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How to Talk to Children About Traumatic Events

“A child understands fear, and the hurt and hate it brings.”- Nadine Gordimer

With all that is happening in the world today, parents or other caregivers may be feeling at a loss about how to talk to children about it all. How do you address traumatic events either in the world, or in your own child’s life without scaring your child? What exactly is trauma? How common is childhood trau

ma? These are all good questions to investigate more closely.

According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, 1 in 4 children will experience a traumatic event before the age of 16.

Trauma can be from:

  • Witnessing or being a victim of violence

  • War or terrorism

  • Serious medical issues or injuries

  • Natural disasters

  • Abuse of any kind

  • Being a victim of neglect

  • Grief and Loss

  • Moving or other changes

Kids can be affected by trauma as well. They can show that they are affected by it in different ways. Some ways that kids can show the effects of fear or trauma can be to “act out,” crying, shutting down, extreme compliance, bedwetting, or being “clingy.”

So how should you address it if your child is expressing fear or asking questions about scary things happening on the news or in the world?

1- Acknowledge that your child has these feelings in an age appropriate way. If you brush it off or make fun of your child’s emotions or feelings, they are less likely to bring you any additional concerns in the future.

2- Address any safety concerns and have safety plans for things like house fires, floods, or other things that may occur in your area. Remind your child that you are safe and that you have safety plans in place for things like fires.

3- Continue with your normal routine as much as possible. Routine is helpful in keeping your child feeling safe and normal. Include some fun or positive events so that your child has other memories to remember.

4- Take a break from the news and social media. Turning off the news and social media will be good for both your sake and your child’s sake. Alternatively, use a book like “What To Do When The News Scares You” by Jacqueline B. Toner to discuss what is being seen on the news and social media.

5- Get professional help for you or your child, if you feel overwhelmed. The therapists at Lillybrook are here to help and we have a large referral network if a different specialist is needed.

Here are some other child friendly resources to use when talking about traumatic events with your child:

Books for kids about Trauma:

Something Terrible Happened by Margaret M. Holmes

The series “A Kids’ Book About…” has lots of informational books written about different topics for kids, including traumatic school incidents, trauma, fear, and other mental health concerns. The link to the website is here:

These two websites offer some additional information about trauma and talking to kids about trauma in age appropriate ways.

It’s important to recognize that no two people experience trauma in the same way and not everyone who has experienced a traumatic event will have trauma reactions. One person’s trauma might not be as scary to someone else. If you or your child is experiencing symptoms of trauma, don’t wait! Reach out for help now.

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