When young people experience a traumatic event, adults often struggle to find the right things to say or do. Children and adolescents may be injured, see others harmed, suffer sexual abuse, lose loved ones or witness tragic events. Adults, including parents, teachers and first responders, can help youths overcome these experiences and begin the process of recovery.
Psychological trauma is a shocking, emotionally painful, stressful and sometimes life-threatening experience. Examples of trauma include a natural disaster, physical or sexual abuse, and acts of violence such as mass shootings in schools or communities. Reactions to trauma can be immediate or delayed and differ in severity. Children with existing mental health problems, past trauma experiences or limited supports may be more reactive to trauma.
Helping children can start immediately – even at the scene of the event. Most children recover within a few weeks, but some may require long-term care. Grief, a deep emotional response to loss, may take months to resolve.
Crisis & Counseling Centers (C&C) offers professional help to youths who have experienced a traumatic event as well as their parents. The agency’s Generations program provides counseling specifically for children and adolescents between the ages of 3 and 17. During sessions, clinicians may use an assortment of child-focused counseling techniques and evidence-based practices designed to help all youths – even those who are pre-verbal – grow.
Crisis & Counseling Centers’ statewide G.E.A.R. Parent Network offers parents and caregivers of children with behavioral health needs free workshops, groups, trainings and support by phone.
“Since 2010, G.E.A.R. Parent Network has been a premier resource in delivering trauma services and supporting parents through a trauma-informed lens,” said Carol Tiernan, director of G.E.A.R. Parent Network. “If something really unexpected happens to your child and he or she is having a hard time coping, we want to support you in helping them.”
As an adult, consider following these four steps to help youths through traumatic situations:
- Pay attention to them. Listen to their stories and accept (rather than dispute) their feelings. They may need help coping with the reality of their experiences.
- Reduce effects of other stressors. Help the child avoid dramatic changes to routine. After a traumatic event, it’s best to reduce pressures at school and avoid long periods away from loved ones. Other stressors could include fighting within the family, transportation problems and being hungry.
- Monitor healing. Kids aren’t going to recover overnight. Give them the time they need, but don’t ignore severe reactions. Pay attention to sudden changes in behaviors, speech, language use and emotions. Cause for concern could include refusal to go places that remind them of the event, emotional numbness, dangerous behavior, unexplained rage and sleep problems. Seek professional help if needed.
- Remind them that you care. Love and support them. Spend as much time with them as possible, and make it clear that they are not alone.
If parents experience their own traumatic experiences, Tiernan urges them to seek help as well. “One of the biggest gifts you can give your children is to recognize your trauma and the need for self-care. Remember that healthy parents raise healthy children.”
To learn more about how trauma can affect your family’s health, download G.E.A.R. Parent Network’s Caregiver’s Guide to Trauma brochure at gearparentnetwork.org.
If you know a child or adolescent in need of counseling, contact C&C at 207.626.3448. G.E.A.R. Parent Network is available for support at 1.800.264.9224.