Posts

By Jennifer Kurtz, LCSW – Feb. 4, 2020

Prior to working as a Youth First Social Worker I worked with the homeless for 7 years. I helped men, women, and children who were living in cars, hotels, shelters, or with family or friends in overcrowded homes. 

While this is not healthy for an adult, it can have an even bigger impact on a child. When I say childhood trauma you may think of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. There are many other types of trauma that can occur, such as witnessing violence or going hungry.

Trauma can also be caused by a child’s separation from a loved adult due to alcohol or drug use, incarceration, or mental or physical illness. Even witnessing physical violence or devastation left by a natural disaster on television can cause trauma to a child. 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCSTI) reports that more than two-thirds of children experience at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. 

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that children between the ages of 3 to 6 who are exposed to trauma may:

  • Have difficulty focusing or learning in school
  • Be unable to trust others or make friends
  • Show poor skill development
  • Lack self-confidence
  • Experience stomach aches or headaches. 

These difficulties in elementary school have the potential to effect children into their teen and adult years, repeating the cycle onto their own children.

How, as parents and caregivers, can we help our children? The Child Mind Institute encourages the following tips to help children after a traumatic event:

  • Remain calm
  • Allow children to ask questions
  • Give them your full attention and listen well
  • Acknowledge how the child is feeling
  • Share information about what happened
  • Encourage children to be children (to play and take part in activities)
  • Understand that children may cope in different ways
  • Help children relax with breathing exercises
  • Watch for signs of trauma and know when to seek help
  • Take care of yourself

This website offers more in-depth tips to help children recover in a healthy way, and it gives advice for children in different age groups:  https://childmind.org/guide/helping-children-cope-traumatic-event/.

The National Survey of Children’s Health found that children who have family to help them build resilience respond well to stress. Resilience can be built through having caregivers who believe in a child’s future, teaching children to calm themselves and regulate their emotions, being involved in the community, and having social connections.

The comfort and support of a parent or caregiver can help a child through a traumatic event, make them feel safe, and help them recover in a healthy way that will benefit them their entire life. A child can also get a lot of support and guidance from their school’s Youth First Social Worker or another mental health professional. Do not hesitate to ask for help if it’s needed.

By Niki Walls, LSW – June 25, 2019

Death is a part of life, and grief comes along with it. Helping a child grieve and understand death can be very difficult.

Psychiatrist Gail Saltz explains, “Children understand that death is bad, and they don’t like separation, but the concept of “forever” is just not present.” Children often have a hard time wrapping their brains around the concept of death and do not always have the coping skills they need to handle it.

 If you are helping a child through the grieving process, here are some important tips to remember:

When breaking the news about death, be clear.  Do not use terms that a child may take literally, as a child may then become fearful of “going to sleep” if that is what they think happened to their loved one who passed. Do not volunteer too much information or go into details that could cause confusion or fear in the child. However, do be honest and answer their questions the best you can.

Each child grieves differently, just like adults.  The child’s moods may fluctuate and be inconsistent. This does not mean the child is grieving inappropriately; it just means they are processing in different ways. Sometimes the child’s action could reflect a defense mechanism they are tapping into as a way of coping. The child may feel many different emotions (such as anger or guilt) toward the person that has died, depending on their understanding of the situation.

Allow your child to express a variety of emotions.  It is good practice for everyone to be able to express the emotions they are feeling, especially grieving kids. Help your child understand their emotions and utilize a safe way of expressing these emotions. It may not be easy for your child to express them in an appropriate manner. If that is the case, encourage them to do things like writing, drawing, or role playing a memory of the person they have lost.

Understand your own grief.  Aside from helping your child grieve, you will likely be grieving yourself. Your child’s grief will likely reflect your own. It is important to allow your child to see safe emotion expression. Please do not project your grief onto the child. Do not make the child feel as though they need to be the caretaker in the situation or escalate it so it is emotionally harder for them.

Be consistent.  Kids crave consistency. They want a routine and a sense of normalcy. This is true in the calm of their lives and also in the chaos.

Practice coping skills.  Children can often struggle with self-regulation and managing their emotions. By practicing coping skills with the child, they will likely have an easier time containing extreme emotional outbursts. Coping skills can include a variety of things like listening to music, making a memory collage, journaling, etc.

Preparation.  It is important to prepare your child for what to expect from a funeral, burial, or any other death ritual that might take place so it does not come as a shock when they are in the moment. Your child may have questions about life after death, so it is important that your beliefs and others’ beliefs are discussed with them. While all of these practices are helpful to a child during the time of a loss, it important to monitor that the child is able to cope with grief and recover from loss in a healthy manner. If your child does not seem to be doing so, it is important to talk to a doctor or seek out a therapist.