It’s very common and normal for children and adolescents, who experienced a severe trauma or were prolonged or repeatedly exposed to traumatic events, to be more anxious. Children and adolescents often try to avoid situations, thoughts or people that remind them of what happened to them. Some children and adolescents are also sad and more socially withdrawn then they used to.
- It’s normal that children and adolescents are more anxious after traumatic events and often don’t want to be alone and 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 (for example, a scarf).
- After traumatic events, many children do not want to sleep alone in their bed or be alone their room.
- Help your child think about something nice before going to bed.
- Establish a bedtime ritual (read a bedtime story, review the day, etc.).
- 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, podcast or music. Most children then fall asleep by themselves.
- It’s very common that children and adolescents have more worries and concerns after traumatic events. Take your time to find out what kind of worries your child has.
- Sometimes children and even adolescents 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 emoticons/ smileys for different feelings on paper.
- Assure your child that you and other adults protect them and explain to them that they are safe now.
- Don’t urge 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.
- Your child’s feeling of safety can be increased by giving him or her something that they like, or something that reminds them of you (e.g. a pillow, a scarf, etc.).
Avoiding speaking about the traumatic event
- A lot of children and adolescents 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 what happened to them by themselves. Instead, offer your child opportunities to speak about what they went through.
- Talk openly with your child about what happened to them and encourage them to express their feelings.
- Avoid discussing your own fears and worries with your child.
- Provide appropriate drawing and play material to your child; many children will use this to express their feelings about the traumatic events.
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 and adolescents try to avoid trauma-related reminders such as specific places or people. The longer children and adolescents avoid 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 fade 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.
Sadness, frequent crying
- Explain to your child that it is normal to be sad after traumatic events.
- Calm your child and tell them that the events are over now and that they are safe.
- Sometimes children and adolescents 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/ smileys for different feelings on paper.
- Don’t force your child to speak about what they went through but let them know that they can speak about their worries and anxieties with you at any time.
- Sympathize with your child if they prefer to be at home or to be alone.
- Nevertheless, encourage your child to meet friends and to go outdoors.
- Help your child to take up their regular hobbies (sport, etc.) and outdoor activities.