According to the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health, half of the children in America have faced at least one type of traumatic event in their young lives. In lieu of the recent violence (from humans and weather), that statistic has probably, sadly, increased. The good news is that early acknowledgment and treatment has shown to help youngsters successfully recover from various types of trauma.
What is Trauma?
The clinical definition of trauma includes a personal experience of injury, threat of death or injury, or witness of the same. A child’s response generally involves helplessness, intense fear, and horror. Additionally, children may experience trauma from seeing or hearing about events that did not happen to them personally. Even an event that occurred far away can trigger feelings of danger and extreme worry.
Signs of Trauma in Youngsters
Unfortunately, childhood trauma can result from many different events. The most common are: physical or sexual abuse, the death of a loved one, bullying, violence or substance abuse in the home, war, terrorism, and natural disasters. Keeping an eye out for particular signs may help you recognize if your child may be affected by trauma.
For children under six, some of the symptoms of trauma may be: extreme clinging to a caregiver, excessive crying, screaming or whimpering, moving aimlessly or becoming immobile.
For children between six and 11, you may notice: nightmares, complaints of physical problems, loss of interest in friends and fun activities, depression, development of unfounded fears.
For adolescents age 12 to 18, they may reveal signs such as: having flashbacks or nightmares, abusing alcohol or drugs, being disruptive or destructive, feeling isolated or depressed, having suicidal thoughts.
The Importance of Expedient Intervention and Help
The need for early intervention and treatment for children who’ve experienced trauma is tremendous, especially if it’s been more than one event. The stress of the event(s) can interrupt brain development. Physical health, the ability to learn, and proper socialization are all at risk. Emotional issues, if not confronted in a timely space, can create negative challenges for many years to come. As adults, without treatment during childhood, the ramifications of trauma can effect successful employment and increase risk of psychiatric disorders.
Treatments for Psychological Trauma
Any type of appropriate, caring intervention from an adult will reap benefits to a child. Specifically, however, many experts suggest trauma-based cognitive therapy if the youngster’s state doesn’t improve after several weeks. In the meanwhile, here are a few tips for helping your kids at home.
- Listen to your child’s fears. Even if they seem absurd or unfounded to you, remove judgment and comfort your child. Do not feed into their fears, but don’t discard them either.
- Reassure your child is safe. Create routines to keep stress levels low. Keep your own stress in check—that will help you both.
- Make positive future plans. Help your child focus on something optimistic. Distract his/her thoughts from the negative past or dark thoughts.
- Take away any blame your child might be placing on him/herself. Remind the child you love him/her and you have his/her back.
- If you don’t know the answers to questions, don’t make them up. It’s OK to admit to your child that you don’t know.
- Encourage a healthy diet and good rest.
Children can be pretty resilient, so any help that can be offered will have value.
Recently, the Sesame Workshop launched a new program. It’s aimed at helping kids deal with fear resulting from the increase in natural disasters and mass shootings. Their program offers videos, books, and digital activities created to help provide coping strategies.
Sesame’s initiative is similar to what cognitive-behavior therapists would suggest as an effective treatment. Parents, caregivers, teachers, and other adults can learn how to better empathize with the child (by trying to see the child’s perspective.) The child is offered suggestions on how to recognize thinking and behavior patterns and replace them with other, more positive ones. Puppets, art, music, talk, etc. are all tools that can be used to help the child feel safe and learn how to self-soothe and heal.
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