By: Munther A. Barakat, PSYD, Aurora Health Care
Unfortunately, some degree of trauma is a fact of life for many kids these days. The media is full of stories that can cause children to become anxious, stressed or fearful: shootings, school violence, natural disasters, and conflicts abroad. Closer to home, some kids face physical, verbal or sexual abuse, neglect and maltreatment or even long separations from parents serving overseas.
All these events can trigger childhood trauma. Or even post-traumatic stress reactions, which can range from mild to severe. How can you help your child deal with traumatic events?
Tips To Help Kids Cope
Reaction to trauma can overwhelm your child’s ability to cope. Here are suggestions for minimizing the impact of post-traumatic stress reactions:
- Watch for signs of stress, fear, or anxiety. There are signs when children are experiencing anxiety, abuse, or neglect. Be vigilant and listen carefully. Take what your child says seriously.
- Provide early intervention. As a family, offer support, understanding, and a sense of safety as close to the time of the traumatic event as possible to limit the effects of trauma on your child.
- Keep normal routines. Kids gain security from the predictability of routine so try to keep your child’s normal schedule.
- Limit the amount of time spent watching the news. Constant exposure – especially to disturbing visual images – may actually heighten your child’s anxiety and fears.
- Ask questions. You may be able to shield your kids from a traumatic event, but they are likely to hear about it from peers, social media or news, and television. Not everything they’re told, however, may be accurate. Ask gently to find out what your child has heard.
- Talk about the events. To the level your child is developmentally able to handle it, talk about the events. Avoiding discussions can make the event even more threatening.
- Assure and comfort. Reassure your children that they are safe and so are their schools. Remind them you love them and are protecting them.
- Seek expert help. Consult a child and adolescent psychiatrist or other mental health professional for evaluation and treatment if behaviors are severe.
Take Trauma Seriously
Kids who are exposed repeatedly to traumatic events are at greater risk for problems in adulthood. They are more apt to suffer from depression, alcoholism, drug abuse, suicide attempts, heart and liver diseases, pregnancy problems, high stress, uncontrollable anger, and family, financial, and job problems.
As parents, we can’t shield our kids from all the evils in the world. But we can help them have a happy childhood by taking childhood psychic trauma seriously, being there for our kids, and getting professional help if needed.