Helping Your Child Recover After a Traumatic Event
A traumatic event is a very upsetting event that your child sees or that happens to your child or someone they love. It may put someone's life in danger. Or it may cause serious injury. A car crash, a wildfire, the death of a loved one, abuse, and violence are some examples.
How can a traumatic event affect your child?
Children respond to traumatic events in different ways. But having some type of reaction is common. Children may react to the event right away, or days, weeks, or months later.
After the event your child may:
- Have changes in their emotions, such as:
- Worrying a lot about the event happening again.
- Having temper tantrums or angry outbursts.
- Crying more than usual.
- Having unusual worries or anxiety. For example, your child may not want to leave you.
- Have changes in their behaviors, such as:
- Returning to earlier behaviors, such as thumb-sucking or bed-wetting.
- Having trouble getting along with their siblings or other children.
- Becoming very quiet or spending more time alone.
- Eating more or less than usual.
- Having nightmares about the event.
- Have physical changes, such as:
- Trouble sleeping.
- Headaches, dizziness, or stomach aches that can't be explained.
Most children get better over time. But if you're concerned about your child's symptoms or behaviors, contact your child's doctor or counselor.
If you feel your child might hurt themself, get help right away.
Where to get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
If your child talks about suicide, self-harm, a mental health crisis, a substance use crisis, or any other kind of emotional distress, get help right away. You can:
- Call the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988.
- Call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).
- Text HOME to 741741 to access the Crisis Text Line.
Consider saving these numbers in your phone.
How can you offer support?
Here are some ways you can support your child after a traumatic event.
- Seek counseling.
A trained counselor can offer your child some extra help. You may also want to find a counselor for yourself. You can ask your doctor for a referral. Or you might contact the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). You can call the NAMI HelpLine (1-800-950-6264) or go online (www.nami.org/help) to chat with a trained volunteer.
- Offer comfort.
What helps your child feel safe and loved? Maybe it's extra hugs. Or it could be snuggling and reading books together.
- Be calm.
Respond calmly when your child is upset. If you're feeling emotional, it's okay to take some time to yourself.
- Encourage communication.
Listen closely when your child shares how they feel. If your child struggles to put their feelings into words, you could do activities together, like drawing or storytelling.
- Be open about your feelings.
When you are honest about how you feel, it teaches your child that their feelings are okay too.
- Stick to routines.
Children do better when they know what to expect. Follow your usual schedule for things like bedtime, meals, school, and activities.
- Make sure your child doesn't spend too much time alone.
Plan time for your child to play with friends. And plan time to do fun things together as a family.
- Lean on others when needed.
Reach out to people your child trusts and enjoys being around. This could be grandparents, other family members, and close friends.
- Take care of yourself.
Do things that you enjoy. It may be reading a favorite book or spending time with a close friend. Get plenty of sleep and exercise. And eat healthy foods.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Andrew Littlefield PhD - Psychology, Behavioral Health
Lesley Ryan MD - Family Medicine