How Parents can help children learn after trauma

Greg Hitchcock talks with Kim Kaiser, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at Families Together in New York State, about how parents and the community can talk to children about traumatic events.

With a rise in mass shootings, COVID, and war, there seems not to be a day without the news media focusing on traumatic events that may influence children’s development.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), children may experience trauma in different ways including:

  • Learning problems, including lower grades and more suspensions and expulsions
  • Increased use of health and mental health services
  • Increase involvement with the child welfare and juvenile justice systems
  • Long-term health problems (e.g., diabetes and heart disease)

We seem to be helpless during times of stress; everyone’s alarm system is triggered by the body’s fight or flight response built to keep people safe. When we experience trauma, especially for children, we are left with feelings of anger and irritability that leaves us scared and withdrawn.

Signs of trouble for kids experiencing trauma are anxiety, hyperactivity, aggressive behavior, sadness, regression, lack of attention, and frequent headaches.

Infographic: Wake Forest University

Anxiety increases with the age of the child, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). One percent of U.S. children ages three to five experience anxiety; ages 6-11 (6.5%); and ages 12-17 (10.5%).

And anxiety levels differ across ethnicities with Caucasian children experiencing more anxiety in high school and more African Americans in elementary and middle schools.

Remember, not all children experience stress and anxiety after experiencing a traumatic event. Many children are resilient and can recover after help and support from their parents and medical professionals.

There are many ways adults can support and help their children. According to SAMSHA, we must assure children that they are safe, explain they are not responsible for the tragedy, be patient and reassuring, and seek help from a trained mental health professional.

By asking your pediatrician, family physician, school counselor, or spiritual advisor for a referral and for help, children will be able to bounce back from experiencing a traumatic event. Be helpful by seeking help. Now, more than ever, we need to keep our kids safe.

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