Helping Children Cope with Traumatic Events

I just read an article from the National Institute of Mental Health that gave many good suggestions for helping children who have been traumatized.  I thought I would share with you a few of the sections from that report. Click on the link if you would like to read the entire article.

The first helpful section listed common responses to trauma from different age groups of children. Some of the major responses were:

Children age five and younger may:

  • Cling to parents or caregivers.
  • Have tantrums and be irritable.
  • Complain of physical problems such as stomach aches or headaches.
  • Suddenly return to behaviors such as bed-wetting and thumb-sucking.
  • Show increased fearfulness (for example, of the dark, monsters, or being alone).

Children age six to 11 may:

  • Have problems in school.
  • Isolate themselves from family and friends.
  • Have nightmares, refuse to go to bed, or experience other sleep problems.
  • Become irritable, angry, or disruptive.
  • Complain of physical problems such as stomach aches and headaches.

Adolescents age 12 to 17 may:

  • Have nightmares or other sleep problems.
  • Use or abuse drugs, alcohol, or tobacco.
  • Be disruptive or disrespectful or behave destructively.
  • Complain of physical problems such as stomach aches and headaches.
  • Become isolated from friends and family.

One of the most helpful sections I think was on how parents and caregivers can respond to help the children under their care.


  • Allow children to be sad or cry.
  • Let children talk, write, or draw pictures about the event and their feelings.
  • Limit viewing of repetitive news reports about traumatic events. Young children may not understand that news coverage is about one event and not multiple similar events.
  • Give extra attention to children who have trouble sleeping. Let them sleep with a light on or let them sleep in your room (for a short time).
  • Try to keep your usual routines (or create new routines), such as reading bedtime stories, eating dinner together, or playing games.
  • Help children feel in control when possible by letting them make decisions for themselves, such as choosing meals or picking out clothes.
  • Contact a health professional if, after a month in a safe environment, children are not able to perform their usual routines.
  • Contact a health care provider if new behavioral or emotional problems develop, particularly if symptoms occur for more than a few weeks:


  • Expect children to be brave or tough.
  • Make children discuss the event before they are ready.
  • Get angry if children show strong emotions.
  • Get upset if they begin bed-wetting, acting out, or thumb-sucking.

Children’s reactions to trauma are strongly influenced by adults’ responses to trauma. Parents can help children by being supportive, by remaining as calm as possible, and by reducing other stressors, such as:

  • Frequent moves or changes in place of residence
  • Long periods away from family and friends
  • Pressures to perform well in school
  • Fighting within the family

When monitoring healing, remember:

  • Healing takes time.
  • Do not ignore severe reactions.
  • Pay attention to sudden changes in behaviors, speech, language use, or strong emotions.

If you would like to read more about the Centers work with trauma victims please click on the link below.

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