Children don’t always know that they are having a traumatic experience
They just know they are terribly scared or overwhelmed from some event. An infant or toddler may not be able to put any words to the experience and a middle schooler or teen may be too frightened to try. That’s why you have to make it a habit to Look Through Their Eyes.
How do you do this?
- Keep a watchful eye out for changes in your child’s behaviors. Pay attention if you see them behaving in a way that is not normal for them. A normally quiet child may start acting out or crying a lot. Or a normally talkative child may become silent and withdrawn. Look for changes in the way they socialize with other children or interact with adults as well. While not every change may signal trauma, behavior changes are often the first signs of a problem after a traumatic event.
- Open the door for your child to talk to you about anything that might be making him or her uncomfortable. In a safe and familiar environment, ask your child if something unusual has happened. For young children, this might best be done while they are doing something else familiar and comfortable, such as coloring or playing with a doll. For a teenager, choose an environment in which they are most at ease. Pose the question in a safe, undistracted environment and give the conversation your full attention.
- Children are more likely to be able to describe an event as they saw it than to explain their reactions and feelings. So give them some guidance by asking questions that help them describe the event first. Then ask them to explain how they felt about the event while it was happening and how they feel about it now.
- Don’t try to label what they are telling you or place any judgments on it. Just listen, watch and give them sympathetic feedback, like nodding your head. Sometimes a child’s body language is more expressive than his or her words.
- Children may need more than one time to feel safe and courageous enough to respond to your question. Don’t press them if they aren’t ready to talk. Just continue giving them openings to talk about whatever is troubling them.
- No matter what your child tells you, stay calm. Let the child know that they are safe with you. Let them know you love them and reinforce that it is not their fault. Let them know you’re on their side and that you’ll help them deal with whatever they are facing.