Updated: Jan 18, 2021
Childhood trauma can occur when violent or dangerous event overwhelms a child’s or adolescent’s ability to cope. Often people may think "(S)he was so young, they won't remember anything!", however this is not always true. Hence seeking professional help will be important, even if the child is resilient, to ensure the impact of trauma does not carry forward into adulthood.
Traumatic events may include:
Neglect and psychological, physical, or sexual abuse
Natural disasters, terrorism, and community and school violence
Witnessing or experiencing intimate partner violence
Commercial sexual exploitation
Serious accidents, life-threatening illness, or sudden or violent loss of a loved one
Refugee and war experiences
Military family-related stressors, such as parental deployment, loss, or injury
Trauma can be the result of a single event such as a natural disaster or loss or repeated instances such as physical or sexual abuse.
Signs of Trauma
The signs of trauma will vary depending on the age of the child, type of trauma experienced and can be very specific to the individual. The symptoms may continue for days, weeks, or months following the traumatic event. They can also have a delayed appearance; presenting themselves days or weeks after the event. It is usually advised to keep a close eye on your child's appearance and behaviour following a traumatic event to identify any uncharacteristic behaviour. However a few common warning signs are given below:
Source: Northwestern University
What can you do a parent/Caregiver?
Parents play an essential role in helping children and teenagers recover from traumatic events. The more caregivers learn about how traumatic events affect their children , the more they understand the reasons for their children’s behaviors and emotions, and the better prepared they are to help them cope. When children know that caring adults are working to keep them safe and support them in understanding their reactions to trauma, most can recover and go on to live healthy and productive lives.
Trauma can be easily understood by Three E's:
Event: As a parent, you need to consider if any event took place in your child's life that would cause an adverse reaction (loss of loved one, neglect, abuse, etc.)
Experience: As a parent, reflect on how the experience would have affected them. How do they feel about the event? Do they have any of the behaviours mentioned above? Do they view the world, others or themselves differently?
Effect: As a parent, you need to consider whether your child has changed after the event and in what ways? Does your child exhibit any of the behaviours listed above, or have you noticed any other changes?
Strategies to help your child after a Traumatic Event
Teach your kids to consider the following options when they are feeling upset or need to be calmed down:
Talk about problems with a friend or trusted adult
Hang out with friends
Listen to their favourite music
Ask a trusted adult or a friend for a hug
Do some exercise with a friend or family member (running, dancing to music, riding my bike, going for a walk)
Make something by drawing, painting, sewing, knitting or cooking
Have a warm bath
Do a quick relaxation exercise
Write in their diary
Use positive self-talk
Positive self-talk can help your child to focus less on the unhelpful thoughts that bring about bad feelings. You can teach your child to use positive self-talk when they are thinking about something horrible that happened, or are worried that something awful might happen.
For example, teach them to remind themselves that:
I am safe now.
I was strong to survive that.
I have people who can help me.
I have done a lot of things well before - I’m sure I can again!
1. Sit in a chair or lie on the floor
2. Take a breath in through your nose and count to 3 and imagine a soothing colour
3. Breathe out through your mouth and say the word ‘calm’ to yourself
4. Repeat this 10 times
Or use the following guided video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3Aol2CCsdo
1. Get your child to imagine a calm and happy place
2. Tell themself to share what they can see, hear, smell and feel in this happy place
3. Get them to practice calm breathing whilst picturing their happy place
1. Get your child to hold their arms above their head and hold the stretch – they will feel the tension in their arms – now drop their arms down by their side and feel them relax.
2. Teach them to practice tensing and then relaxing muscles in their hands, legs, face, and stomach, and wherever else they feel stress.
Visit https://childmind.org/guide/helping-children-cope-traumatic-event/ for further information on what to do for your child depending on their age.
In most cases, the parents presence, understanding, love and support will be sufficient to support a child through a traumatic experience but you will also know if your child needs professional help. In which case it is essential you seek help as soon as possible.
Disclaimer: The following information is not a suitable replacement for therapy or professional help. Mental health is very complex and there are various individual differences due to circumstances, genetics and life experience. All information published has been generalised and done in good faith. However, we will not be liable for any actions taken as a result of this website/post. If you are facing mental health concerns, it is important you reach out to a professional. You may also contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for further support.