Experiencing a severe trauma or being exposed prolonged or repeatedly to traumatic events can affect the way children and adolescents think and feel about themselves, others and the “world”. It can also affect their mood. For example, they think they`re worthless and that they can’t trust anybody anymore. Consequently, children and adolescents stop participating in their hobbies and withdraw from their family and friends.
Inability to remember certain aspects of what happened to them
- It’s common that children and adolescents don’t remember all or only parts of what happened to them.
- By erasing memories of what happened, the brain tries to protect itself from the stress generated by bad memories of the experience(s).
- Try to find out if your child is troubled (or not) by the inability to remember.
- Don’t force your child to remember the trauma.
- If your child does remember parts of what happened to them, talk openly with your child about it and encourage them to share their memories.
Negative beliefs about oneself, others or the world
- Many children and adolescents develop negative thinking patterns which play a major role in causing and maintaining various issues after experiencing traumatic events (e.g. avoidance behavior, flashbacks, or intrusions).
- These thinking patterns (also called negative core beliefs) include assumptions about the self (e.g. “I’m a failure/ incompetent.”), others (e.g. “I can’t trust others.”) and the world (e.g. “The world is extremely dangerous.”).
- Often these unhelpful thinking patterns are self-sustaining in that children and adolescents are looking for information in specific situations (and disregard inconsistent information) which support their beliefs.
- Checking these beliefs can help. Ask your child what other possibilities are there to think about certain things? What would a friend think in the same situation? What could your child advise a friend? Does it help to think like this?
Distorted blaming of oneself or others
- It’s normal for children and adolescents to have the tendency to blame themselves for what happened to them.
- Sometimes children and adolescents hold other people responsible for what happened to them such as their mother or father (believing they did not protect them), without recognizing that the blame is inaccurate.
Persistent negative emotional state
- Many children experience persistent negative strong emotions such as shame, guilt, anger, sadness, and hopelessness.
- Talk actively to your child about these feelings and try to put them into perspective, if possible.
Diminished interest in activities
- After traumatic events, many children no longer participate in activities they previously enjoyed.
- Don’t force your child to take part.
- Help your child to find out what they enjoy and what not (do activities/ projects together, let your child choose activities you can do together).
- Show interest in activity plans and praise them for their activities.
Detachment from others
- Feeling distant from others and social withdrawal is a common reaction in children and adolescents after traumatic events.
- Encourage your child to meet up with friends. Support them by driving them and their friends to the movies, etc.
- Often children having difficulties to experience positive feelings, such as happiness or love.
- Many children and adolescents experience these difficulties after traumatic events. If you notice that it is not getting better or your child is very stressed, inquire together about therapy options. Help your child to see positive things in their life.
- It’s also important that you assure your child that they can continue to enjoy things despite what happened to them and e.g. support them to continue pursuing their hobbies.