by Stacey Schifferdecker
All parents hope and pray their children will lead happy, carefree lives. Unfortunately, real life intervenes in the form of death, divorce, fires, hurricanes, tornados, and other disasters. Since we can’t always protect our children from trauma, how can we help them survive and, eventually, thrive?
Children often don’t have the words to express their emotions, and so adults think they are doing “just fine” when, in reality, they are scared and anxious inside. Symptoms that may indicate your child is more affected by trauma than you realize include
- Sleep disturbances and nightmares
- Regression to old habits such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting
- Temper tantrums
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Physical complaints such as stomachaches
When a trauma occurs in your family or community, it is very important that you give children the opportunity to talk about what has happened. It may be scary to you to see the full extent of your children’s pain, but they need to talk about their feelings and fears. When they are talking, don’t interrupt them or dismiss their anxieties. Instead, let them know that it is normal to feel upset, scared, mad, and confused. Acknowledging your children’s pain will help it feel more manageable to everyone.
Here are some other tips to help your child through the bad times:
- Continue daily routines and activities as much s possible.
- Spend more time together and give lots of hugs and cuddling.
- Play and draw together. Children’s feelings will often come our through play or artwork.
- If the trauma is personal, such as a divorce or death in the family, make sure your children’s teachers know what is going on.
- Assure your children—repeatedly—that whatever happened is not their fault.
- Talk to your child about what has happened and answer any questions as honestly as you can. Keep your children informed about possible changes: for example, if you have to move. Telling them a painful truth is better than letting their imaginations kick up a possibly even more painful fantasy.
- Keep boundaries in place. Trauma is not an excuse for being rude or disrespectful.
- Seek help. Most communities abound with divorce recovery groups, grief counseling workshops, and more. The whole family might also benefit from professional counseling.
• Make new traditions, especially around the holidays. Your children may get mired in sadness remembering traditions that can no longer be. So create your own new traditions! For example, if your family always took a post-Thanksgiving dinner walk, institute a family game night instead.
- Let your children see that you are in pain too, but do not make them feel responsible for your pain. Do not share details about your pain and anger that will only burden your children more. This is especially following a divorce, when you may be tempted to criticize your former spouse in front of the children.
- Pray – for yourself and for your children. And teach your children to pray so they can shift their burden of sadness to God at least for a while.
Be patient with your children. It will take time for them to work through their pain and grief. Eventually you will be a stronger family unit for surviving this trauma together.
Stacey Schifferdecker is the happy but harried mother of three school-aged children—two boys and a girl. She is also a freelance writer, a Children’s Minister, a PTA volunteer, and a Scout leader. Stacey has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications and French and a Master’s degree in English. She has written extensively about parenting and education as well as business, technology, travel, and hobbies.
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