Trauma is the emotional response to a terrible event. It is a perceived threat to your own physical well being or someone important in your life. It can cause a sense of terror or helplessness, which can overwhelm a child. So how can a parent help a child who is has experienced trauma?
Trauma in Children
Emotional responses are personal. Everyone reacts to events in a different way. What may be a terrible event to one person may not even phase the next person.
Reactions can be immediate, but you can also experience long term symptoms that can affect you in multiple ways.
When children experience trauma, it is difficult for them to express what they are feeling, and to know what they need to feel safe and comfortable.
Children do not have the same coping strategies that adults have and use. This causes very different reactions than adults in similar situations.
Impact of Trauma
More than 2 out of every 3 children have experienced a traumatic event before the age of 16. So what is the impact of trauma on children?
- Inability to trust
- Inability to form secure attachments
- Loss of the sense of safety
- Difficulty with life changes
- Physical reactions that changes the way the brain operates
- Changes in the perception of self
This impact can lead to many changes in behavior. These can include:
- Temper tantrums
- Problem at schools
- Friendship issues
- Changes in eating habits
- Increase in anxiety
- Changes in sleeping patterns
- Attention or Concentration difficulty
- Physical ailments – headaches, stomaches or illness
How a Parent Can Help
Kids need to feel safe. Give reassurance with your words and actions. A listening ear and warm hug are sometimes the most powerful tools to provide this safety.
Children need to understand emotions are normal. It is OK to feel sad, lonely, embarrassed, etc. No one feels “happy” all the time. Negative emotions happen and we need to find ways to cope with these emotions.
TALK ABOUT IT
Knowledge is power. The more you talk about the situation with facts, the more this will help your child to understand what happened and move past it. Let your child ask questions and respond with honesty. Ask them questions and help correct any misinformation.
To seek out more information, children will watch local news or search for information on social media. Parents need to watch what they are reading, and listening to, and limit the information.
KEEP A ROUTINE OR SCHEDULE
Children need predictability as it helps them feel in control. Try to provide a normal routine or schedule. If changes need to happen, talk to them beforehand.
KEEP THEM BUSY
Stay active physically and socially. Stay connected with friends, extended family and other important adult figures.
HELP YOUR CHILDREN FEEL HELPFUL
Give them a purpose, and an outlet for their energy.
HELP YOUR CHILD SEE THEMSELVES IN A POSITIVE LIGHT
Positive affirmations can help reverse negative thinking. Use the positive affirmations resource page to encourage positive thinking.
SELF SOOTHING TECHNIQUES
Your child needs different ways to calm themselves. Check out the “What to Do if You’re Overwhelmed” resource page.
RESPOND, DON’T REACT
Your reaction could be a trigger. Stay patient, use a calm voice, acknowledge feelings, and be reassuring. If they are showing behaviors, teach them acceptable ways to show emotions.
All children react differently to trauma. You can help your child by supporting them and teaching them coping strategies. To learn more, don’t hesitate to reach out. We would be happy to support you.