Tips for How to Answer When Your Child Starts Processing the Trauma
Trauma is defined as “a very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems usually for a long time”.
Some behavioral signs of trauma:
- Major changes in eating
- Nightmares, refuses to sleep alone
- Anger, rage, easily irritated
- Separation Anxiety or unreasonable fear
- Unusually strong startle reactions
- Isolation, decreased sense of worth, cries frequently
- Sudden loss of interest in hobbies or sports
- Acting out sexually or inappropriately
Trauma in a family brings a flooding of confusing and intense emotions into the home. Some days these emotions can feel very overwhelming, and some days it’s easier to contain.
For many families with children who have been abused or traumatized, it could feel like the calm before the storm. Everything seems fine for a few days and then, BAM! The child begins to process and discuss the trauma with caregivers and caregivers feel that intense flooding of pain again.
Sometimes, a child won’t choose to talk about the trauma in therapy, but during play therapy, the trauma is subconsciously processed, and sometimes kids will begin talking about the event at home. This sometimes throws parents off-guard. We wanted to put together some tips we frequently share with parents at Sunny Path Counseling to help know what to say when their child starts talking about a trauma.
Here are some basic things to keep in mind if your child begins to open the flood-gates of unfolding and processing the trauma.
1.Assess your Surroundings
Where are you with your child? A lot of parents have a fear that their child will start asking questions or talking about the trauma in front of people that the parents don’t want to know.
If the answer is at a family reunion, then you’ll need to gently stop your child and let your child know that you’ll talk to them about it when you get home. Later, explain to your child your concerns about talking about the event publicly, and distinguish who might be a safe person to tell versus unsafe.
To listen is to not speak. This includes the internal chatter and panic that may automatically run through your mind. Silence this inner voice, and listen to what your child is telling you. According to Psychology Today, Active listening is an essential skill and one of the best ways to connect with another person. Sometimes when a child feels heard and understood, the urge to talk about it goes away or feels more manageable.
3. Reflect, Clarify (But Don’t Question)
It is important to separate what happened to the child from the identity of the child. Some children will say, “I used to be normal” or “I did something bad, and that makes me bad.”
Be very clear when you’re answering your child that the abuse/trauma does not define your child. Or use the child’s own words, “Just because something bad happened to you, does not make you bad.”
For example, “I am so sorry that happened to you, you are safe now.”
The key here is reflect (“I am sorry that happened to you, or what happened to you was not right”) followed by the reassuring statement (“You are safe now”).
Children have a vision of their parents as perfect protectors. We all experience trauma, or tough situations, in which our parents (because they’re human!) cannot or are not able to protect us. Children with secure attachments will feel disappointment, but be able to grow and learn from these experiences. Children without secure attachments will feel betrayal or mistrust towards the parent.
Children learn to regulate emotions through their parents. It may take some time for the child to develop and repair the lost trust, but through working through your own trauma or issues, and learning to control your own emotions and reactions, the child will be able to regulate his/her emotions. If your child is under the age of 5, and has experienced a trauma or abuse, ask us about our Child Parent Psychotherapy program.
Note: This blog was written with the assumption that the abuse has already been reported. If not, please call the Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD.
Still Needing Some Help?
If your child has undergone a major stressor, please don’t hesitate to give us a call. Sunny Path Counseling can help your child resolve past stressful experiences so there is a lesser chance it will negatively affect him/her later in life.
To learn more about our services and how to get help for your child, click the button below!