“My grandma died. I think it is all my fault…” How to help children deal with trauma

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Children have to face harsh realities of life. Be it the death of loved one, or a scary news, this is how you help children with trauma.

I remember when my grandma passed away. I was 7 at that time. My grandpa had passed away the previous year and my dad told me that just like him, she would never come back. This made me so angry with the world, and especially God. I sulked, would not eat, and just lash out at everyone. I felt that somehow it was my fault. Did I forget to kiss her goodnight? It was horrible. I just needed help dealing with my loss, and my mom did a fantastic job. And I guess, every parent needs to know how to help children with trauma as there is no escaping it.

How to help children with trauma

I needed my time and a lot of support from my parents to deal with my loss. They did a few things right I reckon. To start with, they gave me my space. I took some time to get around the fact, and the time helped. I wasn't rushed into recovery. Then, they acknowledged that it was a sad thing to happen and that everything was not alright. They were there when I wanted to talk about it, answering all my questions about death, life, why were my grandparents snatched away from me.

I realised that I was not responsible, and it is just how it is. For my 7-year-old brain, this was what was needed for a closure. Yes, children are more sensitive to trauma. Even if they don't understand death or calamities, they can sense sorrow and feel sad. What makes things worse is, they end up feeling responsible, and to correct it is the first step to help children with trauma.

Signs of trauma in children

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these are the effects of trauma on children according to the age group.

Children up to 5 years:

  • Show signs of fear, cry, scream, or whimper
  • Cling to parent or caregiver
  • Move aimlessly or become immobile
  • Return to behaviours common to being younger, such as thumbsucking or bedwetting

Children: 6 to 11 years:

  • Lose interest in friends, family, and fun activities
  • Have nightmares or other sleep problems
  • Become irritable, disruptive, or angry
  • Struggle with school and homework
  • Complain of physical problems
  • Develop unfounded fears
  • Feel depressed, emotionally numb, or guilt over what happened

Adolescents: 12 to 17:

  • Have flashbacks to the event, nightmares, or other sleep problems
  • Avoid reminders of the event
  • Abuse drugs, alcohol, or tobacco
  • Be disruptive, disrespectful, or destructive
  • Have physical complaints
  • Feel isolated, guilty, or depressed
  • Lose interest in hobbies and interests
  • Have suicidal thoughts

This list is enough to scare a parent, but there is a way to deal with this.

Here is the 5 step approach to help children with trauma.

1# Remove the traumatic element

If it is a death of a loved one, don't appear sadder than warranted in front of the child. If it is possible, change of place always helps. If it is a horrible piece of news, limit media exposure. Graphic images can have lasting effects on children. So let them find out about events through newspapers rather than TV or the internet.

2# Engage them

To process the trauma, they need to understand what just happened at this point in time. So remove all the distractions like TV and phones and encourage them to talk about it, whenever they are ready. Answer their questions as honestly as you can. If you can, leave the divine entity out of it. My dad told me that my granny was with God now, but my brain processed that God snatched her away from me. So I harboured some resentment towards Him. I don't think it is a great idea!

3# Encourage physical activity

When you run around, your brain releases endorphins - the feel-good chemicals that improve your mood. In the same manner, physical activities like playing outside, or kicking the football around are going to help your children heal faster.

4# Encourage them to eat well

Food plays an important role in the emotional state of a child. A healthy diet is going to ensure that he sleeps and poops properly and that his general mood improves.

5# Get things back to normal gradually

You need to rebuild his sense of safety and trust, and so, this part is crucial. The best way to do that is to fall into a routine again. The trauma must have also affected you, so deal with your stress and grief first. Reduce the stress at home as much as possible, and talk to each other as much as you can.

The next phase in building trust is following through. So keep your promises, and deliver what you have assured. And be honest. If you don't know an answer to something, just admit it instead of making something up.

Moms and dads, healing from a trauma is a slow process. It may take up to six weeks for the child to be back to normal. So be patient, and be there. But if you feel that the trauma is too deep, don't hesitate to seek some professional help. This will help your child in the long run.

(Source: Helpguide.org)

Republished with permission from: theAsianParent Singapore

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