eNews - January 20, 2016


It is never easy to convey to children why tragedy happens. We often try to protect and shield children from being exposed to tragedy. Children that have been exposed to a traumatic event may respond in a number of ways. The definition of a traumatic event states: “a traumatic event is an experience that causes physical, emotional, psychological distress or harm. It is an event that is perceived and experienced as a threat to one’s safety or the stability of one’s world." Examples of traumatic events include: moving to a new house, death of a loved one, divorce, pain, physical injury, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, loss of trust, terrorism, and hospitalization.

The importance in understanding the definition is that the event is perceived to be traumatic by the individual. Children may respond behaviorally to the event and this can take the form of acting out or withdrawal. Others may react to the event with physiological responses, such as nightmares, loss of appetite, or illness. Often times the response to a traumatic event may begin to surface months after the event took place. It is important to pay attention to children after a traumatic event has occurred in order to be aware of potential signs that a child might need additional support in processing the traumatic incident.

Here is a short list of some of the signs to look for:

  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Fear of separation
  • Bed wetting
  • Irritability
  • Withdrawn
  • Poor concentration
  • Regression in behaviors

Before seeking outside help for children, the adults and/or caregivers may be able to provide support and help children process trauma. What can adults do? Adults can encourage children to talk about the event. They can begin the conversation by asking what the child already knows about the event. Adults can listen for possible fears and misconceptions and, at this point they can correct inaccurate information and encourage children to ask questions. Validating and normalizing the emotions of the child is important in the process of healing after a traumatic event. It is important for the adult to be mindful of their own reactions to the event. If symptoms persist, or impact the child’s ability to function, seek mental health support.

Additional supports that adults can put in place to assist the child after a traumatic event are as follows:

  • Reinstate routine into the child’s daily life
  • Ensure that the child is eating healthy and getting enough sleep
  • Assist children in looking towards the near future, focusing on short-term and immediate goals that can be attained
  • Limit exposure to social media and other media outlets
  • Communicate feelings
  • Seek out support from family or friends
  • Eat healthy
  • Stay hydrated with water
  • Get enough sleep
  • Exercise
  • Seek out spiritual guidance

Despite the caution and care surrounding children, children are inadvertently exposed to trauma and tragedy that is out of the adult’s control. Although we cannot foresee the events that our children will be exposed to, we can be prepared to help children adjust back to a sense of normalcy. The following are additional resources for questions on responses to traumatic events.

Additional Resources: