.  One adult at the center was injured, as was another bystander when their car was hit by the SUV during the chase.  Luckily, a lot of the daycare center's children were on a field trip when the accident occurred, or things might have been much worse.

Leaving your children at daycare each day can be hard.  Often, it's the parents who have more trouble separating than the kids, especially after the first week or two.  We drop off our kids wishing we could stay with them, but knowing we have picked a place for them to be cared for and nurtured and safe.

Anyone who's ever had kids in daycare knows the awful feeling of looking on the caller ID or having someone else answer the phone and realizing it's the daycare calling in the middle of the day.  This means that things are not OK, and that something has gone wrong with the plan.  It brings back those difficult feelings of separation all over again.

We can only imagine, then, the horror of learning that a serious incident has occurred at your child's daycare and that your child might be critically injured.  It is hard enough to leave kids for the day when you know they'll be OK.  Now, you don't even know that.  You'd better believe that it's going to be hard for a lot of these parents to drop their kids off at the alternative daycare site tomorrow.  It would hardly be surprising if a lot of them kept their children home.

And then there are the children.  Even the ones who weren't injured at all have to have been very frightened by the noise and commotion.  They saw their friends get hurt at a minimum.  We tend to think that young children aren't affected by these things, but that isn't really true.  They are affected, they just process them differently. 

The good news is that little kids don't have the cognitive skills to take what happened to them and extrapolate to what might happen some other time.  They don't see flying glass and become afraid of windows.  They might see flying glass and become afraid of flying glass, but that's not such a bad thing. 

The bad news is that because little kids don't have terrific verbal skills, they aren't able to talk through their experiences.  The result is that events like this sometimes get "stuck" in a pre-verbal place in their minds, where they are affected by them but can't really think them through.  This may well affect them later on, but it won't be necessarily in the form of intrusive memories or nightmares about the accident.  They might not remember the accident at all, but it can leave a mark.  That having been said, it doesn't have to leave that mark, and a few opportunities to "play" the accident with toys or draw it, if they are able, may be all they need to recover psychologically.


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Naomi Zikmund-Fisher
is a clinical social worker, former school Principal and a Crisis Consultant for schools and community organizations. You can learn more about her at
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