How to Support Your Child
When our children experience trauma, it hurts us deeply. Parents and loved ones can experience a wide variety of their own feelings. We worry about our kid’s future. We are angry that someone hurt them. We are overwhelmed because we do not know how to increase their safety. We are confused about why this happened and how to make it better. We feel like we did not do enough to protect our child. We are fearful about how our families and communities will respond. Kids worry about you worrying about those things too.
Trauma is defined as an event, series of events, or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life-threatening with lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being. What this means is, it makes sense that your child might be feeling and thinking differently about the world now. There is no right way to react to abnormal circumstances.
One of the best predictors of a child’s ability to decrease risk factors following a traumatic experience is the belief and support of their family. Using phrases like “I believe you” and “It is not your fault” can dramatically shift their reactions. It is helpful when parents/guardians can practice empowerment-focused skills with their children. This means, when you can give them a choice or some sense of control, you do. It does not mean that there are no longer consequences or boundaries. Actually, kids thrive when there are clear boundaries and are validated when they achieve them.
There is also power in naming feelings and letting them be present. It is normal to have “big feelings” after trauma. As parents, you can help your children express their emotions by listening and allowing them to tell the story of what happened on their terms. Pushing for details or “fact checking” your child’s story will likely cause them to withdraw and respond with bigger behavioral problems. It is important to show your child that you are open and ready to talking when THEY decide they want to talk. It is also imperative to follow your child’s lead. Remember our brains react differently when we experience trauma than during a more normative day-to-day experience. \