Adolescents and teens experience trauma more than adults. However, children may not understand how to acknowledge and express their feelings around traumatic situations. Knowing how to approach your child and get them to open up about their feelings around trauma can be difficult.
Provide your child with the opportunity to talk about the experiences related to their trauma. If a child isn't willing to discuss their trauma, that doesn't mean they don't have any feelings about it. Children and teens are always experiencing new emotions and learning about the world around them.
Trauma can evoke uncomfortable feelings that they might not know they can express. Even if you can't tell whether they have emotions related to a traumatic situation, initiate a conversation about it anyway. Find a time that works best for having an intimate conversation. Create a safe and loving environment for them to feel comfortable opening up. You can start by asking questions about how they feel.
As a parent, you should always strive to listen and understand your child. When you initiate the conversation, give them your undivided attention. When they speak, don't try to cut them off or tell them how they should feel. Through active listening, you can validate their emotions and let them know that you hear what they are saying.
If a child never learns that it's okay to feel upset, sad, or scared, those emotions can become uncomfortable and cause them to avoid feeling them altogether. If there's one thing you've heard as a parent, it is to always be a good role model.
Whether parents realize it or not, children are constantly observing them. When they do not see their parent express feelings and emotions safely and healthily, they may begin to lack the ability to express feelings. However, be careful not to share in a way that causes the child to take on your feelings. Try saying things like, "I also feel sad or scared when we talk about this" or "sometimes I cry when I think of talking about this, too."
As an adult, you likely understand that you heal at your own pace. However, it can be hard for a child to understand that over time things will get better. During the conversation, reassure them. Let them know that as they move forward in life, things will get better again and that you will be there to support them along the way.
Holding in emotions is like creating a ticking time bomb. When both children and adults suppress their feelings surrounding trauma, outbursts become more frequent. You also risk falling into a deep depression.
Finding alternative ways to release emotions can help you feel less overwhelmed by them. Creativity has been shown as an art form to aid healing and therapy. Encourage your child to express their feelings in a creative way, such as through painting, drawing, writing, poetry, or music. Having an outlet that allows them to release what they feel can also act as a way to help them heal.
When something terrible happens, children may believe that they did something wrong. Make sure your child is not pointing fingers at themselves for anything they didn't do or cause. Children tend to have a more distorted view of trauma compared to adults. They may sometimes remember details more extreme than they are or blame themselves for something they didn't do out of fear that they "misbehaved." Remind them that it is not their fault and to not put the blame on themselves.
Sometimes trauma interferes with a child's life to the point of needing professional help. Children should understand the importance of mental health and the value of therapists. Children go through things that even sometimes, as a parent, you might not know of a way to help them through it or may need a clinician to assess the situation.
You can start by explaining to them what a therapist is. One approach would be to compare them to their pediatrician. That is, a therapist is someone that they can see when they are feeling mentally unwell. Don't try to overcomplicate how therapy works—explain that they can talk to their therapist about feelings that make you feel sad, happy, or mad in therapy.
Helping your child address their trauma takes educating yourself on how to provide the best resources for your child's trauma.
If you are worried about your child's mental health and suspect that they are using substances to cope, understand that help is available. Clearfork Academy treats addiction and co-occurring mental illnesses in teens through a wide variety of services. Sprawled across 80 acres overlooking Eagle Mountain Lake in Fort Worth, Texas, we provide our patients a home away from home. Our facilities and programs allow teens the opportunity to get away from their current environment and dedicate their time to a full recovery with minimal distractions. Our programs help teens identify the root cause of their addiction and mental health challenges. From there, we teach them healthy coping strategies and lifelong skills to assist them through life's many stressors. If your teen is ready to turn over a new leaf and get the help they need, don't wait; get help today. To learn more about our programs, call Clearfork Academy at (817) 259-2597.