You want to keep your child safe, protect them from every storm and shield them from cruelty. Sadly, this world is filled with hardship, and you may not be able to defend your child from experiencing a traumatic event. Whether from abuse, the loss of a family member, an accident, disease, natural disaster or bullying, your child may undergo trauma. These experiences have a way of searing into your child’s mind and emotions, and you may feel helpless in the wake.
Parenting a child with trauma is not simple. Yet, with better understanding, you can help your child walk through this hardship and find hope. Your comfort, support and reassurance will help your child feel safe so that they can recover in a healthy way.
Signs of Trauma in Children
The trauma caused by a disturbing event can trigger a wide range of intense emotions and physical or behavioral reactions. Age plays a significant role in how your child responds.
PTSD or traumatic stress can lead to a wide range of traumatized child behaviors, including:
- Appetite or sleep issues
- Belief that the world around them is unsafe
- Replaying the event in their mind
- Sudden mood shifts
- Difficulty concentrating
- Behavioral problems
- Fear of strangers
- Jittery or nervous reactions
- Jumpiness from loud noises
- Regression to younger childhood behaviors, such as bed-wetting, clinginess or thumb sucking
- Detachment or withdrawal from others
- Social or functional impairments, such as difficulties learning or playing with friends
- Alcohol or drug use in teens
Parenting a Child Who Has Experienced Trauma
Parenting a child with PTSD or traumatic stress means offering a place of security and comfort. Children react to trauma in different ways, and there is no right or wrong way to feel after a traumatic event. If you’re unsure what to do, here are some general guidelines that may help you when the road ahead gets tough.
1. Rebuild Trust and Safety
Trauma tends to alter the way a child or teen feels about the world. People and places around them may suddenly seem frightening or dangerous. Rebuilding their sense of safety is essential and can be accomplished in simple ways in your everyday life, such as:
- Showing physical affection
- Maintaining routines
- Following through on what you say you’re going to do
- Discouraging your child from obsessively reliving the traumatic event
2. Minimize Media Exposure
Today, it feels like TV, newspapers, streaming videos and social media are filled with bad news and tragedy. If your child consistently sees the worst in the world, they may believe that these events are ongoing. Instead, try to limit their exposure to media so that they can understand that these events are temporary.
3. Engage Your Child
You play a major role in your child’s healing process. The simple acts of talking and spending time together create an environment of safety and trust. It’s very typical for older children and teens not to want to talk about their traumatic experience. However, it’s important for them to open up and discuss what’s happened — even if it’s not with you. Engaging your child could include:
- Telling them that their feelings and thoughts are normal
- Turning off electronics to provide opportunities to talk
- Not pressuring your child into sharing
- Validating your child’s concerns
- Reassuring them
- Encouraging them to confide in another trusted adult, such as a relative, family friend, teacher or spiritual leader
4. Encourage Normal Activities
From physical fitness to hobbies and games, everyday activities will release mood-boosting endorphins and help your child have fun and forget about their anxiety. You might:
- Encourage your child to go outside.
- Schedule a family outing.
- Help them find a team sport they like.
- Urge them to seek out friends.
Know When to Seek Treatment
With time, the events of the trauma your child experienced should begin to fade. However, if you find that anxiety, confusion, guilt and despair interfere with their ability to function, they may need professional help. Treatment is especially important if your child is using alcohol or drugs to cope.
Teenagers are particularly at risk of using substances to numb the intense emotions produced by trauma. If your child is getting drunk or high, it’s time to have a heartfelt conversation about the dangers of substance use. The team at Gateway Foundation offers a teen rehabilitation program that can help your child break free from a life of addiction. Coupled with trauma therapy, our program can help your child discover renewed hope for a better future.
Please contact us today to learn more.