Tips for Helping Someone Process Childhood Trauma
Children are often overlooked when they face various traumatic events. People might assume that they do not understand what has happened or they will get over it more easily because of their age, but childhood trauma can affect children in a variety of ways and for an exceptionally long time – does not discriminate.
Children can be traumatized by a variety of things:
- Accident involvement/observation
- Natural disasters
- Community violence
- Poor living conditions/neglect
- Physical and emotional abuse
- Stress caused by poverty
- Being separated from a parent or caregiver
- Having their world rocked in some way – move, loss of a pet, or a friend
- Chaos or dysfunction in daily life
…being told that you are the problem when your family is dealing with financial setbacks and poverty.
…losing your best friend during a time when the rest of your world already feels shaky and uncertain.
…coming home from school one day to an eviction notice and the instant change of leaving the place that you know so well.
…being sexually abused and then told it was your fault and not to tell your parents.
…being bullied and pushed around like you are not important. Imagine being mocked, laughed at, and ignored by all your peers because you look different or because your clothes are old hand-me-downs.
…being told you are ugly and that you will never amount to anything.
…being told that your dreams will never come true.
…being an eyewitness to gang violence or seeing a terrible accident unfold right before your innocent eyes.
…being without parents and being shuffled from home to home where the living conditions are not always ideal or nurturing.
…being screamed at, belittled, and physically abused every single day, just praying to feel safe and happy one day.
…taking on a parental role at a young age due to having an addict as a parent who is barely able to function at times.
It is heartbreaking that children today can be faced with such a variety of devastating situations. Some children wear many hats at a young age. Some have to take care of other siblings and carry the weight of the world on their shoulders even before reaching middle school.
Children today are facing many hurdles and heartaches. Some might be under your roof and some you might encounter daily. It is important to be aware that the childhood trauma is very real to them and, at this age, addressing the trauma is pivotal to their future healing, hope, and support system.
Symptoms of Childhood Trauma
Symptoms of childhood trauma can appear during the time of trauma and linger for years:
- Flashbacks or nightmares of the trauma
- Inability to trust
- Self-destructive behaviors/patterns
Tips to Consider
Whether you are close to a child who might be experiencing childhood trauma or might have one under your roof, here are some tips to consider:
Get on your child’s level. Enter their world. Try to put yourself in their shoes, even if they are much smaller shoes. If you would like to seriously connect with a child and get them to open up about what they might be going through, then it is important to enter their world. Sit on the floor. Make eye contact and connect at their level.
Engage in activities like art, sports, and interactive games where they can express themselves. You cannot sit a child at a table, ask them twenty questions in a stern voice, and expect to connect on a level that makes them feel seen and heard. It is important to listen more than you talk. You can try reflective listening, where you repeat back what you think they are trying to convey.
Ask your children questions regularly about those whom they observe and interact with. You can try asking nonjudgmental questions that require them to dig deep and answer. Too often we ask yes or no questions, without really leaving a lot of room for them to open their hearts and try engaging in a conversation.
Instead of “Are people nice at school?” try a more involved approach, like “How do the children treat one another/treat you at school?”
Instead of “Did you have a good day?” try, “Please tell me all about your day!”
Instead of “Are you nice to people?” try, “How nice are you to your classmates?”
Give specific examples and ask specific questions to zero in on specific topics.
Pray for your children. While it can be easy to overlook, it is vital to remember that prayer should be one of the first things you do for your children and not the last resort. Pray for them. Pray with them. Pray around them.
“I believe that every blessing, every breakthrough, every miracle traces back to the prayers that were prayed by you or for you. One of the greatest moments in eternity will be the day God peels back the space-time curtain and unveils His sovereignty by connecting the divine dots between our prayers and His answers. That infinite web of prayer crisscrosses every nation, every generation.
“And when God finally reveals His strange and mysterious ways, it will drop us to our knees in worship. We will thank Him for the prayers He did answer. We’ll also thank Him for the prayers He didn’t answer because we’ll finally understand why. And we’ll thank Him for the answered prayers we weren’t even aware of.” – Mark Batterson, Praying Circles around Your Children
Teach your children to be kind. In a world that is dark and angry, teach your children the virtue of kindness. In a world that teaches people to do whatever to succeed, teach your children to trust God and love His children. In a world that screams, “do whatever to fit in,” teach your children to stand up for what’s right. In a world that says “my way or no way” teach them to put themselves in the shoes and struggles of others so their hearts can be more open.
Teach them to find and follow the Light, even when it feels like everyone else is running in the other direction. Instill the reality that we have no idea what other people are going through, so we should focus more on kindness than on being right or humiliating other people.
Show the love of Jesus every time you can. Whether in the parking lot, library, at your child’s soccer practice, grocery store, neighborhood, or even church, show the love and kindness of Jesus. Start by showing your children/children around you how to help others and be there for them when they are struggling. Talk to them about the importance of being able to open up when something is bothering them or if someone has harmed them in any way.
Teach children about their bodies and what is and is not appropriate. Start the conversation so they are educated and feel like they can talk to you, should someone try to hurt them in any way. Talk to them about how to treat other people, even in simple situations like when someone tries to jump ahead of them in line to get water after playing on the playground.
Schedule a counseling session for your child if they are showing any signs of childhood trauma or if you want to simply equip them with the tools to handle various obstacles that might come their way. Children deserve to enjoy playing outside, building Lego towers, and building living room forts rather than letting trauma and conflict steal their joy.
Scriptures to pray and teach your children
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. – Deuteronomy 31:6
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. – Matthew 22:37-39
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. – Philippians 4:6
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. – Matthew 5:16
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. – Romans 12:2
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