Do You Have Resilient Children? Think Again.
When I was two, I was playing in the sandbox with my sister. My dad was mowing the lawn and he asked her to go inside and get him a drink. As he went back to his work, turning his back for a second, I decided to go for a walk. Unfortunately there were train tracks about a quarter mile from my house. I was only on the tracks for a short period of time when the next train came around the corner. When the engineer saw me he hit the brakes about 300 yards from me. The train skidded and eventually, the front corner hit my forehead fracturing my skull. The train shuffled past but not before cutting the left side of my head resulting in 54 stitches. At the time, and for many years after, I was unaware of the significance of that experience. However, the scar has remained and will forever.
When faced with a hurtful or perhaps traumatizing event, kids sometimes seem to function as if nothing happened. Many parents come to the mistaken conclusion that they have resilient children. However, kids just don’t know how to process the wounds that have been created from painful experiences. So they place those experiences in a reservoir and continue to live life. Painful experiences for kids remain with them like a scar only to resurface at a later date. Rather than assume they are fine, there are things we can do in the meantime that can help them process and heal. Here are 3 important things for parents to do.
Painful experiences for kids remain with them like a scar only to resurface at a later date.
Center on Feelings
Children may not have the ability to understand the depth of a traumatic experience, but they connect well with their feelings. Talk to them about their feelings. Ask a lot of questions surrounding their feelings particularly with middle school kids. If younger kids have a hard time communicating verbally, encourage them to express themselves creatively. Perhaps have them draw how they feel, write a story, or use toys.
Move Toward Resolution
Kids need closure. Explain to them what happened in a way you think they can understand the most. Use language and analogies that make sense to their age and world. If applicable, explain why it was wrong or not their fault. Having them do a symbolic gesture of resolution might be helpful. Perhaps picking out a rock that represents the painful experience and throwing it into a body of water. Maybe have them write it on a piece of paper and help them burn it. They may not fully understand or be healed, but you are sowing a seed that moves in that direction.
Trauma creates a feeling that the world is dangerous and unsafe. Continuing with the anxiety that creates can have a long-term detrimental effect. Do what you can to restore their sense of security. Create structure around them. Have a dependable schedule. They may be clingy for a while. That’s okay. Keep reassuring them through word and action that things are stable.
How can you best show your kids they are safe and secure after a time of trauma?