Parenting After Trauma: What to Expect

We hear it a lot: children are resilient beings. It’s true for the most part, children can handle a lot of change and a lot of adjustments without many long-term effects. However, if there is one thing that can shake up the world of your children, it’s trauma. Whether it’s car accidents, medical trauma or an exposure to unexpected violence, children are usually able to cope and recover. Trauma can leave lasting effects, even if they don’t appear apparent straight away. Given a sense of normality, children can cope and recover very well, being completely fine when witnessing a traumatic event. 

There are some children and teenagers, though, that will develop some symptoms after a traumatic event. You can start looking for a car accident lawyer free consultation near me, but that isn’t going to be what takes the pressure of their trauma. If your children have been involved in an accident or have been witness to one, you may notice that they start to display symptoms of trauma later on. You may notice some difficult behavior, extreme mood swings and emotions that become unregulated and out of sorts. The thing is, this can often be the main thing that parents find difficult to deal with, as it changes the behavior of their previously happy child.

Boy Sitting With Brown Bear Plush Toy on Selective Focus Photo

Some of the behavior that you should be on the lookout for include:

  • Sadness
  • Anger
  • Numbing

These are normal trauma responses as the brain protects itself from the panic, worry and stress they are feeling. However, there are some behaviors that throw up a red flag, and they are grouped by age. Let’s explore those below:

Children Under 5. Children can often regress back to toddler behavior, such as separation anxiety, thumbsucking, bedwetting and fear of the dark. They’re also quick to tantrum, as they cannot regulate their emotions.

6-11 Year Olds. Extreme withdrawal from parents, difficulty paying attention to anything, issues with sleep, issues with school, disruptive behavior, physical changes like stomach aches headaches.

12-17 Year Olds. For older children, sleep problems and nightmares are often a big problem, as is performance at school and truancy. Teenagers also face problems with their peers and depression.

If you can recognize these behaviors as post-traumatic, you will be able to identify when your child is experiencing enough distress that they need to have professional help. Parents can only do so much before outside help is necessary. You may also need to have some extra support so that you can adequately support your child through their trauma. Your children being able to talk to someone is important and they need someone that they can trust to lean on and help them to work through it.

With the right support, children can return to as normal as possible, though it’s important to realize that this is a new normal and not like life was before the trauma. Young children often play out the circumstances of the trauma to understand it and work it out, and this can be difficult for parents to witness. Parents just want what’s best for their children, and seeing their child go through a trauma? That’s not easy.

Routine is so important for children who have been through any kind of trauma. Even when the routine is different, children will find comfort in returning to it as soon as possible. Older children will struggle to get back to a routine, as they find it hard to make a connection between recovery and their new normal. It’s not easy for a parent to watch, but life will be unpredictable for a time after a traumatic event. Routine can help to return some of that normal, but you need to give it time.

Parents need guidance when it comes to returning to normal with their children, and below, we’ve outlined some of the steps you can take to help your children to move through a trauma and deal with the emotional impact of it at the same time.

  • Start by listening. Your child is going to communicate with you – but it won’t always be in words. Their behavior is going to be indicative of what they’re trying to say. So, even on days it’s tough to do it, see past surly teenagers and screaming toddlers and try to look at the root of their difficulty. Children need answers in an age-appropriate way, and you are their best option. Give them the closure they need, but listen to them first.
  • Don’t make this traumatic event a secret. It’s not going to protect the kids to ignore what’s happened and try to shield them. They’ve experienced it, and brushing it under the carpet is going to serve to make them feel that you’re not interested. If your children want to talk about it, let them. 
  • Children understand far more than you think they do. You may think that because they’re young, they don’t understand what has happened or why – you’d be wrong in that assessment. Answer their questions and don’t be afraid to talk through what’s happened in an age-appropriate way.
  • You may find that your child is angry; in a way that you don’t necessarily understand. Anger is a common communication method, and you may find this manifests in more than words. Violent behavior is a trauma response, and children can find it helpful to talk to each other as part of their healing. So, if your child is lashing out, then don’t be afraid to take it and then talk to them.
  • Recognizing their trauma response and responding to it appropriately is so important, just don’t be afraid to embrace their reactions.

Parents need to appreciate that there is a new normal ahead. When children go through a traumatic event, they need support, love, security and care. As a parent, you are in the very best place to offer that to your child. Patience is going to make a big difference to healing, and you can embrace your new normal as a family.