Supporting Children Through Trauma

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Our children experience traumatic events on a regular basis, whether it be falls, frights, taking just a trip to the dentist or even having a bad dream.

Traumatic events can range from undergoing a medical procedure, being in a car accident, anesthesia, a concussion or witnessing an accident. 

And no matter how much we wish we could wrap our children in cotton wool to protect them from the harsh realities that sometimes occur in this world...there may come a time when your child is faced with a more severe traumatic event. 

All of these experiences have the potential to shape their perceptions of the world - and their future ability to cope with similar events.

It's important that we can support them to manage these experiences in a way that is helpful to them and their future selves. 

Although well-meaning, the normal response is for us to try to distract the child from their feelings and their experience...to try to protect them from going through what they are going through. But what we don't realise is that by doing this - by helping them to avoid and resist their body's natural response to the stress - we rob them of the opportunity for their body to process and move through the trauma.

 
 

We run the risk of this trauma becoming trapped in their body, only to flare up over and over again in the future while it remains unresolved.

And what's more, we teach them that trusting their body is not safe. That their body's response to traumatic or stressful events is just as scary as the event itself. When in actual fact, their body, with its infinite intuitive wisdom, is doing exactly what it needs to do to process, release and heal. 

Dr Peter Levine is a pioneer in restoring the wisdom of our body after trauma. From his extensive research in the mind-body interactions with trauma, he has given some steps that we can use to support children during and after traumatic events below:

  1. Focus on your own reactions

    Assuming that there is no imminent danger, take a moment as the adult/parent to observe your own internal physiological and emotional responses until you feel settled and have a sense of relative calm.


  2. Pay attention to the child’s bodily responses and words

    Validate the child’s bodily responses by not interrupting the trembling, shaking or tears as these bodily responses are actually the normal part of coming out of shock and processing it.


  3. Support the child’s reactions

    You can do this by demonstrating your acceptance through words and/or touch. For example, put one hand on the child’s shoulder, arm, or middle of their back. Use a reassuring voice to say a few words such as “You're safe”, “It's safe to cry” ,“It’s all right to cry”,  “Its all right to be angry”, " You're safe to be angry”, “You're safe to shake and tremble”, “Its okay, to shake & tremble” or “Just let the shaking happen, you are safe”.


  4. Be there for the Child

    After the trembling, shaking or tears stop; validate the child’s emotional responses. Let them know whatever they are feeling or experiencing is okay and they are safe to express it. Also, let them know you will stay with them and listen to them.

Resist the temptation to talk them out of fear, sadness, anger, embarrassment, guilt or shame in order to avoid your own uncomfortable feelings. Trust that the child will move through their feelings supported by your acceptance of his or her authentic intuitive self.

If you'd like to chat to us more about helping children through trauma, or you suspect that your child might be holding onto trauma from a past experience, please feel free to give us a call on 07 544 1133.