Managing your child’s traumatic experience .
Managing your child’s traumatic experience .
A mother said: “Be sure parents hear that taking care of themselves is half the battle of parenting a traumatised child”. From Monahon, Cynthia.1993: Children and Trauma – a guide for parents and professionals ( Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Franciso)
Helping our traumatised child is hard. We will feel angry, sad, hopeless and afraid. But we can help our child.
• Talk to friends, family members, the minister or anyone else who is sympathetic and willing to listen. If necessary, talk to a counsellor.
• We can try to show our children a good way of managing this bad situation. We can show that although we feel very bad about what has happened to our child we will continue to care for them the best we can. We will try to find courage and patience inside ourselves.
• We can listen to our child, support him and comfort him.
• We can try to really understand our child’s feelings and behaviour so that we can help him.
• If we can’t help our child we can ask for help from therapists.
• If we give our child a lot of support soon after the trauma, he is likely to recover more quickly.
Symptoms of trauma:
Children will have different symptoms of trauma. No one reacts in exactly the same way to trauma. These are some symptoms to look out for:
• Regression: This means that the child will start behaving like a younger child. After the trauma, the child may talk like a younger child. She may want to be held all the time. She may be afraid when the parent leaves the room or the house. She may wet her bed or even wet herself during the day. What you can do: Try to understand why she is so afraid of being left alone. She may feel that only if she stays close to you will she be safe. Becoming angry or saying she must stop being a baby will make things worse. Try instead to be with her as much as possible. If you have to leave, leave her with someone she trusts and tell her when you will be back. Be back on time.
• Crying: He may cry all the time or about things that seem very small. What you can do: Comfort him, he is crying because his world seems very bad to him and he needs all the kindness he can get.
• Telling, retelling and playing and replaying the traumatic event: When adults are traumatised they often need to tell their story again and again. Children are no different. It helps the traumatised person to come to terms with what has happened. After a while the constant retelling and replaying can help the child to come to some sort of peace with what has happened. What you can do: Listen, listen and listen again. If the child starts to change the story to make a different outcome let her. Don’t correct her, she is trying to make sense of what happened.
• Anger, irritability, and frustration: Children may become more aggressive after a traumatic experience. They may get angry about small things like shoes that don’t go on easily, they may even hit out at you or their brothers and sisters and friends. What you can do: The child is feeling many different unpleasant feelings. Everything seems against them. All these feelings are normal after trauma. Do not allow the child to hurt others but show that you understand why they are behaving like that. Try not to become angry or frustrated yourself. Try to remain calm and patient.
• Pain with no physical cause: some children may complain of physical pain when they are emotionally troubled. The pain feels very real to the child. What you can do: Rub or stroke the sore place gently, Talk about how when we feel unhappy our bodies can feel sore. Be ready to listen if the child wants to talk about their feelings
. • Sudden fear when the child hears or feels something that reminds them of the trauma. The child may seem panic-stricken. The child may feel that the trauma is happening to him again. What you can do: Go to the child and comfort the child. Say, “that noise reminded you of what happened …” Be with the child until he recovers from the panic. Above all, gentleness and calmness are needed when this happens.
• Sleep problems: Children may start having very terrifying nightmares. They may have night terrors where they seem awake but are confused and don’t know you. They may sleep badly either not being able to fall asleep easily or waking very early or waking often during the night. They may sleep walk. What you can do: Comfort the child. Let the child sleep with you or on a mattress next to you if it makes her feel safer. If a child has a night terror, wait nearby until she seems to have recovered and then let her sleep again. If the child is finding going to sleep very difficult hold her and sing softly to her until she sleeps. This can make you very tired and when we are tired it is hard to be patient. But the more patient you are the quicker the sleep problems will be resolved.
• Lack of concentration, unable to do school work or ordinary everyday tasks: After trauma adults and children alike may become unable to concentrate. They seem to have to be reminded and helped with the simplest things. What you can do: Understand that this will get better in time. Have patience; once the child feels better he will be able to manage with everyday things again. After trauma one’s mind has a lot of work to do. Give him space and time to feel better.
• Change in personality and behaviour: Your child may seem a different person after a trauma. A happy, outgoing child may become quiet and sad. A well-behaved child may start having temper tantrums. This often happens after trauma. With time and support your child will slowly become more like herself. What you can do: Try to understand that children find it hard to say in words how they feel. They behave according to how they feel. They cannot help the way they are behaving. Try not to react with anger at behaviour you don’t like. Be firm and set boundaries as you always have. They need the security of boundaries but also your understanding.
• Unable to play: The child may seem to withdraw from everything. Things she liked to do she does not want to do anymore. She may just want to sit on your lap or watch TV. She may be trying to keep herself safe from anything bad happening to her. What you can do: You will need to understand how very unsafe and scary the world has become to him. Once he starts to feel that there is safety and goodness in the world again he will play again. Tell him happy stories and stories about children who have to overcome small difficulties. Sing songs to him. Make his favourite food. Let him fall asleep in your arms at night.
• Wanting to be “Superman”: Your child may seem to become fearless. They may want to do dangerous things or watch scary things on TV. At night they probably become fearful again. Your child is trying to be Superman who no one can hurt and who can look after other people. They are trying to believe that nothing scares them although the truth is they are feeling very afraid inside. What you can do: You will need to set limits. You must keep your child safe. You need to say ‘no’ to scary TV programmes that are for older people. If you show your child that you will keep him safe he will become less worried about keeping himself safe. Allow your child to talk about being strong and fearless. The more you listen the more likely your child will start to talk about their fears. Once he starts talking about his feelings you can do even more to help him.
• Magical beliefs: Children, like adults will search for reasons why bad things happen. Adults can more easily understand the reasons why trauma happens. Children on the other hand don’t have as much experience of the world. Often they come to believe that what happened to them was their fault. If they believe this then they can control bad things by not doing something. A child may believe that their father was hurt in a robbery at their home because she hit her sister that day. These sorts of magical beliefs are quite common. What you can do: Explain what really caused the trauma. Make sure that they know that it was the bad mans fault that all this happened. Let them know that when bad things like this happen to us we are not to blame.