What’s happening

Trauma is an emotional response to an intense event that threatens or causes harm, either physical or emotional. Trauma can occur as a result of a natural disaster (such as an earthquake or flood), violence, or abuse. Seeing violence happen, even if you are not the victim, also may cause trauma.

Trauma can have a lasting effect on the brain development in children. If not addressed, it can lead to trouble with school, relationships, or drugs and alcohol.

What you might be seeing

  • Children’s reactions to traumatic events vary with age, culture, and personality. Some children show the following signs of trauma:
  • Startling easily and having difficulty calming down
  • Behaviors common to younger children ( e.g., thumb sucking, bed wetting, fear of the dark, clinging to caregivers)
  • Tantrums, aggression, or fighting
  • Becoming quiet and withdrawn, wanting to be left alone
  • Wanting to talk about the traumatic event all the time, or denying that it happened
  • Changes in eating or sleeping (sleeping all the time, not sleeping, nightmares)
  • Frequent headaches and stomachaches

What You Can Do

  • Try the following to help your child heal from trauma:
  • Help your child feel safe. Stay calm and keep a regular routine for meals, playtime, and bedtime. Prepare children in advance for any changes or new experiences.
  • Encourage (don’t force) children to talk about their feelings. Tell children it is normal to have many feelings after a trauma. Listen to their stories, take their reactions seriously, correct any misinformation about the traumatic experience, and reassure them that what happened was not their fault.
  • Provide extra attention, comfort, and encouragement. Spending time together as a family may help children feel safe. Younger children may want extra hugs or cuddling. Follow their lead and be patient if they seem needy.
  • Teach children to relax. Encourage them to practice slow breathing, listen to calming music, or say positive things ( “That was scary, but I’m safe now”)
  • Be aware of your own response to trauma. Parents’ history of trauma and feelings about their child’s experience can influence how they cope. Seek support if you need it.
  • Remember that everyone heals differently from trauma. Respecting each child’s own course of recovery is important.
  • Find help when needed. If your child’s problems last more than a few weeks, or if they get worse rather than better, ask for help. Find a mental health professional who knows proven strategies to help children cope with trauma.

Remember: With patience and support, families can heal and recover from trauma.

Acknowledgement: Content adapted from the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Preventions former safe start center (http:/ojjp.gov/programs/progsummary.asp?pi=15)