By Nico Strydom
When children are going through trauma, it has a direct impact on their emotional and physical reactions.
Gaelene Risk, a trauma counsellor at The Trauma Coach, says children often have difficulty identifying, expressing and managing their emotions. “Some children have a limited vocabulary and cannot express verbally the feelings they are experiencing and the feelings are then perhaps expressed in the form of deeds such as hitting, biting and tantrums.”
According to Risk children’s physical aspects can also be affected because trauma affects their developmental and cognitive abilities. “This can be in the form of poor concentration, poor attention and focus, not listening and becoming lost in their own thoughts.”
According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) children are traumatised by a frightening, dangerous or violent event that threatens their life or physical integrity. “Evidence of a traumatic event that threatens the life or physical safety of a loved one can also be traumatic.”
According to the NCTSN the following events can cause trauma in children:
- physical, sexual or psychological abuse and neglect
- domestic violence
- the loss of a loved one
- drug and alcohol abuse in a family
- serious accidents and life-threatening illnesses
When children experience a traumatic event, it does not always result in trauma. It may depend on whether the child has experienced trauma before and what protective factors are available to him or her.
What can parents do when their child has been traumatised?
Life Line has the following hints:
- Establish a feeling of safety ─ after a traumatic experience children should feel safe and they need a lot of attention, consolation and reassurance.
- Listen to your children ─ parents may underestimate the extent of the trauma the child has experienced. Sometimes it is more important to just listen patiently and with empathy than to say something.
- Help your children to express their feelings ─ children should be encouraged to paint, draw or write about what happened so that they can try to process the event.
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings ─ help your children to realise that all feelings they may experience are acceptable.
- Allow your children to do things they did at an earlier age ─ your child is, for instance, going to ask again to sleep with you in your bed or to walk with him or her to his or her classroom at school.
- Dispel misconceptions ─ help your children to get rid of misconceptions about the trauma, especially if, for instance, they feel guilty about something that was not their fault.
- Prepare them ─ if your child has to go to a funeral or hospital, you have to explain to him or her step by step how it is going to work and what is going to happen.
- Arrange support for you and your family ─ you may need additional support at this time.
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network: https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/about-child-trauma
Child Mind Institute: https://childmind.org/article/signs-trauma-children/
Life Line: https://www.pfp4sa.org/files/Children_Developmental_Phases_and_Trauma.pdf
Parenting Hub: https://parentinghub.co.za/2015/03/the-effects-of-trauma-on-children/
The Trauma Coach: https://thetraumacoach.co/trauma-counselling/childhood-trauma/