Are you a first responder or shift worker?
You probably know that as a practice we have a special interest in first responders and helping to destigmatize a culture of silence that exists among these populations. It needs to be ok for those who witness trauma on a daily basis to have a safe place to talk freely and openly about their experiences.
It's crucial that the impact on them and their families is addressed and supported.
Many first responders have families and I was recently asked, how are children impacted by their parent’s career choice as first responders? I explained that these roles can have many impacts on children and families, both positive and negative, due to factors like shift work, their parent being home less, missing important milestones, missing bedtimes, holidays, weekends, and sporting events.
When children are young the schedule is often difficult for them to predict and understand; my own kids often ask me “Will Daddy be home tonight?”.
To make matters more challenging, if a parent is suffering from PTSD or other symptoms as a result of their job, such as irritability, hypervigilance, depression, difficulty sleeping, etc. children notice and sometimes start to show similar signs.
Children are vulnerable to these situations in their home as they have yet to learn how to manage their own emotions. They struggle with putting their thoughts and feelings into words. Children soak up tension in their environment. They learn from their parents how to cope with stress and trauma so it’s important parents have a healthy way to manage their symptoms. I meet kids who worry about their first responder parents and have anxiety about them remaining safe at work.
As a result of this, we often help first responders learn how to talk to their children about their jobs and learn how to validate their children’s worries and concerns, which helps them manage their anxiety.
We discuss how to explain to children what you do, why you do it and encourage them to ask questions. It's important to reassure your children that their thoughts and feelings are normal. You don’t need to have all the answers for your children, there is a certain degree of unpredictability both adults and children need to learn to cope with. A safe dialogue where questions and concerns can be raised and addressed is the most important thing.
Kids of first responders see their parents working hard every single day not because they have to but because they want to. They see an incredible example of strength and commitment to others and often view their parent as an unbreakable superhero.
For this reason, it's so important that first responder parents share with their children some of their own difficult emotions and allow themselves to be real and vulnerable within the safety of their own family, to model for their children healthy emotional coping and to show them that everybody needs support no matter how strong they appear.
These men and women give up their time and personal safety to help others. They are role models for their children and give them an amazing sense of empathy and selflessness, which is one of the best gifts you can give your children.