Managing Trauma in Children

We often think that life and the world are solid, but trauma comes in when we least expect it. I’ve spent most of my work with trauma and its impact. Trauma can arise from miscarriages,  birth, bereavement, road accidents, abuse and attachment difficulties.

Children experience trauma just as much as adults but may show their grief or shock in other ways. This blog will explore what trauma means and what you can do to help your child.

What do we mean by Trauma?

In its purest sense, it’s being exposed to a life-threatening event that will activate the limbic system; this can be a crime, a road traffic incident, bereavement, and divorce. However, children can suffer trauma from repeated exposure to domestic abuse or other forms of abuse. A child will have a sense of fear, helplessness, and loss of power in the same way you would.

You may notice behaviour such as:
  • Wetting the bed
  • Aggressive behaviour
  • Clinging to you
  • Regressive behaviour
  • Not sleeping, having nightmares
  • Complain of headaches and other symptoms
  • Loss of Appetite
  • Flight into drugs and alcohol.

Many children go through a process like adults, and in time they will work it through. I know it’s hard but allow the process to unfold.

Here are some ideas to support them:

Do talk about the traumatic event and be age-appropriate; children use books, drawings, and pictures if they are very young.

Be honest and clear; children have big imaginations and may dream up all kinds of scenarios, so let them know what happened. You will probably need to talk about it over and over; it’s hard to get the balance, but take your cues from your child.

Do inform the other adults what’s happened, such as schools, clubs, and close family friends. I know one family who was so bereft no one knew, and it might have helped them in the longer term to access support. It was simply due to the trauma that it was so painful to talk about.

Don’t minimize their feelings; acknowledge and accept their feelings, even if it may be painful for you too.

Do many self-soothing activities that calm the stress system, such as massage, baths, play, relaxation, and mindfulness.

Divorce is another loss, so accept that your child may have complicated feelings about this. It can take up to two years to process a divorce.

Don’t make them take sides, and ensure the children stay in touch with extended family members.

For older children, keep a journal, buy them a diary, and encourage them to write and draw their feelings. Creative therapies can help everyone to express how they feel.

Be available; you may need to take some time off, do keep life as normal as possible, so having consistency and routines will help.

Sometimes normal processes become stuck, and your child may have enduring and persistent worries; this is not normal; your child may suffer from PTSD. The Royal College of Psychiatry doesn’t advocate a PTSD diagnosis for children under the age of 7.

What to look out for:

  • Persistent symptoms of stress
  • Does your child have persistent flashbacks?
  • Do they look like they are reliving the event
  • Do they avoid certain TV programmes?
  • Are they not able to get on with everyday life such as school, friendships, clubs etc
  • Are they using drugs and alcohol to manage their distress excessively

Do seek help; sometimes, children not only express their feeling but can also express it for the whole family. Some parents may not have processed their trauma, so attending therapy for the first time where these issues are brought up can be alarming, unexpected and sometimes distressing.

I have included the link here for the Royal College of Psychiatry,

They have some suggestions of organizations that may help; I hope it helps, and you are welcome to contact me for individual and family counselling if you would like me to support you and your family through trauma. With Love Catherine

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