Supporting Kids After Trauma
Parents want nothing more than to protect their children from harm. However, far too often, children experience events that cause them to fear for their safety and damage their feelings of trust in others. The aftermath of these events can leave caregivers feeling heartbroken and bewildered about the changes they see in their child. It’s very normal for parents to struggle with how best to help their child during this time.
Trauma is understood by mental health professionals as an event or experience which threatens the life or safety of a person, or someone that they know and love, and which overwhelms their ability to cope with the stress. Some examples of trauma include car accidents, family member illness or death, violence in the home or community, mistreatment, and significant family changes.
Here are some ways that you can support the children in your life:
1. Remind children they are safe and loved.
Make time for soothing, relaxing activities to connect with your child and help them to relax their body and mind.
2. Maintain routine
Try your best to continue any routines that your child had before the trauma or create new rituals and routines. Routines help your child feel that their world is safe and predictable.
3. Listen when your child would like to share with you.
One of the most important things that a caregiver can do is be a safe person for the child to share the experience of the event with. Oftentimes, caregivers shut down their child's attempts to share their experiences because it makes us uncomfortable to hear it. Don’t push the child to share more than they are ready to but let them know you’re there to listen and when they’re ready, listen closely and validate their feelings. If you need support, reach out to a close friend, trusted family member, or even a therapist to receive your own help for the feelings that will come up.
4. Maintain your calm in front of your children
Knowing that your child is hurting is deeply upsetting for many caregivers; however, your child needs to know that you can help them carry their big feelings. Think of trusted and supportive people in your life that can help you with your own emotions about the trauma- a partner, family member, or close friend. Its ok to reach out for professional support for yourself while supporting your child through their trauma.
5. Validate their emotions, even if their behavior leaves something to be desired
Trauma can change the way a child behaves, sometimes in major and confusing ways. When children misbehave, they are communicating with you. Take a moment to identify and name out loud the emotion that your child is communicating before correcting their behavior. Therapy can help you and your child find ways to problem-solve around unhelpful new behaviors after a trauma.
Although recovering from trauma can be difficult and exhausting for a family, recovery is possible with patience, love, and support. So many children are resilient and cope with these events well with the help of safe, supportive caregivers. Seeking professional help can help you and your child weather this time as well. Support is here for you and your family!