Two Ways to Help Children Heal from Traumatic Events

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Here are two trauma-informed ways you can care for your child, even when you’re at your wits end.
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Are you a parent or caregiver to a child who has experienced trauma, or came from a hard place? Do you love someone who has been through a traumatic event?
If you have, your heart may be filled with so many deep emotions, it could feel overwhelming. When your loved ones hurt, YOU hurt. You’re their protector and their guide. But, you’re not perfect, and at times you may feel at your wits end, not knowing how to help.
And If you’ve ever felt this way, I want to first say to you…

You’re a good mom. You’re a good dad. I know that about you, because you’re reading an article about loving your kid right now.

You’re not alone, because you’re human… But the way you parent will look very different from others because of one very specific factor: Your precious child has experienced or witnessed a terrible situation, where they felt scared, confused, or powerless.
Trauma is defined as an emotional response to a terrible event.
As a parent, you want to shield your kids from the chaos going on in the world. But with the increase of widespread traumatic events (like a school shooting, or a natural disaster), or the ongoing struggle of an adopted or foster child who experienced trauma in his or her early years of life (even in utero during a traumatic pregnancy or birth)… it can seem overwhelming – even impossible – to protect your kids.
When you’re at your wits end, you may not know how to help your child when they’ve experienced trauma.

Let me give you some hope: You can…
  • help your child learn to process and heal from a traumatic event.
  • have a trusting & loving relationship with your child.
  • empower your kids to grow with resilience

You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be present and willing.

We know that after a traumatic event, people (and your kid) need 3 things to begin to heal.
  1. Empathy (connection & emotional support… a feeling with, not feeling sorry for)
  2. A non-judgemental space (key word on space… sometimes we need space to process)
  3. “Felt” safety (literally feeling safe, not just “knowing” it)

Oftentimes, therapy is the only place parents think their kids can begin to heal. But by following these two Trauma-Informed Care considerations, you can begin creating that space for your kids TODAY.

Here are two trauma-informed ways you can care for your child… even when you’re at your wits end:

1. Slow down & connect: “What’s happening right now?”

Many times, parents are overwhelmed with their kids “acting out”, or “withdrawing”, reactions from trauma. Remember, your child may be in survival mode, & they don’t know how to make sense of what they feel.
Help your child regulate through connection.

  • Slow down & Take a deep breath. This begins to slow down your own nervous system if you’re getting activated.
  • Get on your child’s level – literally. Physically kneel down, or sit next to him and just be present.
  • Check your face, check your tone. The mirror neurons in your child’s brain will begin to “light up” when you get face to your child’s face with your child – make sure your face matches the response you want your child to move towards.
  • ASK THEM what hurts, what’s wrong, what’s happening for them. By paying attention, you show them their feelings matter.

2. Tell a story: “Name it, tame it”

I don’t know about you, but when I’m scared, I don’t always know why. Help your kids begin to “name it” so they can “tame it – When we wrap words around how we’re feeling, it’s not so all-encompassing anymore.
In their book “Whole-Brained Child”, Seigel & Bryson talk about helping kids connect their “left brain” (logic functions) with their “right brain” (emotion functions). That’s very simplified, but what it means is helping your kids understand the facts, as well as their emotions, and then helping them understand they are safe with you.
Help regulate through “name it, tame it”.

  • Tell a Story. Let your children talk about what happened to them. Ask them about factual things (“what happened”) and emotional things (“how did they feel”). You may think “talking about it” will just make them feel worse, but that’s not necessarily the case. Ask a counselor for help on this one if you don’t feel equipped.
  • Use the H.A.L.T. acronym. “Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired”. If your child has been processing the event, but is still having trouble in school or at home, they might need some more daily guidance in understanding their “inner world”. Try asking, “Are you Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired”? This is a way you can get your kids thinking & naming their feelings, energy level, or physical needs (like food or water). Then, meet the need. Give them a snack, or spend more time connecting if they feel lonely. Then go back and have them tell the story of what is happening for them.

Ok Carly, so how do I actually do this in real life?
The answer?

Small, incremental change over time.

You are a GOOD mom. A GOOD dad. CHANGE takes TIME. Being consistent, gracious (to yourself) and compassionate (towards your kid) will make a significant difference in the long haul.
Helping a child heal from trauma (especially when you’re at your wits end) can be hard. You don’t have to be perfect. You just have to be present and willing.

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