How trauma can affect your child
Parenting a child or youth who has been through trauma can be difficult. Children express their discomfort in ways that may be confusing or distressing for caregivers, such as anger outbursts, aggressiveness, withdrawal from play or peer interactions, difficulties at school. These behaviors can impact the long-term health and well-being of your child and your whole family. Understanding, care, and proper treatment (when necessary), can help the recovery process.
How to support your traumatized child
- Get informed about child’s trauma. By knowing possible reactions to trauma, you can understand the routes of your child’s behavior, which can help you better cope with it.
- Identify trauma triggers. Pay attention to which behaviors, situations or stimuli may trigger stress reactions in your child. That will help you identify and minimize/avoid such triggers, at least until healing has occurred.
- Be available, both physically and emotionally by providing attention, comfort and encouragement but also giving space when needed. Spending time together playing and/or cuddling-if the child enjoys it- can be helpful.
- Respond, do not react. When your child is upset, try not to over-react, as that may increase his/her level of stress. Instead, do what you can to keep calm: lower your voice, acknowledge your child’s feelings, and be reassuring.
- Avoid physical punishment. Traumatized children may be more vulnerable to negative physical stimulations, which may increase their level of stress, insecurity and discomfort. Try to find other ways to discipline them.
- Do not take your child’ behaviors personally. Allow the child to express his/her feelings without judgment, keeping in mind that his reactions are the result of a sense of discomfort and not intentionally against you. Help him/her find words and other acceptable ways of communicating feelings.
- Listen & support. Don’t avoid difficult topics or uncomfortable conversations, but don’t force children to talk before they are ready. Pay full attention when interacting. Let your child know that it’s normal to have many feelings after a traumatic experience and help him/her name emotions. Take his/her reactions seriously, correct any misinformation about the traumatic event, and reassure them that what happened was not their fault.
- Help your child learn to relax. Practice together techniques to identify stress and release it, such as slow breathing and muscles relaxation. Sports, walks and blowing soap bubbles can help relax too.
- Be consistent and predictable. Develop a predictable routine for meals, play time and bed. Prepare your child in advance for changes or new experiences. Routines can be very comforting and may help your child feel safe and in control.
- Be patient. Recovery from trauma differs from child to child, and it may take time. Try to set realistic expectations and allow the necessary time for healing.
- Allow some control. Trauma is an experience characterized by loss of control and helplessness. By giving your child opportunities to be in control, such as small daily life choices, you can help him/her feel empowered.
- Encourage self-esteem. Positive experiences can help children recover from trauma and increase resilience. Engaging children in rewarding activities such as learning a new skill, participating in sports or group activities, or supporting others, can help them feel more confident.
- Do not blame yourself. It is natural to feel responsible for the wellbeing/health of your child. Nonetheless, this is not all your fault. No parent is perfect and at times is not possible to control everything or to fix the effect of painful experiences. Your child’s struggles are a result of the trauma he or she experienced; they are not a sign of your failure as a parent.
- Take care of yourself. Being a parent is an extremely demanding job, even more so when your child has been affected by traumatic experiences. Furthermore, learning about what your child experienced can help you support him/her, but it may even act as a trigger for you, if you have your own trauma history that is not fully healed. In order to best help your child, do not ever forget to take care of yourself too. Eat well, try and get enough sleep, take time for activities you enjoy.
- Seek for support. You cannot do it all alone. Ask for the support of family, friends and community members who may have similar experiences and may be of help. In some cases, formal support from specialized service providers or professionals may be necessary.
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