Helping Young Children Who Have Been Exposed to Trauma: For Families and Caregivers

When young children experience a traumatic stressor, their first response is usually to look for reassurance from the adults who care for them. The most important adults in a young child's life are his/her caregivers and relatives. These adults can help reestablish security and stability for children who have experienced trauma by:

  • Answering children's questions in language they can understand, so that they can develop an understanding of the events and changes in their life
  • Developing family safety plans
  • Engaging in age-appropriate activities that stimulate the mind and body
  • Finding ways to have fun and relax together
  • Helping children expand their "feelings" vocabulary
  • Honoring family traditions that bring them close to the people they love, e.g., storytelling, holiday celebrations, reunions, trips
  • Looking for changes in behaviors
  • Helping children to get back on track
  • Setting and adhering to routines and schedules
  • Setting boundaries and limits with consistency and patience
  • Showing love and affection

 The most important adults in a

young child's life are caregivers

and relatives. These adults can

help reestablish security and

stability for children who have

experienced trauma.

NCTSN resources

Other resources

When to Seek Help for Your Child

For many young children who have been affected by a traumatic experience, the most effective help is the reassurance and comfort provided by parents and trusted caregivers. However, if the trauma is severe or chronic, if it affects those close to the child, and/or if the child continues to be upset or have symptoms after a month or so has elapsed, it is advisable to seek help for the child.

Parents/caregivers may wish to consult their pediatrician, their child's teacher, and/or their childcare provider for suggestions of professionals who specialize in early childhood mental health. Because of the young age of the child and the importance of the parents/caregivers in the child's life, treatment for the child should actively include those adults. See the section below for a summary of treatments designed especially for young children.