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- Becoming quiet and withdrawn, wanting to be left alone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)