Help for Trauma Caregivers

I was reading a presentation by Bruce Perry (the entire presentation can be found here) titled Helping Children with Trauma – A brief overview for Caregivers. It was such a great presentation that I thought I would give you a short summary for my blog this week, thanks to all the caregivers who work with these children.

First it is important to remember that this guide is intended to inform and provide general principles — it is not intended to be comprehensive or to exclude other observations or approaches to helping traumatized children. This week I will summarize 3 out of the 6 frequent questions caregivers often have. Next week we will look at the 2nd set of 3 questions.

  1. Should I talk about the traumatic event?

 Do not be afraid to talk about the traumatic event. Children do not benefit from ‘not thinking about it’ or ‘putting it out of their minds.’  A good rule of thumb is to let the child guide when you talk about it. If the child doesn’t ask about or mention it, don’t bring it up on your own, but when the child brings it up or seems to be thinking about it, don’t avoid discussion. Listen to the child, answer questions, and provide comfort and support. We often have no adequate explanations about traumatic events. It is just fine to tell children that you do not know why something happened or that you get confused and upset by it, too. In the end, listening and comforting a child without avoiding or over-reacting will have long-lasting positive effects on the child’s ability to cope with trauma.

  1. How should I talk about the event?

Use age-appropriate language and explanations. The timing and language used are important. Immediately following the trauma, the child will not be very capable of processing complex or abstract information. As the child gets further away from the event, she will be able to focus longer, and make more sense of what has happened. During this long process, the child continues to ‘re-experience’ the traumatic event. In play, drawing and words, the child may repeat, re-enact and re-live some elements of the traumatic loss. Surviving adults will hear children ask the same questions again and again.

The child will experience and process the very same material differently at different times following the trauma. In the long run, the opportunity to process and re-process many times will facilitate healthy coping. This re-processing may take place throughout the development of the child. Even years after the original trauma, a child may ‘revisit’ the loss and struggle to understand it from their current developmental perspective.

One of the most important elements in this process is that children of different ages have different styles of adapting and different abilities to understand abstract concepts often associated with trauma such as death, hate or the randomness of a car accident.

  1. Should I talk to others about the traumatic event?

Yes. Inform adults and children in the child’s world what has happened. Let teachers, counselors, parents of the child’s friends and, if appropriate, the child’s peers know some of the pain that this child is living with. Sometimes this can allow the people in the child’s life to give them the small amount of tolerance, understanding or nurturing that will smooth the way. People can often be intolerant or insensitive when dealing with the traumatized child “Isn’t it about time they got over this?” When you see that this is occurring don’t be shy about taking this person aside and educating them about the long-lasting effects of traumatic events and the long process of recovery.

If you would like to read more about how Family Christian Counseling Center works with trauma victims please click the link.

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