How Early Intervention Can Help Children Heal from Trauma
May 04, 2023
Trauma can come from experiences like abuse, death of a loved one, community violence, or being treated unequally due to race, sexual, or gender identity. Trauma is based on what someone feels, so it’s best to listen to what the other person says about their experience.
Having support from family, friends, and the community can help a child heal from trauma. When a child can identify and express their feelings, they are more likely to understand that their responses are a normal reaction to a terrible event.
When Should a Child Get Help After Trauma?
The first 30-45 days after a trauma happens or a child shares about a past trauma is an important time to get support. During this time, the child and their family may be feeling big emotions that can make things seem confusing and scary. Having a routine can help someone who may be dealing with trauma through the common responses of flight, fight, or shutting down. When a trauma happens, they may feel helpless and alone. The chances of getting post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might be lowered if a child can get a different response sooner or is able to share their feelings with a supportive adult.
What is the Child and Family Traumatic Stress Intervention?
The Child and Family Traumatic Stress Intervention (CFTSI) takes place during the first 30-45 days after a child shares about past physical or sexual abuse and/or experiences a trauma. It involves five to eight sessions of counseling for children between the ages of seven and 18 years old, focusing on increasing family communication and support to reduce trauma responses. This intervention allows both the child and caregiver to find ways to heal.
Why Are Supportive Caregivers an Important Part of Healing from Trauma?
Research shows that having the support of an adult caregiver is one of the main ways to help a child after a trauma. More communication between the caregiver and child helps the entire family identify trauma responses they are seeing or having. A child can also feel less alone and know that their reactions are normal.
The parent/caregiver-child relationship is one of the most important relationships in a child’s healing journey from trauma. Parents and caregivers can provide guidance that supports their child’s coping and gives them the best outcomes.
How Can You Help Your Child After a Trauma?
Parents and caregivers may also be dealing with things that can make it difficult to support their child. Below are tips that may be useful after a child has recently shared or had a traumatic event happen:
Be open to participating in counseling with your child and getting support of your own.
Be kind to yourself.
Take care of yourself so that you are calm for your child during a stressful time.
Remember to ask questions about how your child is feeling rather than “fact finding” about what happened.
Talking about the trauma should be brought up by the child and should never be forced.
Help your child make connections between their feelings, behaviors, and trauma reminders. They may be acting in a way that is new or be worried about things that usually don’t bother them.
Try to keep a routine. Keeping a schedule similar to before the trauma happened (or was shared) lets your child know what is happening next so they can feel safer.
If you know a change in routine will be happening, let your child know and plan ahead of time so they can feel supported. This could mean letting the child make small choices, such as deciding what snack they want, so they can feel a sense of control.
Talk to your child and let them know you’re here to help them and help them identify other supportive adults in their life.
Help is Available
Know that you and your family can heal from trauma. At times it will be difficult; know that you are not alone. By working together as a family to identify trauma responses and find things that help your child feel better, healing can happen.
Ashley Karimi, MSW, LISW-S is the Child and Family Traumatic Stress Intervention Lead and Southeast Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Coordinator at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
Tishia Gunton, MSW, LISW-S
Center for Family Safety and Healing
Tishia Gunton, MSW, LISW-S is a Clinical Medical Social Work Program Coordinator at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
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