Individual Queries for Clinical Guidance
Parents can be very important in helping children and adolescents to recover from their trauma-related experiences and losses. Because children and adolescents go through many normal changes as they mature into young adults, it is not always easy to tell when they are bothered by posttraumatic, grief, or depressive reactions. A first step in being helpful is to learn as much as you can about child traumatic stress. Click here for more information on understanding child traumatic stress.
A First step in being helpful is to learn as much as
you can about child traumatic stress.
It is also not always easy to know what type of support children and adolescents need, or how to offer it. Here are some suggestions about ways to support your children, including open communication, emotional support, and practical support.
- Try to keep in mind what your children have experienced. Let your child know that you appreciate the seriousness of what they went through, and that you know that their reactions to their traumatic experiences and losses can continue for a long time. At the same time, try to reassure them that things will improve over time.
- Encourage your children to talk about ways in which they are still bothered by their experiences, losses and current difficulties. This will help you better understand their feelings and behavior.
- In speaking to your child, try to understand how they are feeling without being critical. For example, don't say things like, "Stop complaining," or "You should be over it by now."
- It is important to be patient and tolerant, especially when they talk repetitively about the trauma.
A Let your child know that you appreciate the seriousness of
what they went through.
- Let them know how much you would like to be of help whenever they are reminded of their experiences or losses. Get familiar with the many ways your child may be reminded. It is helpful to be open about how you are still affected by reminders. As a family, you can then offer each other emotional support, through physical comfort, understanding and reassurance.
- Know that your children and adolescents notice and can be bothered by occasions when your mood changes suddenly or you act differently in response to a reminder. Let them know that you are reacting to a reminder and that it is not their fault.
- If your child feels guilty for the death or injury of others, reassure them that it was not their fault.
- Understand that anger is part of a child or adolescent's reaction to their post-trauma distress. Try to be tolerant and encourage them to talk about what is bothering them, rather than reprimanding them or telling them to be quiet. However, indicate that abusive language and violence is not allowed.
Reassure them that it was not their fault.
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Being Responsive to Children's Grief
- Allow your child to talk about a lost loved one, even though this may be upsetting to you. Don't try to stop them from feeling sad, as this is a normal part of grieving. If you think that their sadness is excessive, then seek psychological counseling.
- Try to help your children remember good things about a lost friend or family member. Tell them positive things and stories that you remember about the person.
- When your children ask, don't be afraid to tell them that you are feeling sad when you are thinking about the loss of a loved one. On the other hand, try not to overwhelm your children with the responsibility of feeling like they have to take care of you
- Be open and tolerant of your child's protests over the unfairness of the loss and its impact on their lives. This will often diminish over time.
- Click here for more information about child traumatic grief
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When to Seek Professional Help
The process of recovering from traumatic experiences and significant losses can take months or years, and for some children and adolescents their daily lives can be disrupted by intrusive memories of the trauma, grief reactions, and symptoms of depression. As a general rule of thumb, if a child's responses (e.g. nightmares, recurrent thoughts or fears) have been getting worse instead of better over time, consider seeking a referral to a trained and qualified mental health professional.
Other signs that you should consider seeking help for a child or adolescent from a mental health professional include:
- Withdrawal from friends or family, lack of participation in family activities
- School refusal for a period of weeks or months, or marked deterioration in ability to concentrate leading to diminished grades
- Preoccupation with fear, grief, or guilt to the exclusion of talking or thinking about anything else
- Fear of leaving the house or doing usual activities
- Dropping out of sports or other social activities
- Isolation from peers
- Click here for information on finding a mental health professional.
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Quick Links to Resources for Families
Glossary of Terms Related to Child Traumatic Stress
Tips for Parents and Caregivers on Media Coverage of Traumatic Events (PDF)
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