Trauma can affect the well-being and development of children and adolescents. As a caregiver, you can implement supportive strategies to help them heal.
If you care for a child who has experienced trauma, it can be challenging to know how to support them. In addition, they may deal with overwhelming emotions that leave you at a loss.
It may be hard for you to watch their reactions to the trauma they have experienced. You may even experience guilt over damage done to your child or anxiety about how to help them move forward. These emotions aren’t uncommon.
You aren’t alone if you don’t know how to help a child overcome trauma. You can take some actionable steps to help them find the support they need.
How you respond after a child has faced a traumatic event can significantly affect how they cope with it. Allowing them space to deal with their emotions healthily may help them manage daily tasks better.
Some children may even develop post-traumatic stress disorder. It may be tempting to avoid talking about trauma or protect your children from the world. But
Responding in a supportive rather than dismissive way can significantly impact your kid’s overall mental health.
Traumatic events can affect children and adolescents of all ages. When a child is exposed to a traumatic event or multiple traumatic events, you may notice these symptoms of PTSD:
- acting out
- expressing strong emotions
- difficulty expressing emotions
- trouble concentrating at school
- poor school performance
- intrusive memories or flashbacks
- low self-esteem
- substance use
Being patient with your child while still setting household expectations may be an excellent way to help your child deal with the symptoms associated with trauma.
First and foremost, you want to provide children with a sense of safety to help them heal. How you help your child recover from a traumatic event is dependent on your child’s age and developmental level.
At this age, infants form attachments with their caregivers. Developmentally this is one of the most critical periods in a child’s life for developing attachments. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report on child maltreatment outlines high rates of trauma through abuse and maltreatment in babies and toddlers.
If you’re a caregiver or work with little ones, some suggested strategies from older 2007 research include:
- establishing safety with household items and keeping dangerous items out of reach from children
- providing soothing for the infant when they’re in distress
- limiting sensory input that may be overwhelming
- ensuring their basic needs are being met
Helping children with traumatic experiences at very early ages in their life can be challenging, but safety and providing for their basic needs is of utmost importance.
Toddlers and little kids also have a high rate of traumatic experiences. At this age, children begin to become more verbal and expressive.
- modeling healthy coping strategies
- allowing kids to process their emotions
- helping children increase social support
- ensure basic needs are being met
- allowing kids to draw or use creative outlets to express emotions
- allow children to play games that help them have an outlet for voicing narratives related to trauma
The study also indicates that parents or caregivers who model healthy coping behavior and help children find ways to cope with trauma healthily are less likely to develop PTSD.
Elementary aged-children who experience trauma may have difficulty in school and develop post-traumatic stress symptoms.
- being supportive and allowing children room to express feelings
- validating your child’s feelings
- being aware of your child’s responses and avoiding triggers that could re-traumatize the child
- acknowledging and praising your child when they express complex emotions
- sticking to daily routines
- ensuring their basic needs are being met
Remember your response as a caregiver can help your child cope and heal from traumatic events.
Researchers indicate that over half of adolescents ages 12–18 have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience, which can add to more stress and mental health problems among adolescent youth.
Adverse childhood experiences include:
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- emotional abuse
- separation or divorce of parents
- being exposed to domestic violence in the household
- a family member in the home with substance use problems
- a family member in the house with a mental health condition
- incarceration of a household member
- being raised by someone other than a biological parent
Parenting or being a caregiver to a teenager can be tricky, as this is often when adolescents try to establish a level of independence and develop their own interests. It can become even more challenging when trauma is involved.
Strategies that may help assist a teenager in coping with trauma
- Maintaining open communication with your teenager about the traumatic event(s)
- Allowing your teen to express emotions
- Helping provide them with support at school, home, and other places
- Letting your teenager have ownership over pieces of their life that are developmentally appropriate
- If necessary and with your kid’s knowledge, communicate with your teen’s teachers and guidance counselors about the trauma they’re experiencing to provide them with additional support
- Allowing your teen to seek professional support
- Allowing them to spend time with peers they trust
Children of all ages may need additional support to help them deal with a traumatic event or PTSD.
Seeking the help of a mental health professional such as a licensed therapist can provide your child or adolescent with even more tools to help them cope. It can also help you and other family members learn tools to help your child.
Finding a psychotherapist who provides evidence-based trauma treatment can be helpful.
- prolonged exposure (PE)
- cognitive processing therapy (CPT)
- trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy (TF-CBT)
You may consider finding a therapist who’s trained in these modalities.
Children and adolescents often experience traumatic events. These events can cause mental health problems and potentially lead to PTSD development.
Strategies to help your kid heal depend on your child’s age and developmental level. Support and safety are essential to help your child process their experiences.
For more information about helping your child cope with trauma, consider these resources:
- The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- Look Through Their Eyes
- The National Center on Substance Abuse and Child Welfare
If you need additional information on finding a therapist for your child, you can use this FindCare tool to find a therapist near you. You may also consider finding a therapist for yourself to help you manage your own emotions regarding your child’s trauma.