How to Talk to Kids About Traumatic Events

How to Talk to Kids About Traumatic Events

On 10 Dec 2014, in family issues, parenting

Children and youth can face emotional strains after a traumatic event such as a car crash or violence. When children experience a trauma, watch it on TV or overhear others discussing it, they can feel scared, confused or anxious. Young people react to trauma differently than adults. Some may react right away; others may show signs that they are having a difficult time much later. As such, adults do not always know when a child needs help coping. This tip sheet will help parents, caregivers and teachers respond in a helpful way.

Preschool children (0-5 years old)

Give these very young children a lot of cuddling and verbal support: 

  • Take a deep breath before holding or picking them up and focus on them, not the trauma.
  • Get down to their eye level and speak in a calm, gentle voice using words they can understand.
  • Tell them that you still care for them and will continue to take care of them so they feel safe.

Early childhood to adolescence (6-19 years old)

Nurture children and youth in this age group:

  • Ask your child or the children in your care what worries them and what might help them cope.
  • Offer comfort with gentle words, a hug when appropriate, or just being present with them.
  • Spend more time with the children than usual, even for a short while. Returning to school activities and getting back to routines at home is important too.
  • Excuse traumatized children from chores for a day or two. After that, make sure they have age-appropriate tasks and can participate in a way that makes them feel useful.
  • Support children spending time with friends or having quiet time to write or create art.
  • Encourage children to participate in recreational activities so they can move around and play with others.
  • Address your own trauma in a healthy way.

When children, youth and parents, caregivers or teachers need more help
In some instances, a child and their family may have trouble getting past a trauma. Parents or caregivers may be afraid to leave a child alone. Teachers may see that a student is upset or seems different. It may be helpful for everyone to work together. Consider calling BJC EAP for help.

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