It’s very common and normal for children to be more anxious after experiencing a severe trauma or being prolonged or repeatedly exposed to traumatic events. Children often try to avoid situations, thoughts or people that remind them of what happened to them.
- It’s normal for separation anxiety to appear or intensify after a child has experienced traumatic events. Many children don’t like to be separated from their parents.
- For brief separations, it’s important to let your child know where you are going and when you will be back.
- Say goodbye briefly, and don’t prolong the situation. Make sure your child is engaged in an enjoyable activity before you leave.
- You can increase your child’s feelings of safety by giving them something that they like or something that reminds them of you (e.g. a scarf).
- Give your child a feeling of security and help them feel comfortable in their bed and in their room. Give your child something that belongs to you (a pillow, scarf, etc.) or put a dream catcher in your child’s room.
- Help your child think about something nice before going to bed.
- Sleeping rituals are very important (for instance, telling a good night story, speaking with your child about their day, etc.). Make sure that your child always goes to bed at about the same time.
- Try to ensure that your child has no excitement one hour before bedtime (video games, TV, etc.).
- If your child finds it difficult to fall asleep, let them listen to an audio book or music. Most children then fall asleep by themselves.
- It’s very common and normal that children have more worries and concerns after traumatic events. Take your time to find out what kind of worries your child has.
- Sometimes children find it difficult to say what’s upsetting them. Describe feelings like anger, sadness or fear, and ask your child which of these feelings they have. You can, for example, draw emojis or smileys for different feelings on paper.
- Assure your child that you and other adults protect them and give them a feeling of security.
- Don’t force your child to speak about what happened to them, but let them know that they can speak about their worries and anxieties with you at any time.
Fear of things, people or places which remind your child of the traumatic event
- Fear of trauma-related stimuli is very common after traumatic events.
- Often children try to avoid trauma-related reminders such as specific places or people. The longer a child avoids such things, the longer this behavior will last.
- Explain to your child that it is normal to be scared by bad memories and that these memories and worries will go away over time.
- Help your child to understand that remembering something doesn’t mean experiencing it again. Memories are always about something in the past.
- Provide safety and let your child know that you will protect them.
- Try to help your child face fearful situations with courage. Praise your child for successfully facing scary situations, and reward brave behavior.
Avoiding speaking about the traumatic event
- A lot of children have difficulties telling what upsets them.
- Don’t force your child to speak, but let them know, that they can speak about their worries and concerns with you at any time.
- Don’t wait until your child mentions the traumatic events by themselves. Instead, offer your child opportunities to speak about what happened to them.
- Talk openly with your child about the traumatic events and encourage them to express their feelings.
- Avoid discussing your own fears and worries with your child.
- Provide appropriate drawing and play material for your child; many children will use this to express their feelings about the traumatic events.