Does Trauma Impact Children’s Development?

In light of the recent extreme events of terrorism in France and Brussels and strife around the world, our children have been exposed through the media to violence, loss and extreme suffering of people of all ages. Seeing a mass of people fleeting their countries to avoid violence and suppression, while others deal with their own parents’ deployment in war, has impacted children's own sense of safety and security. While we want to build our children’s resilience to be able to handle such traumatic events, constant exposure to violence and stress can affect their focus and their ability to learn, and certainly their overall emotional well being.

While we can’t shelter our children from such traumatic events, we can provide them with a sense of safety and security.  By listening and helping them share their thoughts, label their feelings, engage in positive events, and connect with people that can provide them with reassurance, can make a significant impact on them.  Our schools need to have trained educators and counselors to be able to identify children in stress and provide the appropriate counseling and monitoring they need to experience success in school. Remember that children look to adults for guidance on how to react in such traumatic events, and how to manage their feelings. The higher the number of occurrences and the intensity of the traumatic events that children get exposed to, the more severe the impact will be on their development.

The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), suggests the following interventions for parents and adults working with children to help them feel supported and safe:

  1. All feelings are O.K, but how you handle them matters. Let children know that all feelings are normal when a traumatic experience occurs, even anger, and you are there to help them express them appropriately.
  2. You must model calm. Take some slow deep breaths, and stay composed. Try to avoid looking frightened and anxious since children take their cues under such experiences from their parents.
  3. Remind them that very capable, experienced, and trustworthy adults are in charge, to insure their safety.
  4. Tell children the truth and make your explanations short and to the point. If they need more information they’ll be back with more questions. Reassure them that if this type of an event occurred the chances that it will personally affect them, is low.
  5. Avoid stereotyping people of different countries, races, religious beliefs that may be involved in the event. Stay positive, be a good listener and encourage your children to talk about it and look for ways they can be of help. Consider writing cards to survivors, thank you notes to medical professionals who volunteered their time, collect items that people may need, etc. Let them brainstorm with you ways they can help.
  6. Try to maintain normal routine, but be mindful that at such times children may have difficulty focusing their attention, sleeping continuously, may not eat well, or be restless and overactive. It’s important to monitor the child’s coping patterns and if they don’t improve, seek the help of a mental health/medical provider.
  7. Don’t ignore your own feelings and stress level. Take the time to talk with friends, family members and counselors that can help you. If you feeling sad or angry it’s perfectly acceptable to let your children know how you feel, but take the time to express your belief that things will get better. Take the time to eat well, exercise, get plenty of sleep and stay connected with those you care about it.

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