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5 Tips to Help Your Child Cope with Traumatic Events

help your child cope with trauma

In December of 2021, after months of the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting upheaval to the daily life of the youth of this country, the Surgeon General released an advisory about mental health and today’s youth. 

In the advisory, Dr. Murthy warned that the mental health challenges of today’s children and teens are widespread, creating a true crisis.

One out of every five children ages three to 17 in the United States currently has a related disorder.

These are sobering statistics that should make parents take notice. If you have a teenager at home, chances are they are among those who are struggling, at least somewhat, with all of the changes and traumatic events of the past year, your children need a safe place to land. 

Here is a closer look at how children and their families can process these traumatic experiences in a healthy and supportive way.

Recent Traumatic Events Increasing the Risk for Young People

Before discussing how to help children deal with the stress of a traumatic event, even a natural one, first, look at what events could be causing some of the trauma today’s kids are facing.

The biggest trigger for trauma in 2021 was the ongoing pandemic. COVID-19 left many children’s daily lives in disarray as they wondered week to week what would be happening with school and whether or not their favorite activities would move forward or be canceled.

Not only is the pandemic in play, but recent months have brought several major tragedies to the United States:

  • In early December, a tornado tore a path through five states killing over 90 people.
  • Throughout the late summer and fall, wildfires blazed across the western part of the country, killing many people and causing billions of dollars of property damage.
  • During hurricane season, Florida, Louisiana and Texas were all hit hard.
  • Just this month, images of the deadliest fire in New York City in a generation hit the web.

These may be natural events, but they can be traumatic for children impacted by them or reading about them on the news. Teaching your children how to process them and the feelings they bring up is a great way to help limit the impact of that trauma on your kids.

1. Let Your Children Talk About Their Feelings

help child cope with trauma - talk about feelings

When a tragic event occurs, like the recent tornados, you can shield your children from the information. While this might work for very young children, older children and teens will find out eventually. Therefore, it is better to be candid and give your children a safe place to process and talk about their feelings.

help child cope with trauma - talk about feelings

When a tragic event occurs, like the recent tornados, you can shield your children from the information. 

You can teach your children coping with traumatic events by modeling the ability to talk about you. Remember that sometimes feelings can be a bit ugly and raw, but they are never wrong. You can provide the right support and help if you know those feelings.

Often, being able to talk about feelings when something initially occurs and then having that open door of communication as the child continues to process the event is all that is necessary to prevent the event from being truly traumatic, especially if the child did not directly observe it.

While this might work for very young children, older children and teens will find out eventually. Therefore, it is better to be candid and give your children a safe place to process and talk about their feelings.

You can teach your children coping with traumatic events by modeling the ability to talk about you. Remember that sometimes feelings can be a bit ugly and raw, but they are never wrong. You can provide the right support and help if you know those feelings.

Often, being able to talk about feelings when something initially occurs and then having that open door of communication as the child continues to process the event is all that is necessary to prevent the event from being truly traumatic, especially if the child did not directly observe it.

Sometimes feelings can be a bit ugly and raw. But they are never wrong. Your child is feeling them and they need your help to make them feel better. They deserve to be heard. Feelings are never wrong! -- #parentingsupport #TeenTrauma #trauma #mentalhealth #youthmentalhealth

2. Learn to Spot Signs of Stress in Children and Teens

Spot Signs of Stress in Children and Teens

In addition to teaching your children how to cope with traumatic events, you must also learn to spot signs of stress in children. Most of the time, children, and even teens can’t express their stressful state clearly, but they will show their stress through behavior.

Spot Signs of Stress in Children and Teens

In addition to teaching your children how to cope with traumatic events, you must also learn to spot signs of stress in children

Most of the time, children and teens can’t express their stressful state clearly, but they will show their stress through behavior.

A child who is feeling stressed may start worrying more about seemingly small things, or they may have nightmares or an inability to relax. You may notice that your child is not sleeping, is struggling with an upset stomach, or has started wetting the bed. 

A child who gets suddenly clingy or who stops wanting to participate in their extracurricular activities may be struggling with stress and trauma. In some children, the effect of stress is anger and aggression, rather than retreating and clinging. 

While these things can all occur for various reasons, if you’re starting to see a pattern, then it’s likely because of stress in some form.

When you notice signs of stress in your child, try to pen up some conversation. Ask open-ended questions that may get them to share their experience or feelings.

If you know of a recent tragic event, weave that into the conversation to see if it is the source of the stress. It may take a few conversations before your child is willing to open up fully, so keep talking until you find the root of the problem.

 

A child feeling stressed may start worrying more about seemingly small things, or they may have nightmares or an inability to relax. You may notice that your child is not sleeping, is struggling with an upset stomach, or has started wetting the bed.

A child who gets suddenly clingy or who stops wanting to participate in their extracurricular activities may be struggling with stress and trauma.

In some children, the effect of stress is anger and aggression, rather than retreating and clinging. While these things can all occur for various reasons, if you’re starting to see a pattern, then it’s likely because of stress in some form.

When you notice signs of stress in your child, try to pen up some conversation. Ask open-ended questions that may get them to share their experience or feelings.

If you know of a recent tragic event, weave that into the conversation to see if it is the source of the stress. It may take a few conversations before your child is willing to open up fully, so keep talking until you find the root of the problem.

When you notice signs of stress in your child, try to pen up some conversation. Ask open-ended questions that may get them to share what they have experienced or are feeling. If you know of a recent tragic event, weave that into the conversation naturally to see if it is the source of the stress.

Remember that it may take a few conversations before your child is willing and able to open up fully, so keep talking until you find the root of the problem.

3. Know When Stress Is More

Know When Stress Is More

 

Most children and teens will experience a traumatic event or even a series of traumatic experiences in their childhood. Yet, for some, the stress that creates turns into a different condition called post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD.

Though commonly associated with people returning from the military, recent research shows that ongoing traumatic events, such as today’s children are experiencing in the aftermath of the pandemic, can also trigger PTSD. Children are not immune from this debilitating condition. 

PTSD is a severe mental health condition that occurs when someone experiences or witnesses a terrifying event or faces ongoing stress from a traumatic event. It can create debilitating symptoms like severe anxiety, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, and nightmares. Children experiencing PTSD may struggle to cope with these feelings healthily, leaving families feeling frustrated and frightened.

Interestingly, even though COVID-19 and the other natural disasters of 2021 may not have affected children in a life-threatening way, the collective trauma and overall disruption of daily life are having an impact. Some children are showing signs of PTSD as a result.

Learn How to Treat PTSD in Children

PTSD

If you suspect that your child’s stress and anxiety are going beyond and may actually be PTSD, getting professional help right away is essential. Childhood trauma can have a life-long impact on your child, and the sooner you get help for your child, the better their outcome will be.

If you feel that something is just not right with your child, always get a professionals’ advice. Seek the counsel of a mental health professional, as well as your child’s pediatrician. If your child’s intrusive or disturbing thoughts or anxiety impact their daily life, or if they start expressing any thoughts of self-harm, immediate medical attention is necessary.

The best way to treat PTSD in children is to teach them skills to address their symptoms and then learn how to avoid triggers in the future. Therapy and sometimes medication is used to treat this disorder, and both require the careful oversight of a mental health professional.

If the PTSD is severe and the child is expressing suicidal thoughts, you may want to consider a residential treatment facility. This is the most intensive option, but it provides an excellent, supportive environment to help your child focus on their mental health and stability. 

Each child is unique and will approach a traumatic event differently. As the parent, you know your child best, and you have the best insight into how to approach them as they deal with their stress and discomfort.

Do you suspect that your child’s stress and anxiety is beyond normal and may actually be PTSD? 😭 🤦 Childhood trauma can have a life-long impact . Talk to a therapist or pediatrician today to get the help you need. -- #ptsd #childhoodtrauma #stress #teentrauma #parentingsupport #parentingsupport #TeenTrauma #trauma #mentalhealth #youthmentalhealth

5. Become a Safe Place Deal with Traumatic Events

Become a Safe Place Deal with Traumatic Events

Traumatic events are going to happen. While 2021 seems to have had more than its fair share, the reality is that tragedy can strike without warning. Children need to learn the resiliency to manage their emotions in these challenging times.

 As a parent, you can create a safe space at home for your children to process these emotions and learn to handle them healthily, while also being around to notice when something is off, and your child needs just a bit more love and support to manage.

By taking care of these things at home, you can help reduce the effect of the childhood mental health crisis within your own family.

Signs of stress in Children and Teens

Signs of Stress in Children and Teens (Infographic)

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