What is Trauma?
The brain and body’s response to distressing, disturbing, and/or threatening events or experiences resulting in adverse physical, mental, and emotional effects. Traumatic events or experiences may include (but are not limited to):
- Medical trauma
- Life-altering or life-threatening illness/conditions
- Accidents and injuries
- Acts of violence
- Abuse and assault
- Natural disasters
- Death of a loved one
- Separation from a loved one
** Children and teens will often show you through their behavior that they are struggling rather than tell you **
What Do Children and Teens Who Have Experienced Trauma Need?
Regardless of the setting, children and teens who have experienced trauma should have their emotional safety needs met. In order to feel secure and to ensure a sense of trust to enhance their coping, it is important to allow the child to be vulnerable without fear of judgement. This can look like:
- Clearing up any misconceptions
- Give them permission to still be a kid
- Maintain routine as much as possible and speak to them about any temporary changes
- Recognize that it is okay for you not to have all the answers and to respond with “I don’t know” when you are uncertain in order to keep a sense of trust
- Give space for ongoing conversations where you can validate/recognize the child’s emotions and answer the questions that they ask (avoid answering questions they have not asked yet)
- Understand that children—and adults for that matter--will all cope differently, so it is important to avoid shame when it comes to the child expressing their emotions and figuring out their coping strategies (and be sure to encourage/support their healthy coping strategies)
What children understand about trauma will often depend on their developmental level. The developmental level of a child can also influence the child’s reactions to the trauma. It can be helpful for parents/caregivers to be mindful of this so that they can explore the most effective ways to support the child following a traumatic event. It is also important to keep in mind that a child’s physical age may be different than their developmental level.