Children around the country are constantly being exposed to confusing, stressful, and negative situations, especially in the current climate. According to NYU Langone Health, “Childhood trauma often involves a negative reaction, called traumatic stress, following an overwhelming, upsetting, or frightening experience—called a traumatic event—that challenges a child’s ability to cope.” Approaching and discussing these subjects can be a challenge for parents, but it’s an important challenge and one that cannot be avoided.
Ideally, we would protect children from these negative situations and events, but that is not always possible. What is possible is to have the knowledge and resources to approach, discuss, and support children who have been impacted by a traumatic event.
Today’s blog has five tips to help when talking about traumatic events with children and youth.
#1 Act Calm
Children often look to their parents or adults for a sense of calm and reassurance. They will also frequently look to the parent/adult to see how they may be reacting to a situation. While listening to your child share their feelings about a traumatic event, it is important to remain calm. It is good to share your emotions and feelings about the event with your child, but keep your emotional reaction in mind. Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine says that children may feel guilty if they feel they have caused you pain or sadness by sharing their feelings with you.
This is a great time to be a role model for them, reinforcing the message that it’s okay to feel your feelings, and also showing them the healthy ways you’ve learned to cope. Of course you are entitled to your emotional expression, however, being thoughtful about when and how you choose to share your experience is equally important.
#2 Initiate a Conversation
parents/guardians to initiate conversations with their children about traumatic experiences. Often, just because a child is not verbalizing their thoughts and feelings does not mean they are not thinking about it. They could be overwhelmed by what occurred or be concerned with your reaction to their feelings. To initiate conversation, you may start with sharing some of your own feelings and thoughts. You could also begin a discussion by asking open-ended questions, encouraging your child to reflect and share.
#3 Provide Reassurance
As mentioned above, children often look to their parent/guardian for a sense of comfort during difficult times. When an unexpected negative event occurs, a child’s feeling of safety is affected. It is beneficial for parents to assure and express that they are there for them and that things will get better. Providing reassurance is a good time to discuss safety measures that are in place to protect from negative events happening again.
Beyond words, staying consistent with regular routines is an important way to reassure children. Having a regular routine helps to create a sense of security and comfort. It is also a great way to normalize continuing with normal activities while setting aside time to process and deal with any residual symptoms.
It is important to be a good listener to children and youth at all times, but it is especially crucial after the child has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event. Try to listen calmly, accept their feelings, and minimize judgment. Keep in mind that all children react differently, so be patient and available for when they are ready to share. Most importantly, do not assume you know what they think or how they feel about a particular event or situation.
The Center for Parenting Education states that when your child is sharing, it is an opportunity for you to understand how they are doing, how they view the situation and pinpoint specific things that may be bothering them. Providing an open and safe space for them to share will be beneficial for them now and will make them feel comfortable to share how they are feeling in the future.
#5 Consider Seeking Out Professional Help
It is important to seek help if you or your child feel overwhelmed with discussing the details of a traumatic experience or if symptoms interfere with school or life at home. If you find that your child is suffering or showing prolonged signs of anxiety, fear, or stress, it may be time to seek professional help. In fact, studies show an immense need for early intervention mental health support to promote growth and recovery.
You can also always reach out to Pure Health Center to learn more about our treatment options and child and teen counseling offerings. Our experienced and friendly team is waiting to help you and your child through tough times.