Seven Ways to Help Children Cope with Trauma

child cope trauma

1. Know That Traumas Are Horrible but You Aren’t.

When there is a public trauma, there’s lots of drama. News and social media show the drama in living color with a hysteria that can add to false ideas. False ideas about yourself, your family, and your children.

In 2017, we had storms, fires, floods, and shootings. There were local and private traumas. We had the #MeToo movement with people revealing horrific abuses by authority figures.

With all the drama that surrounds our public presentation of traumatic experiences, it’s easy for people to assume that you, your family, and your children will be damaged forever by this experience. That you will wear the trauma on your being like a suit of clothes. That’s not true.

These are awful experiences! But you are not awful and you don’t have to wear the trauma. You don’t have to take it into you and make it the center of your life. Or your child’s life.

2. Adopt Resilient Behaviors and Help Your Child Do the Same.

Resilience means you bounce back, adapt or adjust to whatever comes. You can nurture resilience in your child.

Many people say something like “I can’t do that! I’m not strong enough.” They think people who overcome the worst tragedies are different from them. But that’s not true.

It’s a myth that overcomers have special qualities. They’re not special. And they don’t have unique qualities.

They are just like you or me.

What they do is also ordinary. You see these behaviors every day. People create social support systems that meet their basic emotional and physical needs. Resilient people develop habits that allow them to roll with the punches and come out on top.

Children become resilient when they connect to adults who care for them, listen to them, teach them to manage difficult feelings, and love them.

3. A Trauma Doesn’t Have to Cause PTSD

People assume that because you’ve had a horrific experience, the trauma damages you. They believe you are tainted, or forever marked by the experience. I wrote about adult trauma in my article, Trauma-Informed Living.

Your child doesn’t have to be damaged either. It’s a big experience. And it requires a great deal out of everyone. But it doesn’t have to ruin the rest of your life or the life of your child.

4. Yes, This Is Difficult and Painful for You.

Parents who tend to their children in a trauma or tragedy work twice as hard.  duty. You have so many pressing life problems to solve. Then you have to tend to your own painful feelings. You turn around and see your child’s feelings. Their feelings make you more aware of your own. Your child needs your help.

Try to accept that it’s natural for your child’s feelings to be uncomfortable to you. Know that your children’s play may upset you. It can and probably will remind you of your experiences in the hurricane.

Your child may lose newly developed skills. For example, if your toddler was toilet trained, they might need diapers again. This needs patience.

Their skills will come back. They can and will overcome the trauma. They will grow and progress in life.

One of the most difficult things to do is to allow your child the space to explore their own unique return to normal. To try new or old behavior and experiences. Try to offer support without overprotection or restriction.

5. Children Express Themselves Through Art and Play.

It is normal for a child to create games, pictures, and stories about their experiences. Be prepared to talk to your child about trauma. There are inexpensive books you can read to them, games you can play, and artwork you can do together.

If you have no books or electricity, you can make up stories. Just make sure that the endings of each story carry a positive message of everyone survives and thrives. Try to include feelings they have and how they managed those feelings. Also, consider stories that show how children solved their problems.

It might take creativity to discover art materials during a natural disaster. Art materials are all around you. Some people work their art with “found materials.” Found materials include anything in the world around you. Leaves, rocks, grass, sticks, beads, and even water can be a vehicle for art.

The art doesn’t have to be permanent. You don’t need glue, paper or pencils. Found objects can create a story on the floor of a shelter for you and your child to talk about. Then your child can keep the objects or throw them away.

All these activities will help you communicate with your child.

6. Children Need to Feel Safe in the World Again.

This, too, can be difficult for you. Any traumatic experience seems to take away your safety. Traumas are unpredictable and uncontrollable. Here, too, you are doing double duty. You will need to seek a way to think about how to feel safe again yourself. You’ll find your own solution to this as your work out your feelings.

Your child is working on the same issues. They could become clingy, refuse to let you out of their sight, or have trouble sleeping. They might cry a lot.

One way to help your child is to reassure them you’re still present. Make specific time for this. They need to know that you are still you. You love them every bit as much as you always did.

Point out all the things that are going right in your lives. You might have to stretch yourself to do this. But everyone has some good things at any point in time.

7. Children Need Emotion Skills.

You can help them learn to soothe themselves when agitated, angry or afraid. Ongoing conversations with your child about the trauma and all the life problems can help them learn from you. Use the language of emotion. Naming your emotions and theirs teaches your child the words they need for themselves.

By your actions, you can teach self-soothing, problem-solving, and coping strategies. With interaction, you can teach your child the names of their feelings and all of the skills they need to master what they have experienced. This gives them a greater sense of control over those out-of-control feelings and their lives.

Within the chaos of the event aftermath, create a specific time and space to communicate about it and their feelings. Talk to them about it and make sure you hear them. This leaves a child more grounded and centered. It’s the same for adults. Everyone needs to be heard. It’s one of the greatest needs humans have.

Find a way for your child to express their feelings that fits the circumstances around them. Help them learn to cope with those feelings. Lead them in solving the problems that bring out those feelings.

There are many books about subjects like this. This is a short article summarizing a few ideas.

You can view the references I used to write this here.

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©2016-18 by Laura Coleman, Ph.D.  All rights reserved.

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