Dealing with Trauma
What is trauma?
Trauma is the lasting emotional response that often results from living through a distressing event. Experiencing a traumatic event can harm a person’s sense of safety, sense of self, and ability to regulate emotions and navigate relationships. Long after the traumatic event occurs, people with trauma can often feel shame, helplessness, powerlessness and intense fear.
A whole spectrum of symptoms can exist from mild to severe. No one person is impacted by trauma in exactly the same way as another.
Why is it important to address trauma?
Recognizing trauma is an important first step. Untreated trauma diminishes quality of life for the trauma survivor and those closest to him or her. To help those directly or indirectly affected by trauma, it’s first necessary to recognize the common signs of trauma.
Many people do manage to regain a sense of balance and stability on their own and find ways to continue to manage the stress of daily living. For others, support is needed to assist them in regaining perspective and to help manage the often overwhelming new experiences in a new reality.
If you have been impacted by trauma, know you are not alone and support is available. If you are a family member, friend, or professional who has contact with those impacted by trauma, there are also resources available.
Reference: Crisis and Trauma Resource Institute
Signs of Trauma in Children and Adolescents
- Constantly replaying the event in their minds
- Beliefs that the world is generally unsafe
- Irritability, anger and moodiness
- Poor concentration
- Appetite or sleep issues
- Behavior problems
- Nervousness about people getting too close
- Jumpiness from loud noises
- Regression to earlier behavior in young children, such as: clinging, bed-wetting or thumb-sucking
- Difficulty sleeping
- Detachment or withdrawal from others
- Use of alcohol or drugs in teens
- Functional impairment: Inability to go to school, learn, play with friends, etc.
Reference: Child Mind Institute
Tips for helping children after a traumatic event
- Keep to a daily routine, as much as you can, so they know what to expect. Children are reassured and comforted when things are predictable and familiar. Try to give regular mealtimes and bedtimes.
Listen to their words and watch their behaviors. While some children can tell you what they’re experiencing, others won’t want to talk about it, won’t know what they are feeling, or can’t express it in words. “Listen” to what your child is showing and telling you in words, behaviors, or physical complaints like headache or stomachache.
- Listen well. It is important to understand how your child views the situation, and what is confusing or troubling to him or her. Do not lecture—just be understanding. Let kids know it is OK to tell you how they are feeling at any time.
- Praise your child for making good choices, cooperating, and handling things well.
- Make your child feel safe. All children, from toddlers to teens, will benefit from your touch—extra cuddling, hugs or just a reassuring pat on the back. It gives them a feeling of security, which is so important in the aftermath of a frightening or disturbing event.
- Act calm. Children look to adults for reassurance after traumatic events have occurred. Do not discuss your anxieties with your children, or when they are around, and be aware of the tone of your voice, as children quickly pick up on anxiety.
- Set reasonable and consistent limits and give clear expectations. Holding children accountable, especially children who have experienced traumas, helps them feel in control and successful.
- Help children enjoy themselves. Encourage kids to do activities and play with others. The distraction is good for them, and gives them a sense of normalcy.
Share information about what happened. It’s always best to learn the details of a traumatic event from a safe, trusted adult. Be brief and honest, and allow children to ask questions. Don’t presume kids are worrying about the same things as adults.
- Prevent or limit exposure to news coverage. This is especially critical with toddlers and school-age children, as seeing disturbing events recounted on TV or in the newspaper or listening to them on the radio can make them seem to be ongoing. Children who believe bad events are temporary can more quickly recover from them.
- Use simple language and watch your child’s reaction, when explaining what has happened. Follow your child’s cues as to how much to say. Don’t get frustrated if they ask you to tell it again. Older children may get quiet and seem not to want to discuss things, even though they want to know.
- Pick good times to talk. Look for natural openings to have a discussion.
- “Respond” to your child rather than “react.” Children often act out when faced with stressful situations. What seems like a tantrum or a rude demand may be a reaction to a trauma reminder or a “trigger”. Before you jump in and punish, Think trauma first. Take some time to explore and understand the roots of the behavior.
- Understand that children cope in different ways. Some might want to spend extra time with friends and relatives; some might want to spend more time alone. Let your child know it is normal to experience anger, guilt and sadness, and to express things in different ways—for example, a person may feel sad but not cry.
- Advocate for your child within the school system, discuss what the school can do to support her (e.g., understanding potential trauma reminders or triggers such as fire alarms, offering counseling or accommodations, etc.).
- Keep an eye out, as your child gets older, for new situations that stir up trauma reactions. Be prepared for your child to “revisit” the traumas and, if you need to, seek professional support.
- Know that it’s okay to answer, “I don’t know.” What children need most is someone whom they trust to listen to their questions, accept their feelings, and be there for them. Don’t worry about knowing exactly the right thing to say — after all, there is no answer that will make everything okay
- Reach out for support (see Youth Mental Health Resources below)
Reference: The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
When should you reach out for additional help for a traumatized child or youth?
When reactions are severe (such as intense hopelessness or fear) or go on for a long time (more than one month), and interfere with a child’s functioning, you should reach out for help.
Reference: Child Trauma Toolkit for Educators (2008). The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
Youth Mental Health Resources
Alberta Health Services – Leduc Mental Health & Addictions (Centre Hope Building)
Child and adolescent intake line: 780-342-2701
Access 24/7 (18+) – 780-424-2424
- Private psychology clinics - Contact private clinics to find out details about teletherapy and in-person appointments.
- FCSS Subsidized Counselling – 780-980-7109
Walk-in Clinic (Edmonton) (no appointment needed).
Hours: Monday to Friday from 12:30-4pm
Rutherford Clinic: 780-342-6850
Northgate Health Centre: 780-342-2700
- Primary Care Network (Leduc Beaumont Devon) –780-986-6624, doctor referral, mental health supports
- Distress Line (24/7) – 780-482-4357 (HELP)
- CMHA Free Call-In Counselling –youth aged 16+; 1-289-291-5396
- Kids Help Phone - 1-800-668-6868, Text CONNECT to 686868
- Children’s Mental Health Crisis Line Not 24 hours (Mon-Fri 8am-10:45pm; weekends and holidays 10am-10:45pm) - 780-427-4491
- First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Line - 1-855-242-3310
- Bullying Helpline: 1-888-456-2323
- LGBTQ2S+ Resources:
- Rainbow pages
- CHEW Project – Mental health support for LGBTQ2S+ youth and young adults, (780)-665-5220,
- Pride Centre of Edmonton – Offers resources, free counselling, public educational programs, social and support groups, and youth activities in support of the LGBTQ2S+ community, 780-488-3234.
Mental health resources are available for parents and caregivers