There is nothing more heart wrenching than to see a child dealing with a traumatic event or crisis in their life. Whether it arises as outbursts, screaming, refusing to eat food, self harm, or acting out at school or at home, the way a child initially deals with trauma can take many forms. And as a parent or guardian, it’s especially difficult when it seems like there isn’t anything you can do to help them process the pain, grief, fear, and other emotions that your child may be feeling. You may feel helpless.
In this first installment dedicated to exploring small doses of adaptive change for children, we’ll focus on how to help kids understand and deal with the emotions, stress, and behavior that can develop in the aftermath of a traumatic crisis.
What Constitutes a Traumatic Event?
Trauma can be experienced at any age in life, but for children, certain events and crisis situations can shape and mold their emotional, social, and cognitive development. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), traumatic events that can affect a child can include:
Seeing or experiencing domestic violence
Psychological, physical, or sexual abuse
National disasters or terrorism
Violence at school or in the community
Commercial sexual exploitation
Sudden or violent loss of a parent or loved one
Refugee or war experiences
Deployment, injury or other military family-related stressors
Physical or sexual assault
Recognizing the Signs of Trauma in a Child
When children experience a traumatic event, they can respond in many different ways. For parents, guardians, and caregivers, being able to recognize the signs of a traumatic response—regardless of the child’s age—is an important first step in helping the child process the event.
Behavior will vary but in general, a traumatized child may:
Develop poor eating habits or eating disorders
Cry a lot
Act out in anger
Feel anxious, fearful, guilt, or shame
Oftentimes, these symptoms may not arise for several weeks or months following the event, so be on the lookout for these changes to develop at any time.
What You Can Do
Once you understand what signs to look for in a child who’s experienced a traumatic event, you can begin to help them process the situation. First and foremost, showering your child with love and tenderness will be paramount to helping him or her feel safe and loved.
Here are a few other things you can do:
Explain That They Are Not to Blame
Children can blame themselves for events that are out of their control. It’s important to explain to your child that they are not responsible for what happened to them.
According to the Child Mind Institute, routines reassure children that life will be okay again and help them to establish a sense of normalcy and safety. One way to do this is to make sure that mealtimes and bedtimes occur at regular and consistent hours each day.
Seek Professional Help
As a parent or guardian, you can guide your child in the best way that you know how to help them overcome a traumatic experience. But in many cases, seeking assistance from a mental health professional is a necessary part of the recovery and healing process. Ask your child’s doctor or another health care provider for a recommendation.
Ensure Your Child is in a Safe Environment
While you can control the home environment, your child will still likely go to daycare or school and perhaps attend other activities. It’s important for your child to feel safe and secure whenever he or she is throughout each day, even when away from you. For this reason, make sure that your child is mentally and emotionally ready to attend school, church, sports, and other activities. In addition, let teachers, staff, and other trustworthy adults know in advance that your child is dealing with a traumatic issue so they can be mindful of it.
Cresthill Academy is A Safe Space
At Cresthill Academy, we understand how difficult it can be to leave your child at a daycare each day. That concern can certainly be amplified when your child is in recovery from a traumatic experience. Cresthill is staffed by highly trained and dedicated educators and instructors who love what they do and are experts in early childhood development practices. Our main priority is to ensure the safety of each and every child in our daycares.
To learn more about our premier daycare, contact Cresthill Academy today and schedule a tour. We’re New Jersey’s visionary child day care and preschool and offer a variety of programs for infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergarteners. Our locations, which include Harrison, Hoboken Uptown, Hoboken Downtown, East Hanover, and Lyndhurst, New Jersey, are convenient and centrally located.
“Understanding Child Trauma,” https://www.samhsa.gov/child-trauma/understanding-child-trauma, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
“Helping Children Cope After a Traumatic Event,” https://childmind.org/guide/helping-children-cope-after-a-traumatic-event/, Child Mind Institute