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Helping Children Overcome Trauma

When children experience events in their life that threaten their safety, well-being or security, we call those events traumatic events. There are different kinds of traumas, from witnessing family violence, suffering abuse or neglect, or living in a community where there is the constant threat of violence or the loss of a caregiver.  

Repeated exposure to traumatic events can cause delays in child development. It can increase the likelihood of heightened emotions and strong reactions in settings that trigger the original trauma. When faced with a “trauma trigger,” some people “dissociate,” i.e., they tune out or become numb to the situation to avoid painful feelings. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), are now known to cause serious health and development problems later in life.   

Slowly but surely, you will learn to behave as you would have wished to behave but were too wounded to know how. 

Marianne Williamson

The good news is that parents, teachers, counselors, mentors and family members can help children overcome trauma and manage the strong emotional reactions that are part of the normal trauma response. There are well-known, evidence-based treatments and interventions for trauma.

There are also many medical, educational, counseling and social service organizations that train their staff in trauma-informed care. Agencies with expertise in trauma-informed care teach their providers to recognize past traumas in their clients. They also teach their clients to identify trauma triggers and manage strong emotions. They work to meet the unique needs of people who have experienced trauma.

Some treatments are designed to help people in the days or weeks following a traumatic event. Others were developed to help adults overcome past traumas from childhood. The aim of all trauma care is to help the victim heal and move forward in life holistically.

Here is what holistic trauma-informed care might look like:   

  • Providers carefully ask clients about their past traumas. They can then provide the appropriate intervention based on their experiences and current symptoms.  
  • Providers address barriers to services to make sure clients can access the help they need. Barriers might include transportation, scheduling of appointments, the need for interpreters and overcoming financial roadblocks to treatment.  
  • Effective programs teach the trauma survivor how to recognize trauma or loss “markers” and the skills to cope with these reminders or triggers.  
  • Providers teach their clients about the different kinds of traumas and help normalize post-traumatic stress reactions and grief reactions.  
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  • Clients learn skills in regulating their emotions including breathing, relaxation, meditation, exercise, journaling, sharing their story, changing their thinking and behavior about the traumatic event (often called cognitive behavior therapy). 
  • Children who have experienced traumatic events are taught how to establish helpful routines at home, school and work. These routines help reduce stress and add support from their environment. 
  • Parents who experienced trauma are taught effective parenting and behavior management skills. With these skills, they can be positive with their children and avoid repeating harmful mistakes from their own upbringing.  
  • Therapists help children construct a “trauma narrative,” which validates their past experiences and helps reduce post-traumatic stress reactions.  
  • Parents, teachers and counselors help children learn and practice assertiveness skills so that they can set appropriate boundaries in all of their personal relationships.  

If you or your child has experienced trauma, seek help. It is possible for you or your child to overcome trauma and live a life that is healthy, productive and secure. Getting help for past trauma helps break a cycle of trauma in families and creates a brighter future for children. With skilled professional help and support, children can learn that past traumas do not define them or their future.   

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All parents encounter challenges as their children grow up. And sometimes, issues may arise that leave you uncertain as to how best to respond. But not every issue requires therapy or counseling. The PACE program is here to help during those times.

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