Supporting Your Child Through a Trauma

When my father passed away suddenly, I was quickly forced to understand how a traumatic event can tip a family upside down. Not only was I coming to a place of living with my own grief, I also had to be a mum and a wife, comforting our children who were teenagers at the time.

Our son had an amazing network of friends and peers, which is where he turned for support. Our daughter, then 15, slept with me for a few nights, talked about Grand-dad a lot and wrote an amazing piece which she then read at my Dad’s funeral.

Everyone is different and will cope with a traumatic event in their own special way.

There are many ways parents can support our children through a trauma. Here are a few ideas:

Talk about the event

Allow your children to talk about it – no matter how many times they go over the story! Telling them not to think about it, or to put the event out of their minds can delay their healing. Allow them to ask questions and answer clearly and honestly as is appropriate to your child’s age. If you don’t tell your child the details of the event in language they can understand, they will fill in the gaps for themselves by making up stories in their head. The unknown can be a very frightening place.

–          Give your child your whole self as you gently listen to their re-telling of the story.

–          Allow your child to let their feelings about the event out in their play.

–          Allow your child to explore their feelings through their drawings; this is a helpful way for them to name these feelings with you.

Notice your child’s behaviour

You may notice your child’s behaviour take a backward step – they may become ‘naughty’ or ‘disrespectful.’ They may go backwards in their learning or become extra ‘clingy’.

Some ways we can help our children cope with what’s happening for them are;

–          Notice what is happening for your child and remember what helped them most in case there is another event in the future.

–          Create a ‘quiet time’ space with gentle toys and games where your child can play when he/she is going through a tough time. Read together, there are some beautiful books that talk about feelings.

–          Reflect back to your children statements that will help them to understand their feelings such as – “You are looking unhappy/angry, is there something I can do to help you right now?”

Don’t change routines

Any changes to your child’s routine after a traumatic event can be very stressful for them. They will be very easily affected by any changes, such as going to new places, or unexpected visitors. These changes will contribute to their stress or feelings of safety. Talk to your child if there’s going to be something different happening, so they will be ready for the event.

Some ways to help with this –

–          Keep to the same routines with bedtime, meals and play.

–          Talk to your child about what’s happening next and let them know what they can expect

Look after you!

It’s very important to notice what’s happening for you as you care for your family through the trauma. You can become emotionally, physically and spiritually exhausted and this can lead to a stress of its own.

Here are some ways you can manage your stress and be aware of what’s happening to you so you can continue to care for your children as they work through the traumatic event.

–          If you find you are becoming emotionally overwhelmed in a situation – remove yourself and take a few deep breaths to centre yourself again.

–          Taking time to look after you is really important, even when you feel as though there are more pressing things to deal with. When you feel at peace you will be far more effective when coping with your children’s needs.

–          Remember family, friends and work colleagues will want to be there for you – so connect with these for support and encouragement.

–          Find a health professional (GP or counsellor) with whom you can talk freely without feeling judged or compromised in anyway.

Remember this time will pass, so be patient and take each day as it comes, and gradually life will return to a place of stability and peace.

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