Helping traumatised children cope with their distressing experience is something a lot of parents struggle with.
What makes it so difficult to deal with is that as parents we are hurting too to see our children in living through moments of emotional and at times physical pain and hurt.
We want nothing more than to take that pain away from them and restore their world to a one that they knew before or at the very least to one that they can live in once again with a sense of robust security.
What makes it difficult too is that some of your child’s reactions can be very trying on your own being – the clinginess, the whining and the temper tantrums for instance, as they try and deal with their confusing emotions.
The good news is that most child trauma can be dealt with symptoms alleviated in time when all is handled properly.
So I’ve put together a list of things that you can do in helping children cope with trauma:
- Let your child know as often as possible that they are not alone with their terror and grief. You can say this to them directly and/or you can show them by attentively listening to them when they want to talk about it. Acknowledge the fears or other emotions that they are having and demonstrating. There’s a simple “trick” to this. You know your child best. You are the expert of them. When you notice that you’re child is being defiant, which you realise is not like them, instead of focusing on that particular incident that is occurring, look at the bigger picture. What happened just before this behaviour started? What was said? What did they see? Have they been having restless nights and may hence be tired? Looking at the bigger picture helps you and your child understand and cope better with what is going on at that particular time.
- If you can, do share stories of other children or people they know or not, who have been through similar experiences. If you yourself, have been through something similar, don’t hesitate to let them know. You don’t have to go into the graphic details because all your child may want to know at this point is how you coped and that you came out of it alright. Books are another source of comfort for both the little ones and older children.
- Provide them with the opportunity to express their deepest fears, sadness and any other emotion they may be having. This could be done with a professional or you could do it too or both. The thing with using a professional is that they will know which questions to ask next or how to handle the details that stick in the mind of your child, those details that can act as triggers to flashbacks. Providing them with the opportunity to express their emotions may mean comforting them when an “irrational” fear paralyses them or a temper tantrum is getting out of hand. Always remember to acknowledge their emotions verbally. “I can see just how hard this is for you.” I understand that you are full of fear right now and want to just take it away from you so you can be better again.”
- Once you know more about how your child is coping or not with the trauma and you, as the parent, understand that his/her reactions are absolutely normal for what has happened, then do let you child know that their reactions and changes in their behaviour is normal. Normalisation is a very powerful way of easing one’s confusion and worry. They get to understand that they are not going mad. They are doing and reacting just like anyone else would.
By doing the above you will be slowly bringing back security and normalcy to your child’s otherwise distorted world.
The most important thing is that he or she is given a place to voice their journey, their experience, a place where he/she can make someone else a witness to their experience that way they don’t have to be alone in that world.
The more they talk about it, the more they process it. The more they process it the more they get to put it in the past where it belongs.