Helping Your Child through a Traumatic Experience

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By Audrey Bowlds, MSW, LSW – March 6, 2024

As parents and caregivers, we definitely want our children to feel safe, happy, protected and cared for. However, we can’t always be with our children as much as we’d like.

Children are faced with making choices on their own every day at school, friends’ houses, summer camps, on social media, and even at home when parents are away. Every choice a child makes has consequences, either positive or negative.

Unfortunately, between peer pressures, social media influence, and immaturity, children sometimes make a choice that leads to a traumatic experience. Even if we are with our children, a traumatic event such as a car crash, witnessing a robbery, or sheltering together at home during a weather disaster could occur.

After a traumatic experience, children can show signs of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, intense emotional upset, academic and attention difficulties, nightmares, and changes in their sleeping and eating habits. No matter what traumatic experience took place, a child might react differently than others involved in the same experience.

Everyone experiences trauma and deals with the aftermath in their own way, whether they experienced it together or not. Children are often more resilient than adults when dealing with a traumatic experience. Because the neural pathways of their young brains are still developing, it is very important to seek out mental health counseling for a child after this type of event. The more we engage and reinforce healthy pathways, the better we can support the mental and emotional well-being of the child.

Although we never want to think about our children being in a traumatic situation, there are resources to utilize if needed. Along with seeking out a therapist or mental health counselor for your child, you can also help them through their healing journey. It is important to talk about the traumatic event with your child, even if it is uncomfortable. If you do not openly talk about the event with your child, it will be harder for them to accept what happened and move on from the experience.

You should take their feelings seriously. You may have to reassure your child repeatedly and listen to the same concerns. They might want to talk repeatedly about their traumatic experience, or maybe not at all. Either way, it is important that you check in with them and make sure they feel safe.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), more than two thirds of children reported at least one traumatic experience by age sixteen. The reality is that traumatic experiences happen every day, and while it is frightening to think about, it is important to know how to help a child if needed. The child might not fully recover or completely forget about their traumatic experience, but with the resources mentioned in this article, they will most definitely be able to live a happier, more fulfilling life.