The past few weeks have brought terrible news of mass shootings in multiple cities that have paralyzed communities and families. While the world grieves the loss of these beautiful souls, my heart and mind cannot comprehend the trauma these families and children are now faced with. Like a ripple effect, children across the nation are faced with processing various degrees of trauma from those directly connected to the events to simply hearing the news of these tragic events.
Childhood trauma is much more common and deeply affecting than most people realize. As a person who has spent my entire adult life working through my own childhood trauma, it is astounding to comprehend that what takes place in the first two decades of our lives drastically impacts the rest of our lives. We desperately need more resources and training to help children face the many types of trauma they may experience throughout childhood. A one-time traumatic event can carry the same weight or even more than a traumatic event that lasted over some time. There are so many factors that contribute to the depth of the trauma. Despite the complexity of childhood trauma, research shows there are helpful steps that can be taken to help a child who has experienced trauma.
“It has been reported that nearly 50% of US children face some form of trauma in their childhood.”
Childhood trauma comes in many forms, and while abuse (emotional, physical, sexual) may be the first to come to mind, there are other forms that can be just as damaging. Some to consider are the following:
- Not having physical or emotional needs met
- Witnessing substance abuse
- Involvement in or witnessing a violent crime
- Divorce of parents/caretakers
- Natural disasters
- Serious illness
- Becoming a refugee
- Mental illness
- Isolation from/within the family
It is important to remember that childhood trauma can begin at birth and even in utero. The signs and symptoms of trauma at each age will be different as every child responds uniquely to trauma.
How to Help
I am a huge proponent of therapy and encourage seeing a licensed and trained therapist to help walk through trauma. While I believe therapy is so important, these are simple steps that you can implement in your own space and time.
It is important to listen to the child’s experiences and feelings so their story can be heard and validated. Sometimes this may require asking questions and allowing space and time to answer, and sometimes, this may mean listening multiple times to the same story or feelings. The key here is to keep open communication and assure the child that you are a safe person with whom they can share their experience and story with. Creating this trust often is done by simply listening and not seeking to give answers when it is not asked for.
Respect a child’s wish for space, whether that is physical or emotional space. While it may feel like the best thing to do after identifying trauma is to address it head-on, research has shown that a rushed response (even by trained professionals) to discuss the trauma can be ineffective at helping in long-term healing. If a child is wanting to address the trauma right away, allow for that, but ideally give space for the child to speak about the situation as they feel comfortable.
Provide consistency and stability
Trauma disrupts the feeling of being safe and protected, so it is imperative to encourage the feeling of safety through consistency and stability. Building back a child’s sense of safety and security is done over time and through the small things. Simple things such a reassuring hugs, maintaining a consistent schedule for eating, sleeping, and activities, keeping your word, and enjoying activities together are all beneficial for providing consistency and stability.
Foster strong relationships
Strong, positive relationships, are forms of healthy attachments and act a a buffer to the affects of abuse. Building strong relationships with supportive family members, friends, coaches, teachers, and community/religious leaders all can help to create a security network for sound advice, trust, and sense of belonging.
Victims of abuse often suffer from anxiety. One way to combat this is by being active. Encourage getting outdoors for a walk, swim, run, or to play a game. Whatever it is, physical exercise has shown to directly help to lower anxiety levels in children who have been abused.
It has been reported that nearly 50% of US children face some form of trauma in their childhood. With this staggering number, and addressing the root cause of it necessary to lower these numbers, it is also imperative that we are equipped as parents, teachers, and members of our community to support children walk through trauma.
If you have other helpful tips for helping children heal from trauma, please share it in the comments below. To hear more about my own story and how I found healing from childhood trauma, please click here.