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Children and adolescents' self-reported coping strategies during the Southeast Asian Tsunami

Authors


Correspondence should be addressed to Tine K. Jensen, Norwegian Centre for Violence and Traumatic Stress Studies, Kirkeveien 166, Oslo 0407, Norway (e-mail:t.k.jensen@nkvts.unirand.no).

Abstract

Objective

The objective of this study was to investigate how Norwegian children on holiday in Southeast Asia coped when the tsunami hit December 26, 2004. The goal is to understand more about children and adolescents' immediate coping strategies when faced with a life-threatening situation. Acquiring more knowledge on coping strategies at different points in the recovery process can be useful for gaining insight to the relationship between coping and psychological adjustment.

Methods

Semi-structured interviews of 56 children aged 6–18 years (36 girls and 20 boys) were conducted in their homes approximately 10 months after the tsunami. The interviews were analysed using qualitative methods.

Results

Two primary coping strategies were described and labelled as self-soothing thoughts and behavioural strategies. Self-soothing thoughts were divided into five categories: positive thinking; avoidant thinking; rational thoughts; and thoughts on parental competencies and parental protection. Behavioural strategies were divided into six categories: attachment seeking behaviour; distraction behaviour; helping others; seeking information and comfort; and talking.

Conclusions

The children's coping responses point to the developmental aspects of coping and how children are dependent upon adults for guidance and protection. In addition, very few youth reported using problem-focused coping strategies that are normally thought of as helpful in the aftermath of trauma, whereas strategies often thought of as not so helpful such as distraction and avoidance, was more predominant. It may be that helpful immediate coping strategies are different from long-term coping strategies, and that coping strategies differ according to the degree of perceived control of the situation.

Practitioner Points

  • Assessing peri-trauma coping responses can be important for understanding post-trauma functioning.
  • Important peri-trauma responses can be discovered by asking the youth to narrate their traumatic experience.
  • Helpful peri-trauma coping responses may be very different from post-trauma coping responses and clinicians should recognize this.
  • First responders should seek to reunite youth with carers as soon as possible after a traumatizing experience.

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