Helping a Child Overcome Traumatic Experiences: Understanding and Healing Together
“Children are resilient. We must remember that they are stronger than we think. They can teach us, if we let them.” – Angela Schwindt
Dealing with traumatic experiences can be challenging for anyone, but especially for children. As caring adults, it is crucial that we provide support and understanding to help them navigate their feelings and ultimately heal.
In this blog, we will explore how we can assist a child to overcome traumatic experiences, explain the physiological processes involved in recalling frightening events, offer practical techniques for soothing their nervous system, and address the importance of understanding secondary trauma for others who have witnessed the event.
Understanding the Physiological Process:
When we recall a frightening event, our body often undergoes a physiological reaction known as the “fight-or-flight” response. This response is an instinctive reaction triggered by the brain’s perception of a potential threat or danger.
In this state, several physiological changes occur. The body releases stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, which increase blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration
It’s important for children to know that these reactions are normal and a result of how our brain and body work.
Soothing the Nervous System:
When sudden flashbacks occur, we can help calm the child’s nervous system by teaching them relaxation techniques.
One effective technique is taking slow breaths. Encourage the child to take deep breaths in through their nose, hold it for a second, and then exhale slowly through their mouth.
This simple exercise helps activate the body’s relaxation response, reducing anxiety and promoting a sense of safety.
Fostering Resilience and Empowerment:
Promoting a sense of safety and security for children after a traumatic event also involves nurturing their resilience and empowering them with coping skills.
Encourage them to engage in activities that promote self-empowerment, such as storytelling, art, or play therapy. Engaging in these activities can help children process their experiences, express their emotions, and regain a sense of control over their lives.
By fostering their resilience and providing them with tools to navigate difficult emotions, we can help children develop a stronger sense of safety and security within themselves and in their environment.
Understanding the Power of Thoughts:
Our mind doesn’t always distinguish between a real threat and something we imagine, which means our nervous system can be activated by the memory of a traumatic event. Developing an understanding of how thought works offers a beautiful way to explain this to children.
We can use the analogy of clouds in the sky. Thoughts, like clouds, appear and dissipate, changing shapes as they pass by. Occasionally, scary thoughts might drift through our minds, but by staying calm and observing them, just as we watch clouds in the sky, our feelings can also fade away.
We can assure the child that in the present moment, they are safe and cherished. Reminding them of this helps cultivate a sense of security and love
Using an Activity:
Blowing bubbles can be a soothing and gentle activity to help children who have experienced a traumatic event. Finding a safe and calm area, give the child a bubble blower or help them create a bubble solution with soap and water.
Encourage them to blow bubbles into the air, allowing their thoughts to be visualised as bubbles. As the bubbles float and then pop, explain to the child that just like the bubbles, thoughts come and go too. Help them understand that thoughts are fleeting and they don’t have to hold onto or identify with them.
Encourage the child to observe the bubbles as they appear and vanish, acknowledging that thoughts are transient and not something they need to carry with them. This activity can gently introduce the concept of letting go and help the child develop a healthier relationship with their thoughts in the aftermath of a traumatic event..
Secondary Trauma and Supporting Others:
Traumatic events not only affect the person directly involved but also those who witness it, for those who have witnessed a traumatic event, it’s essential to be there for them as well. Encourage open communication and active listening.
Provide a safe space for them to share their thoughts and feelings, and validate their experiences. Sometimes, just being present and offering a comforting presence can make a difference. Remind them that healing takes time and that they are not alone in this journey.
Building a Strong Foundation of Safety and Security:
Helping a child overcome a traumatic experience requires patience, understanding, and a gentle approach.
By explaining the physiological processes involved in recalling frightening events and teaching techniques to soothe their nervous system, we can empower children to manage their trauma responses.
Using a simple analogy of our thoughts are clouds can help them understand the power of thoughts and the transient nature of emotions.
By addressing secondary trauma and supporting others, we create a community of resilience and healing. Together, we can help children reclaim their sense of safety, strength, and well-being.
Click here to read my other blog about the transformative power of understanding how thought works, especially during challenging times.
Namaste- I honour the place in you in which the entire universe resides. I honour the place in you, of love, of light, of truth, and peace. When you are in that place in you, and I am in that place in me, there is only one of us.