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Guidelines to Assist Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

A variety of traumatic events can impact the lives of children. There could be an ongoing, everyday occurrence, like being ostracized at school, or the completely unexpected, such as a death in the family. Reactions to trauma are age-related. Younger children are more likely to regress. They may lose speech or the ability to do certain tasks they have already mastered, like toilet-training. Eight to nine year olds become anxious and worried. Teens act out and develop at-risk behaviours, such as self-harm, alcohol or drug abuse.

Carizon Counsellors offer some guidelines to assist children who have experienced trauma.

  • Understand the impact of trauma on your child. Educate yourself about what your child is going through.
  • Recognize that you are your child’s primary support. As adults we turn to family members, friends, colleagues for support. These are networks that kids don’t have. Parents are children’s foremost system of support.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Encourage your child to share thoughts and feelings regarding the trauma.
  • Help your child to label feelings. Children through to their teens have trouble expressing how they feel. Let them know it’s okay to feel sad or angry or mixed up and ask what they need to make it better for them.
  • Communicate what’s happening to significant adults in your child’s life – teachers, group leaders, parents of friends, doctors, counsellors – anyone that is involved with your child. Communication enhances support networks for you and your child.
  • Continue your child’s routine while remaining flexible. Children need to feel the security of routine.
  • Build in supports to help them cope with anxious behaviour. For example, if they are having nighttime disturbances, you may need to get a security object for them to sleep with, or a night light, or to sit with them until they go to sleep.
  • Don’t pretend it never happened. Kids need permission to speak about what happened about how they are feeling and to understand that how they are feeling is normal. If ignored, children will shut down and express what they are harbouring in other ways.
  • Spend more time with your child and continue to go out and have fun.
  • Demonstrate your own coping skills. Usually when a child is exposed to trauma, the family is as well. If a parent is having a difficult time coping, a child will too. The better parents show their ability to cope, the better the children will too. Take care of yourself. Your behaviour will provide your child with a role model to follow.
  • Access all avenues of support. Blend both informal support and formal community support systems. If your child is experiencing difficulty, don’t hesitate to contact a professional counsellor.

How children process and move through a traumatic event depends on what they continue to encounter following the trauma. If they are not supported, they will continue to have feelings of anger, betrayal and mistrust. However, children are very resilient and with support, guidance and patience, they are able to overcome life’s hurdles. Take time to listen to your child, validate their feelings and set a good example for them to follow.