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"Parenting a Child Who Has Experienced Trauma"
Children’s Bureau/ACYF/ACF/HHS 800.394.3366 | Email: firstname.lastname@example.org |
Available online at https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/factsheets/child-trauma
Helping Your Child Although childhood trauma can have serious, lasting effects, there is hope. With the help of supportive, caring adults, children can and do recover. Consider the following tips: Identify trauma triggers. Something you are doing or saying, or something harmless in your home, may be triggering your child without either of you realizing it. It is important to watch for patterns of behavior and reactions that do not seem to “fit” the situation. What distracts your child, makes him or her anxious, or results in a tantrum or outburst? Help your child avoid situations that trigger traumatic memories, at least until more healing has occurred. Be emotionally and physically available. Some traumatized children act in ways that keep adults at a distance (whether they mean to or not). Provide attention, comfort, and encouragement in ways your child will accept. Younger children may want extra hugs or cuddling; for older youth, this might just mean spending time together as a family. Follow their lead and be patient if children seem needy. Respond, don’t react. Your reactions may trigger a child or youth who is already feeling overwhelmed. (Some children are even uncomfortable being looked at directly for too long.) When your child is upset, do what you can to keep calm: Lower your voice, acknowledge your child’s feelings, and be reassuring and honest. Avoid physical punishment. This may make an abused child’s stress or feeling of panic even worse. Parents need to set reasonable and consistent limits and expectations and use praise for desirable behaviors. Don’t take behavior personally. Allow the child to feel his or her feelings without judgment. Help him or her find words and other acceptable ways of expressing feelings, and offer praise when these are used. Listen. Don’t avoid difficult topics or uncomfortable conversations. (But don’t force children to talk before they are ready.) Let children know that it’s normal to have many feelings after a traumatic experience. Take their reactions seriously, correct any misinformation about the traumatic event, and reassure them that what happened was not their fault. Help your child learn to relax. Encourage your child to practice slow breathing, listen to calming music, or say positive things (“I am safe now.”). Be consistent and predictable. Develop a regular routine for meals, play time, and bedtime. Prepare your child in advance for changes or new experiences. Be patient. Everyone heals differently from trauma, and trust does not develop overnight. Respecting each child’s own course of recovery is important. Allow some control. Reasonable, age-appropriate choices encourage a child or youth’s sense of having control of his or her own life. Encourage self-esteem. Positive experiences can help children recover from trauma and increase resilience.