After experiencing a severe trauma or being prolonged or repeatedly exposed to traumatic events, it’s very common and normal that children and adolescents are more restless or nervous and display more tantrums or defiant behavior. Re-experiencing what happened to them and repeatedly trying to avoid things that trigger this re-experiencing upsets them. Children and adolescents can have difficulties sleeping and poor concentration, or they may easily be startled.
Difficulties to fall asleep and to sleep through
- Many children and adolescents, who have experienced traumatic events, have difficulties falling asleep or sleeping through. Sleeping rituals are very important and can help your child to sleep better (for instance, telling a good night story, speaking with your child about their day, etc.).
- If necessary, help your child find new rituals that help them fall asleep (such as listening to an audio book, podcast, or music, reading, thinking about something nice, etc.).
- Self-calming rituals can help if the child wakes up in the middle of the night. They could, for example, take their favorite cuddly toy as a protector or have a parent’s object (such as a scarf) in their bed.
- You can also leave the bedroom door open or install a small nightlight in the room.
- Try to ensure that your child has no excitement one hour before bedtime (video games, TV, etc.)
- Ensure that your child has enough regular physical activities and conducts sport.
- After traumatic events, many children and adolescents feel and behave extremely vigilant and tense.
- Help your child to tell you about their worries and give them realistic information. Explain to your child that their worries will disappear over time.
- Encourage your child to pursue their leisure-time activities and to meet their friends and pay attention that your child doesn’t avoid activities or places that they liked before the event(s).
Getting startled easily
- It’s very common that children startle easily after experiencing traumatic events. They are worried that the events could happen again and may be extremely watchful for possible risks. Even small stimuli (such as sounds) can frighten the child.
- Explain to your child that they are safe and that you and other adults will protect them.
- Give your child the opportunity to speak about their fears and worries. Agree with your child on a specific sign by which they can let you know that they are frightened.
- Be as calm as possible.
- Help your child feel safe by giving them a lot of affection and closeness and by playing and speaking with them more than usual.
- Be careful not to worsen or prolong your child’s anxieties. Instead, encourage your child to face fearful situations and praise your child when they succeed in doing it. Encourage and praise courageous behavior.
- Physical hyperarousal is very common after traumatic events. In children, this is often shown by bad mood or irritability.
- Help your child to understand that different feelings like tiredness or worries can lead to anger or irritable behavior.
- Help your child find words for their feelings, listen carefully, and help them express their frustrations or worries.
- Encourage your child to pursue their leisure-time activities and physical activities as an outlet for their emotions and frustrations.
- Due to their irritability, your child can show disturbing behavior in school. Inform the teacher about the situation in agreement with your child. If the teacher requires further information, you could also refer them to this website.
- Concentration problems are very common after traumatic events.
- Recurring and distressing memories of what happened to them distract children and adolescents and lead to attention deficits (e.g. in school, at home, etc.).
- Help your child understand what happens when they find it difficult to concentrate. Try to find out with your child if such difficulties occur in specific situations (trauma-related?).
- In any case, it’s advisable to inform the child’s teacher about the traumatic event in agreement with your child. If the teacher requires further information, you could also refer them to this website.
- After traumatic events, sometimes children and adolescents are unable to sit still and are restless. Sometimes, they have difficulties to play quietly.
- Due to their hyperactivity, your child might disrupt class in school. Inform the teacher about the situation in agreement with your child. If the teacher requires further information, you could also refer them to this website.
- After traumatic events, children and adolescents are often more irritable and sensitive and therefore can get frustrated and aggressive more easily.
- Be patient with your child and try to understand what your child feels: Are they frightened, angry or bored?
- Help your child to find words for their wishes, frustrations and worries and help your child express anger in other ways.
- Explain to your child that you understand that they lose their temper quickly, but still be consistent with them.
- Behave consistently and give your child clear and specific rules and guidance. Let your child know if something is not OK and always stop aggressive behavior immediately. Don’t let the situation escalate – react early.
- Use simple, quiet, and reasonable instructions.
- Agree with your child what they can do when they get angry (such as biting a pillow, using a punching bag, etc.). Give clear rules.