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Helping Your School-Age Child Cope with Trauma

How to Help Your School-Age Child Cope with Trauma

After a traumatic event, children cope in different ways. School-age children who have gone through trauma may be overwhelmed with feelings of sadness or fear. These feelings can be hard to cope with. Most children have big worries after a traumatic event, most return to their typical selves over time. Love and support from you and other caregivers is important.

Child’s Response to Trauma

Children who have gone through a traumatic event, may engage in constant retelling of the event as a way of coping. Some children may worry for their own safety. Some may worry about the safety of their family and others. Wondering about what happened before, during or after the event and what they could have done differently is normal. Remind your child that this was not their fault.

Trauma can affect all aspects of a child’s life. These changes in behavior are your child’s way of coping and not bad behavior. Knowing this will help your child heal. Staying calm and reassuring your child that you are here to keep them safe will help them heal.

Some signs your child needs extra support from you and other caring adults:

  • Sleep disturbances. This may include nightmares, fear of sleeping alone, and difficulty falling asleep.
  • Difficulty concentrating and learning at school.
  • Headaches and stomach aches without a known reason.
  • Showing unusually aggressive or reckless behavior.

Your Response Can Help

One of the best ways you can support a child who has experienced trauma is by encouraging them to express their feelings of fear, sadness, and anger in a supportive environment. Remember that some children may need extra time or encouragement to share their emotions due to feelings of guilt and shame. Let your child know that these feelings are normal. Remind them that you are here to keep them safe.

It is not uncommon for you to need support during this challenging time. Remember to give yourself a break when needed. Take care of yourself so you can take care of your child. Find activities you enjoy together. Plan future activities to help you and your child recover.

If your child’s trauma symptoms do not improve over time or get in the way of their daily life or typical activities, go with your child to a mental health professional. If you have concerns for your child’s immediate safety, go to the Emergency Department.

Remember, healing takes time.

Information to help you provide support and comfort to your child

Things your child may want you to know, but can't express:

  • My feelings about the trauma are confusing. Sometimes I feel okay. Other times I feel sad, scared, or just empty or numb. It’s really hard to make the scary and sad feelings go away.
  • Sometimes my upset feelings come out as bad behavior.
  • I have trouble concentrating, paying attention, and sleeping sometimes. What happened is on my mind.
  • I might have physical reactions like stomach aches, headaches, feeling my heart pounding, and breathing too fast.
  • Sometimes I wonder if the trauma was my fault.
  • I sometimes think the same thing will happen to me, again or to other people I love.
  • I keep thinking about what happened over and over in my head.
  • Sometimes I don’t like to think or talk about trauma, because it’s too hard. I may not tell you everything because I don’t want to upset you.
  • I don’t like to go to some places or do some things that remind me of the trauma. I also think of how my life has changed since the trauma, and I get upset.

You help your child when:

  • Talk about your feelings. Encourage your child to talk about their feelings as long as I feel comfortable.
  • Help your child do things to feel calm, get back to their routine, and have fun again. Give them other things to do to help them to express their own self. Be patient with them until they feel okay.
  • Understand that thoughts about what happened get stuck in your child's mind. Help them relax at bedtime by reading stories or listening to music. Remind them you will keep them safe.
  • Your child feels safest when they know what to expect. Help them organize their day. Help them prepare for unexpected changes. Help them take their mind off things or slow down their breathing.
  • Reassure your child that it was not their fault. Remind them that you are there for them no matter what.
  • Remind your child about the things to do to stay safe. Make a code word with your child to use when they are feeling worried or scared. Help them remember all the people they trust.
  • Listen to what is on your child's mind. Tell them honestly what happened. Use words they can understand. Do not let them see things like this on TV or other media, when possible.
  • Give your child time to talk about what happened. Don’t get mad if they don’t want to talk about it or about the person.
  • Reassure your child they won’t always feel scared of places that remind them of the trauma. Remind them that it is okay to not push themselves to go until they are ready.

Last Updated 02/2022

Reviewed By Sarah Zawaly, Clinical Program Manager

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The Mayerson Center for Safe and Healthy Children at Cincinnati Children’s is a premier program that has helped set the national standard for enhancing and strengthening evaluations of child abuse and trauma.