All parents want to shield their children from childhood trauma but unfortunately, sometimes that is next to impossible. In fact, a recent report conducted in Singapore has found out that nearly 65% of Singaporean adults have experienced at least one negative incident in their childhood that led to the development of childhood trauma.
Childhood trauma can occur for a variety of reasons. And if it is left neglected then it might cause severe psychological (and in some cases even physical) consequences. For example, children who had experienced childhood trauma might have difficulty concentrating during their class which will of course affect learning.
In this article, we will have a detailed look at what childhood trauma is and what are some of the best ways to deal with it.
What is childhood trauma exactly?
Trauma Network for Children provides a definition. According to them in order to be classified as childhood trauma, the negative event should cause persistent long-term emotional and in some cases physical distress.
One of the most common causes of childhood trauma is physical abuse however it is not the only reason. For example, watching their parents go through a bitter divorce can also have a monumental impact on a child's psyche. Some other negative events that can result in childhood trauma include wars, natural disasters, community violence, substance abuse by close members of the family, bereavement, and going through a serious illness (either the child himself/herself or a family member).
Childhood trauma – some of the most common symptoms.
Children who have experienced trauma may show some or all of the following symptoms.
They may be more restless during the day and much harder to soothe than usual. They may exhibit changes in eating and sleeping patterns or have frequent nightmares.
They might appear withdrawn, show signs of fear (such as flinching and covering their face in fear). They might also be more clingy than usual (constantly trying to clutch their parent or caregiver).
Such children might also move aimlessly or, on the contrary, suddenly freeze up, lose interest in friends and hobbies, become destructive or angry, and more.
We should also take into consideration that each child is unique and responds slightly differently to negative events so there is no cookie-cutter approach when it comes to overcoming childhood trauma however in this article we have compiled some of the best practices.
The first and most important thing to remember is that children's feelings matter. Some children who have experienced several consecutive or simultaneous traumatizing events in their life can be absolutely overwhelmed and even paralyzed from their emotions.
Just because they are unable to express their feelings properly at a young age doesn't mean that those feelings are not going to affect them later in life. So you should observe them, deduce what their feelings are, and take them seriously.
When dealing with a child who has experienced childhood trauma it is of paramount importance not to judge them. Children are very intuitive creatures and even if they do not fully understand what being judgmental means, they will be able to pick up on your attitude if that is how you look at them. So refrain from judgment and try to be accepting and supportive.
Another important thing to remember is that children who have been traumatized might behave in a way that could be misconstrued as disrespectful or even deliberately provoking.
Be patient, and keep in mind that traumatized children are not trying to get on your nerves on purpose.
Sometimes misbehavior can be a cry for help from a child who doesn't know how to attract your attention otherwise. So if you yell at them and just tell them to be quiet they might keep their feelings bottled up which will not help them overcome their trauma.
A simple hug from a parent can do wonders when it comes to soothing a traumatized child. No matter if your child is a toddler or a teenager, they will benefit from your caring touch, some extra cuddling, or even a gentle pat on the back. All of these friendly gestures help build trust again and make your child feel safer.
These reassuring cuddles should be accompanied by encouraging words. Tell your child as often as possible that everything is going to be ok, and they have nothing to fear with you.
Be consistent, and you will see your child open up to you and share their feelings with you after a while.
However, at the same time, it is important not to force the child to do anything that they don't want to do. If they don't want to cuddle with you give them their space and try to reassure them verbally.
Children might appear to be chaotic at first glance, but in fact, their minds crave structure. Following a daily routine shows a traumatized child that life is going back to normal which is a reassuring feeling.
And when we say daily routine we do not mean that every single minute of every single hour of the child's life has to be scheduled, (in fact that would be counterproductive as this would put them under too much stress). In the initial stages, it is enough to have regular mealtimes and bedtimes. And of course, don't forget to put aside a couple of hours for bonding.
Encourage the child to revisit the hobbies they used to enjoy doing before the traumatizing event occurred. Ask their best friends who are a positive influence to help you.
Sometimes adults have difficulty getting through to their children and their peers can do it much better. Being involved in an enjoyable activity with friends will distract your child from negative feelings and memories.
Alternatively, you can try out some new hobbies they have always wanted to do. For instance, you can visit new places you had been planning to visit. This will distract traumatized children from the negativity and help them bond with their loved ones.
If the child has been traumatized by some natural disaster then this event might be covered by the news outlets. If the child is exposed to this footage it will only exacerbate their trauma.
This is especially true for young children who might not yet understand that the events showcased in the video are not happening in real-time again and again.
Because of this adults should shield traumatized children from negative news coverage (which includes television, radio, video games, and of course the internet).
On the other hand, watching their favorite cartoons that have a positive message might put them in a better mood. So, monitor the child's screen time and be conscious of what kind of information they consume.
The vast majority of children lack the verbal ability to properly express what they have experienced. But in order to deal with their trauma, it is important for them to do so.
So the solution lies in encouraging them to draw pictures and perhaps use props (such as dolls and figurines) to express their fears and emotions.
But of course, it is important to remember not to pressure your child into doing this. Gentle encouragement in a calm tone of voice should be the preferred strategy here.
Dealing with childhood trauma is a long and complicated process. And while it is of paramount importance to have a supportive environment at home, depending on the severity of the negative incident that occurred which resulted in the trauma, parents' love and support might not be enough to deal with it.
If you notice that despite your best efforts your child is not getting any better (or even getting worse) then you should contact a licensed mental health professional and schedule an appointment.
One avenue is to get help from KK Women's and Children's Hospital, click here to find out more.
Some adults have a tendency to brush the problems under the rug and pretend that they have been solved, just because they are too embarrassed to admit them. When it comes to your child's mental health and well-being, this approach should be avoided at all costs. You can also consider using online psychology to cope with your child's behavioural problems.
Even if they seem fine now, unresolved childhood trauma is bound to rear its ugly head at some point in the future. So the best way is to deal with it as soon as possible, and not give it time to fester.
To conclude, unfortunately, many children around the world are experiencing traumatic events on a daily basis, and Singaporean children are no exception.
But the traumatic event does not have to leave a lifelong scar on the child's psyche. By utilizing the correct approach and following the best practices listed above, you can minimize the effect of the traumatic event and help the child get back to normal life.