Helping Teens and Children Recover From Trauma
From physical issues like dog bites and car accidents to mental and emotional neglect, children and teens can often experience deep trauma. This trauma can seriously affect how that child relates and interacts with the world.
Often, that trauma causes issues in relationships. Children and teens struggle to explain anxiety and feelings after traumatic events. This leaves the adults in their lives floundering, trying to figure out how to respond and connect.
When these struggles continue for long periods of time or affect how the child functions on a daily basis then that child may be dealing with more serious concerns like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and even depression.
While this can be challenging, overwhelming, and even frightening, there are ways to help a child or teen that is struggling with PTSD and anxiety after a traumatic accident or event.
The child and their family might need professional help from a therapist or counselor. Others may benefit from continued, proactive support from their parents and family. Still others may seek comfort in more practical and pragmatic steps like routines, new hobbies, or even car insurance for teens after an accident.
Children and Trauma
Trauma comes in many forms. For some people, trauma is prolonged exposure to something distressing. It builds over time, creating different emotions, behaviors, and thought patterns.
For others, trauma happens in a moment. It’s a frightening experience or a distressing event. These traumatic events can be anything from fire and floods to illnesses and car accidents. What the experience or event is really isn’t the issue. It’s what that experience does or causes in a body or a mind.
Common Reactions and Responses
A child’s response to trauma may be surprising. In fact, two children exposed to the same trauma can have very different responses. It’s hard to pinpoint how someone will react or respond, but there are few common responses to be aware of when dealing with children who have experienced a traumatic event.
Often, a child who has experienced some kind of trauma will withdraw or retreat into themselves. This is characterized by a loss of interest in activities or hobbies, loss of confidence, or even behavioral regression.
Children who withdraw can often be more quiet and want to be alone. They will remove themselves from large groups or retreat to empty rooms to be alone.
Very young children can exhibit behaviors common to younger children. They may talk in simpler sentences or phrases or cry out rather than express themselves verbally.
The other extreme is preoccupation. Children who experience a traumatic event may exhibit obsessive behaviors. They will want to talk about the event or fixate on it by drawing pictures or physically acting the experience out.
Children who become preoccupied with the event may even worry about the possibility of the event happening again in the future.
Anxiety is a common response to trauma or a traumatic event. Children who exhibit anxious behavior can be clingy, have separation anxiety, irrational behavior, and even sleep problems.
Frequently, children with anxiety will have problems concentrating on schoolwork or chores and may struggle to pay attention.
Children can also experience physical symptoms of their anxiety or worry. Children have reported stomach and body aches, as well as mild to even severe headaches after a traumatic event. These symptoms are not a result of any physical trauma but are physical manifestations of their internal feelings and concerns.
Children and young teenagers can and will recover from their trauma. The most important pieces to their recovery are time and loving support from their family. To provide the best support, however, family members can use a few key strategies, and over time, they will see improvement in their child.
Practical Ways to Help and Support
Trauma is not something to quickly recover from or push aside. It takes concentrated, loving support and time to help children heal from these events and experiences. It’s not something that can be rushed, but it can be helped with some specific strategies.
#1 – Don’t Hide It, Talk About It
Some people feel the need to hide or ignore traumatic events. It’s a natural impulse to run or push aside experiences and memories that cause pain or sorrow. It’s similar to the open and honest conversation about kids and alcohol. These events should be dealt with and discussed in a healthy and productive manner.
This is true for young children and teenagers as well. It helps children confront, deal with, and cope with these events when they are discussed and brought out into the open. Of course, it’s not as simple as just talking about these things. There are productive ways to begin and facilitate these conversations.
When having these conversations, it’s important to reassure the child that the event is over, and they are safe. This helps open up the discussion and encourages a child to keep discussing.
The next step is to listen. Allow your child to share their thoughts, feelings, and concerns. As they share, make sure they feel heard, understood, and accepted. What the child is feeling is valid, and they should feel that.
Keep It Age Appropriate
When discussing the events or experience, make sure your words and explanations are appropriate for your child’s age. The language used should not be frightening. Even though the event or experience is being talked about, children shouldn’t feel frightened or retraumatized.
Children, as with most people, can jump to conclusions when feeling emotional or anxious. It’s important to stop children and teenagers from jumping to extreme or flat out wrong conclusions. Frequently, children can believe the accident or experience was their fault. This kind of negative self-talk can make things worse.
Take the time to talk about how people might react to similar experiences or feelings. Make sure to explain that these feelings, thoughts, and emotions are natural and normal, but they are not forever. Reiterate that they will gradually start to feel better, but it is a process.
#2 – You Are Responsible for Your Response
Handling these situations and walking a child through this process can be difficult. While it’s important to explain and encourage a child to work through their emotions, it’s just as important to be in control of your own emotions.
Crisis or trauma for a child will also have an impact on you. How you react to your child during this time and during their turmoil can have a major impact on your child and their journey as well. It can be difficult to cope yourself while dealing with an emotional child, but there are ways to manage both sets of emotions.
Model Appropriate Behavior
Emotionally charged situations are difficult to navigate for all people. When dealing with young children it’s important to model appropriate responses and behavior even when emotions are high.
Talk about your own emotions in a positive and constructive way with your children. As you talk about what you are feeling and experiencing, allow your child to talk about their own.
Remember It’s Not You
Children often lash out in negative behaviors when they are dealing with trauma. When these outbursts happen remember it is not a reflection of their feelings toward you. Tantrums and bedwetting behaviors are simply physical representations of their internal feelings.
Don’t shame or punish children for these behaviors. Encourage and comfort them when they happen and love them through the challenges.
Give Positive Attention
Children spell love T-I-M-E. When a child is dealing with trauma, it’s important to spend positive time with them. Make special moments with your child throughout the day, focus on bedtime and the moments just after they wake up for the day. These will help set the mood for the entire day and sleep.
#3 – Creating Routines
It’s also a good idea to create and establish routines. Routine helps create a sense of safety and comfort, especially when a child is dealing with a lot of anxiety and turmoil.
Try to keep the daily routine as normal as possible. When that’s not possible, ensure your child that any changes to the routine will revert to normal as soon as possible. Don’t introduce new changes during this time. These things can be introduced later on once things settle and improve.
Try and maintain familial roles. Don’t introduce new expectations or chores to your child during this time.
Many activities can encourage connection and healing when children are struggling with trauma. For young children, make sure there are plenty of opportunities for play and fun.
Get your child outside. The natural light, fresh air, and connection with nature can be very healing. Take an afternoon to get on a nature walk and disconnect from everything else.
Activity, play, and outdoor time are all important, but it’s just as important for your child to rest and sleep. Encourage these opportunities as well. Limit stimulants in your child’s diet during this time as well. Make sure there are fewer instances of caffeine and sugar.
Teenagers and Car Insurance
It may seem strange, but pragmatic, proactive things like car insurance can be helpful during these times as well. If your teenager is a driver and has experienced something traumatic while driving or riding in a car, ensuring they have proper car insurance can be a comfort.
Teenage drivers are considered one of the highest risk groups for accidents and insurance claims. Any claims or reported accidents can make rates higher and coverage more difficult to find. Find the right coverage at the right price, though. Your teenager may be able to qualify for a good student discount that reduces the price of coverage, for example.
Insurance for teenage drivers gives everyone peace of mind, a sense of comfort, and financial protection in the event of the unthinkable.
Remember trauma and the resulting emotions and behaviors are natural. Children and teenagers need support and love while navigating the feelings and experiences in their life. Healing is a process, and the journey will be worth it.
About The Author: Laura Gunn researches and writes for the auto insurance comparison site, AutoInsurance.org. She is a former high school teacher and mother of two who is deeply passionate about support for all children, no matter their circumstances.