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Children and trauma

Today I was asked about trauma and the best way to deal with such issues with children. From a therapeutic perspective, the best way to deal with trauma is to allow your child to talk about it, processing it on their terms. Telling them that it will all be ok and not to worry is natural, but it closes the door to further communication regarding the matter, if the conversation ends there. Your child may continue to worry and now feel that they shouldn't discuss their feelings because they were told not to worry, or that all is going to be OK. This creates a disconnect from their true emotional experience and a disconnect with their parent or caretaker, breaking down communication.

The best way to deal with trauma is to allow the person experiencing concern to express their emotions. Providing support is the goal, but be aware of what you say in response. Telling them how to feel is not helpful, and is actually damaging in most cases. For example, if an accident took place and your child wants to talk about it, stop what you are doing and give the child your complete attention. Allow your child to tell the story from their perspective. Don't be afraid to ask questions about how that made them feel and what happened next. If they cry, that is ok. Show them support by hugging them and let them cry and tell them you are there for them. Tears of this nature are healing. Remind them that they are safe now, that you are there for them, and that they can discuss their thoughts and feelings with you at any time. This is different than telling them not to worry and that they are fine. Those statements do not allow further communication and they tell the child how to feel, which is not accurate. If they were fine they wouldn't need to talk about it. Processing trauma usually takes more than one discussion. Don't be surprised if your child wants to talk about their experience or concern on several occasions. This is true for children and adults. We don't typically resolve our issues in one conversation. It takes time.

Progress is made as the child naturally begins to talk less and less about the event, until they are done mentioning it at all. Allowing the child to process their emotions on their terms is what takes place when trauma is dealt with in the optimal way. Let the child to heal at their pace, rather than the pace that people around them expect them to adhere to (if this is the case). Not talking about their fears and concerns feeds the trauma. The trauma will be managed one way or another, as the mind will create ways to deal with it if it is not done well enough. Being able to talk about feelings and having someone there for the person experiencing the trauma is the best way to manage the trauma to reduce the chance of potentially developing disorders, or unwanted behaviors.

In conclusion, don't be afraid to talk about trauma, problems and issues your children experience in their lives. Bringing it up in discussion does not retraumatize them in most cases, but provides an opportunity for them to manage their thoughts and fears in a supportive environment. If they don't want to talk about it, they should feel safe to tell you that they are fine and no longer need to discuss their feelings regarding the matter. If you are fearful of upsetting your child if you want to talk about trauma, ask your child how they feel about talking about the issue. Honestly share your thoughts about why you are bringing up the event, and most important, let them know that they can come to you when they need to talk when they are ready. Let them know that you are there for them and that they can come to you to discuss any issue or concern they have.

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