Helping Children Cope after a Traumatic Event

There are many things you can do to help your child cope after experiencing a traumatic event.  It is normal for a child to feel worried, emotional or jumpy for the first few days after a traumatic experience.

Traumatic events may include:

  • Car accidents
  • Dog bites
  • Hospital visits or procedures
  • Loss or injury of a loved one
  • Experience of violence or assault

Offer Comfort

  • Encourage the use of comfort items, like a blanket, stuffed animal, or “safe place.”
  • Increase the amount of time you and your child spend with supportive friends and family members.

Help Them Cope

  • Talk about your feelings and the way you cope, for example, “When I feel scared, I talk to a friend.”
  • Slowly begin to ask your child questions, such as, “What can you do to feel better when you’re scared?”
  • Provide time to relax.  Consider using music, books, massage and/or deep breathing.

You want to make your child feel safe.  Creating a safe environment helps your child trust again.

  • Give extra hugs and let him or her know they are safe. Talk about what makes you feel safe.
  • When ready, encourage your child to express his or her feelings, both positive and negative.
  • Use play to help your child process what happened. Consider using doctor’s kits, car/action figures, Legos, etc.
  • Ask if your child has questions about what happened during the event or during the hospitalization. Clear up any misconceptions.
  • Encourage your child to draw pictures, write stories or journal about what happened.
  • Keep a normal routine and set regular limits for your child.
  • Remind your child the event was not his or her fault.

It is important to take care of yourself in order to best support your child.

  • Call a friend or family member and talk about your feelings with someone you trust.
  • Get enough sleep and eat regularly.
  • Ask for help if you need it, even with everyday things.
  • Be aware of your own emotions.
  • Maintain normal routines.
  • Use healthy coping skills; avoid negative ways of dealing with stress such as excessive smoking or drinking alcohol.
  • Take time to do something you enjoy.

Keep in mind siblings may be affected by the event as well.  Keep them included and give them extra attention.  Ask them, “Is there anything you are confused or worried about? How are you feeling?”

If you or your child continue to feel worried, emotional or jumpy weeks after the trauma and these feelings interfere with daily living, seek professional help.  Talk with a family doctor, therapist, social worker or school counselor.


Last Updated 12/2014