More and more research is being conducted every day to understand the biological and emotional impacts of trauma
1. Create an environment of safety. First and foremost, traumatized children need to feel they are physically and emotionally safe. Make your home feel as safe as possible and be sure to create a safe space just for your child within the home. Make sure your child feels safe in his or her child care or school setting as well. To learn more about creating a safe environment, click here.
2. Provide adult support. In the best of circumstances, children need three caring adults in addition to their parents who they can turn to for comfort, attention and support. These adults should be cheerleaders who demonstrate through their involvement that they think the child is terrific. Engage members of your extended family, a neighbor, clergy or school professionals to give your child access to adults they trust … adults they see regularly … adults they can talk to and take comfort from. To learn more about providing adult support, click here.
3. Teach them self-soothing techniques. Traumatized children are constantly experiencing a “fight, flight or freeze” reaction to life, as if every moment is dangerous. So it helps to teach them ways to calm themselves down. First, work with your child to help him or her recognize and describe their feelings. Then give the child alternative ways to deal with these feelings when they happen. Techniques as simple as counting to ten, deep breathing or self-talk can give them relief.
4. Build on their strengths. Traumatized children need to feel they are back in control over their lives and that they can cope and overcome bad events. You can help them achieve this by reinforcing and praising them for their strengths and positive behaviors.
Here are some other concrete ways you can help a child who has experienced trauma:
- Make sure your child continues to socialize by participating in family activities and interacting with other children.
- Monitor the information the child shares with other children as well as what other children are saying to your child. This helps you keep tabs on how well your child is processing the event and also helps you prevent excessive curiosity from other children that may become counterproductive.
- Provide a safe, private place for the child to talk about what happened. For a toddler, that may mean being held in your lap with their favorite stuffed animal. For a teen, that may mean sitting together in his or her bedroom or in the car on the drive home from school.
- Involve child care providers, teachers or any other of your child’s regular caregivers. Don’t try to hide the situation - tell adult caregivers what happened so they can help monitor your child’s behaviors and provide added care and support. They can be your eyes, ears and heart when you’re not there.
- Help the child see himself or herself in a positive light and reinforce a sense of stability and optimism in the world around them.
- Be sensitive to cues that may cause a reaction. For example, if a young child was traumatized by extreme weather, you may need to warn him or her when a storm is approaching. An older child may need help preparing before the anniversary of the original incident.