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A child can become traumatised if they are exposed to events or environments that are particularly frightening, dangerous, life-threatening, disturbing or violent.
Such experiences may trigger feelings of traumatic stress which can undermine a child’s sense of safety and stability and impact the way they think and behave.
The child may continue to be affected long after the event, and may suffer:
Children can be affected by many different types of trauma, including:
In this article, you can find tips on how to help your child in the aftermath of a traumatic event.
Some children are more at risk of suffering from traumatic stress than others. Learn to recognise unhealthy ways of coping with trauma so you can get your child professional support if necessary.
The way a child responds to a traumatic event can depend on numerous factors, but as a general guideline (based on age), look out for the following symptoms.
Children aged 0-5 may:
Children aged 6-11 may:
Adolescents aged 12-17 may:
Sometimes a child will experience a delayed reaction to a trauma, even if they seem fine immediately afterwards. This can happen days, weeks or months later.
A lack of reaction may mean a child is coping well, but you should still look out for any worrying symptoms in the months that follow.
It is normal for your child to experience negative feelings after a traumatic event, but these should improve over time. If a child is suffering more seriously from trauma, the symptoms may persist and can start to interfere with their daily functioning. In this circumstance, you may want to seek help from a mental health professional. If you are concerned that your child may be a victim of abuse, it is important to seek help urgently.
Also consider seeking professional help for your child if they are:
The consequences of a traumatic event can be just as difficult for a child as the immediate crisis. They may have to endure many changes like adjusting to life with a disability or moving to a new house or school.
Additionally, reminders of the trauma may trigger a strong emotional reaction. Even the anniversary of the event may be enough to evoke feelings of sadness or fear. Learning to recognise a child’s reaction to trauma can help you understand why their mood and behaviour may change in its aftermath.
Addressing the effects of a traumatic event in a positive and constructive manner can be vital to a child's recovery.
There are many factors which can determine whether or not a child is traumatised by an event. For example, a child may be more susceptible if they have an existing history of trauma. Other factors that can have an impact include:
‘Protective factors’ are traits or resources possessed by a child or their support network that better equip them for dealing with negative experiences. Positive adult role models, a supportive community, and healthy self-esteem are examples of protective factors.
Having many protective factors may mean a child is able to recover from traumatic circumstances more successfully.
A child can become traumatised if they are bombarded by distressing media content (like news reports or social media updates), particularly if they were involved in a tragedy. Limit your child’s exposure by utilising parental controls on any devices they use.
You can always separate media content from your child if you notice they are troubled by it, even if it isn’t directly related to a traumatising event.
The time you spend with your child can play an important role in their recovery. You can:
Your child may experience changes in thinking, mood, and behaviour due to trauma. The way you respond can impact their recovery.
Clear family roles and a regular routine can give a child a sense of normality. To achieve this:
The way a child’s caregiver, family, and community react to a tragedy can influence how they respond. It is important to seek help and support for yourself if you are struggling after a traumatic experience. This will help you recover and put you in a better position to support your loved ones.
Take care of yourself physically as well as mentally, by eating a balanced diet, getting the right amount of sleep, and exercising regularly. This will also set a good example for your child.
Speak to your child’s doctor if you are ever worried about their mental health. For further support, the Child Mind Institute offer free trauma guides in a number of languages, including French, Spanish and Arabic.
Always take your child seriously if they talk of suicide or exhibit suicidal behaviour. You can contact the following suicide helplines for support:
The International Association for Suicide Prevention (IASP) can help you find crisis centres and helplines across the world.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.