Children and Trauma
Children do not always have the words or ability to convey how they are feeling or reacting to a traumatic event. They may “regress” to behave more like a younger child with bedwetting, nightmares and fears of the dark or of being left alone.
Adolescent children may display their distress through aggression, truanting, delinquent acts or social / family withdrawal. Understanding such behaviour as a response to the trauma is important.
How to help your child after a traumatic event:
- Recognise that changes in your child are symptoms of distress not naughtiness. If they are hitting out at life, don’t take it personally
- Reassure your child that you are still there for them. If they have irrational fears, treat them seriously as, to the child, they are real. After a traumatic event, the world can feel suddenly very unsafe to a child and it takes time to rebuild their confidence.
- Be honest and keep any promises you make. Rebuilding a sense of trust in the world is an important task following trauma and your child needs consistency and stability
- Explain what facts you know about the traumatic event, as many times as your child needs, and don’t try to disguise or hide the truth. Children are very perceptive and if they don’t trust what you are saying then this will add to their sense of chaos. Use language and detail that is age-appropriate.
- Encourage your child to talk when they are ready but also allow fun and normal activities. Children often compartmentalize difficult emotions, dipping in and out, and need the structure of normal life to help contain this. For this reason, school can be helpful but ensure that the school pastoral team is aware of the situation. They need to understand in case of distress or challenging behaviour in school so that they can respond appropriately
- Cuddles, reassurance and soothing activities go a long way for young children
- Listening (proper listening) goes a long way with adolescents
- If your child is expressing their thoughts and emotions through pictures or play, don’t discourage this but help them to put words to it.
- Any risk-taking behaviour or suicidal talk should be taken seriously, even instances of younger children talking about joining a loved one in heaven. The permanence of death is a difficult concept for children to grasp. Seek help from your doctor, school or a mental health professional who is experienced with children and families in such instances or if things are overwhelming or you don’t feel as though things are improving.
For more information on trauma, please check out the following link.