Perhaps a tragedy recently occurred in your town, and your child has been confused and scared ever since. Or maybe you’ve experienced a loss within your family. Now, your child is struggling with grief as they try to understand what happened to their loved one. You may have just escaped an abusive situation with your child, or maybe you experienced a life-threatening accident or natural disaster.
Many children are exposed to different forms of trauma, and as a parent, it’s your job to help them process their emotions. This isn’t always easy to do, especially when you may be suffering in the aftermath of a traumatic event, too. But following some basic guidelines can help you navigate these conversations. Here’s how to talk to your child about trauma in a way that they can understand.
Let Your Child Open Up
First and foremost, you need to provide a safe space where your child can talk freely about what they’re feeling. If you know that your child is upset, yet they seem guarded, you may need to initiate this conversation.
When you do talk to your child about the event, let them say anything that happens to cross their mind. Remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to feel in the face of trauma. Don’t try to “correct” your child when they share their thoughts — simply allow them to express themselves.
Your child may have questions about the details of a particular event. You can answer their questions to a level that feels age-appropriate. Furthermore, your child might still feel like they’re in a state of “fight or flight.” Although they won’t use these words, they may say that they are still scared or that they don’t feel safe. Reassure your child that they are safe now. Talk to them about their specific fears, and address these concerns one by one.
However, it’s important to be patient with your child as they adjust to this reality. It’s perfectly normal for them to not feel safe or relaxed right away. This takes time, and they may need professional support to get to this point.
Share Your Own Feelings
When talking to your child about trauma, it’s important to keep their feelings at the center of the conversation. But your child might ask you about your own feelings about the event.
Feel free to share your own emotions if it’s appropriate. Your child may simply want to know that they aren’t alone with their sadness or fear, and it’s okay to admit that you were hurt by what happened, too.
Suggest Taking Action
Many people feel better when they contribute to the common good after living through a traumatic event. Even children can pitch in with volunteer efforts – and your child might even explicitly ask you what they could do to help other people who are struggling. You can suggest a couple of age-appropriate activities that you can partake in as a family.
Consider Family Therapy
What if you don’t feel equipped to help your child process a traumatic event on your own? Or what if you’ve tried to talk to your child about what happened on several occasions, but they shut down every time?
If these scenarios sound relatable, you’ll want to look for a therapist who specializes in addressing childhood trauma. Your child could attend some sessions on their own, and some with you present — it all depends on their needs.
Are you having trouble talking to your child about a traumatic event? Working with a therapist can help. Reach out to us today to discuss your options for scheduling your first session.