Helping Your Young Child Feel Safe After a Car Accident

If your child was involved in a car accident, they might have some trouble after it is over, even if they weren't physically injured. Your child might seem more nervous, feel scared around cars, or associate cars with feeling unsafe. They might ask to walk places instead of riding or cry at the idea of driving a long distance in the car. Other signs of trauma might include trouble sleeping or decreased appetite.

You can help your child get past these feelings and fears. Here are some ideas to try. 

1. Seek children's therapy

Car accidents can be traumatic for adults and children alike, but smaller children especially can have a hard time processing the emotions because they do not have the same cognitive development as adults. Children benefit from professional counseling that helps them to process feelings of insecurity and to confront the memories of the car accident. A professional will have the training to meet your child's developmental needs during counseling sessions. 

2. Do what you can to make cars more fun and comfortable.

You can help your child feel safe in the car by doing as much as you can to make the car an inviting place for your child. If they have a stuffed animal or blanket they like, allow it on car rides for the near future. Play calming music on the car stereo, and let your child choose their new car seat since you have to replace it after the car accident. Plan to leave earlier than you need to arrive at your destination so you can take time to let your child gather their courage before getting into the car. 

3. Give praise and no punishment. 

You might find the fear of cars exhausting to deal with as a parent, so it might be tempting to lose your temper with your child or even to withhold privileges or give other punishments for meltdowns about riding in the car. Don't do this. Your child's negative connection to cars will only deepen. Instead, you need to empathize with your child's fear, show that you care about their reactions, and provide ample comfort and support. Encourage bravery and empower your child with words of praise for the times when they get into the car even though they are anxious. 

4. Plan trips to places that make the car ride worthwhile. 

Finally, what could be better than the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow? Plan fun excursions that require the car, such as going to the zoo, to the pool or out for ice cream. These activities with strengthen your bond with your child and help them see that even though the car ride might make them nervous, the prize at the end is worth it.