Helping Parents Help Their Children:
Information about Coping with Trauma
- Why traumas affect us so profoundly is that they shatter our assumptions
that the world is a safe and fair place, that there is always some
kind of meaning in life events, and if we are smart and responsible
enough, we can protect ourselves and our children from tragedy.
- Recovery from trauma means being able to put the experience behind
us. For children, this means getting back to the business of being
children as soon as possible, and anything adults can do to provide
an environment where kids can continue to be kids is helpful in trauma
- Children often view traumas in a different way than adults do. They
lack the ability to appreciate the longer-range implications of an
event, especially if it was a community trauma and their own family
was not personally touched. Their view of the trauma is often based
on how they see the adults who are close to them responding. Younger
children may be more alarmed if the adults in their life seem very
upset and emotional. Conversely, children may be less impacted if
the adults in their lives are calm, reassuring and supportive.
- Children's reactions to trauma are as individual and different as
one child is from another. Some children may have big reactions to
small events while others may seem to react minimally to terrible
things. There is no one right way to respond!
- That children seem to recover from a traumatic event more quickly
than adults is often a reflection of their ability to focus on the
immediate present rather than on the past or future. Especially if
they were not personally touched by the event or witnesses to it,
they may be able to put it behind them and move on with their lives
in a remarkably short period of time.
- Another reason children may seem to underreact to a traumatic event
is that they can only tolerate intense feelings for a short period
of time. So they experience the upsetting feelings for a brief period
of time, then back away from them until they can tolerate the intensity
again. So what may look like denial or avoidance to us is really an
example of effective coping. Parents need to take advantage of opportunities
to talk about the trauma when their children present them.