Updated: Oct 12, 2021
In your child's lives, they will experience lots of things, some events are very positive and can have a large impact on your child's psyche. The same can be said for negative events! As parents, it can leave us feeling helpless when we think about how to help our children when they've experienced something traumatic.
A traumatic event can range from being in a pandemic, having routines upended, moving to a new school, being bullied, having nightmares, experiencing community violence, losing someone in the family or a close friend, being diagnosed with a devastating childhood illness, parents getting a divorce, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, violence, the list goes on and some of which are completely out of our control.
Here are five signs you can look for.
Displaying symptoms of grief
Grief looks, different on everybody. When things come to an end, and it doesn't necessarily mean an exclusive emotion we experience when someone dies. It can also come from a relationship ending, leaving a job you've loved for something else. There are times where there isn't an immediate reaction to what is happening to us. We might need time to process what is happening to us. And in the same way, your child might also display grief differently to you.
If you notice your child grieving, or not having a reaction, you can talk to them about what has happened and "name" the emotions they might feel or that you might feel if you were them. For example, if your child has had to move to a new school. You can talk about how your child might feel nervous, they might miss their old school. And also talk about some of the exciting things they can look forward to.
Displaying fear and anxiety over their safety
Your child may have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD if they experienced a bad accident or injury, abuse, sudden loss of a parent, school or neighborhood violence or being the target of hate/bullying, or threats of harm. It is also important to know that events can be just as traumatic even if your child didn’t face the danger themselves. They may have PTSD from seeing someone else be hurt or die from violence. Hearing that someone close to them has died suddenly or violently can be traumatic too.
It is best to speak to your pediatrician and discuss treatment options for your child. Play therapy is also a great option for children with fear and anxiety as it gives children a way to safely share their feelings, tell their story through "toys", and get the support they need to make sense of what has happened and overcome their symptoms. In Play therapy, children learn coping skills to help them deal with the anxiety they feel after a trauma leading them to become emotionally regulated.
Through Play therapy, children learn how to adjust their reality about the trauma they experienced and learn how to let go of any guilt or shame about what has happened to them. Over the Play therapy sessions, they learn to face things they used to avoid.
Having Problems with sleeping, eating, Tantrums, and attention span
If your child is having trouble with sleeping and eating, it could be an indicator that something is wrong. Experts have found that some symptoms of trauma in children are similar to symptoms of depression in adults, including getting too much or too little sleep, having a loss of appetite or suddenly overeating, having unexplained irritability and tantrums, and issues with completing school work.
There are times when trauma symptoms in children look like they may be anxious, have issues leaving the house, and have difficulty separating from their parents.
Having Triggering experiences
Triggering experiences are experiences that prompt your child to display more of the trauma symptoms. And it's a sign of the underlying trauma is there and not yet healed. There is no way to say what might trigger your child, and there is also no way to avoid triggers altogether. The best way is to seek treatment options and address these challenges.
Refusing to go to school
Stress and trauma display differently in boys and girls. When they are displaying heightened anxiety, trouble sleeping, struggling to eat properly, and avoiding school, it becomes a clear sign that something is wrong. It is best to speak to your pediatrician and discuss treatment options for your child.
Talk Therapy Versus Play Therapy
We are advocates for Play Therapy for many reasons. There are many benefits to "Talk" therapy. With any therapeutic relationship, the key is trust. Your child must be able to trust their therapist in order to share these thoughts and feelings.
Particularly so, for children, they need to feel safe and secure in the therapeutic setting in order to establish and build a relationship with their therapist. This is why the play environment is exactly the appropriate setting designed to help a child find what is familiar and feels comfortable. Play therapists use the play activity to help your child feel safe and comfortable. Young children do not have the verbal nor emotional maturity to express their feelings in the traditional way used in talk therapy with older children and adults.
Children naturally express themselves through play. Play is powerful because it gives us insight into how the brain is developed. In a fetus, the reptilian brain stem grows first, this is responsible for breathing regulating our heartbeat. All the basic functions that keep us alive. Then the limbic brain grows or what we call the feeling brain. It is responsible for our relationships, our dreams, and the way we play. Lastly, the thinking brain or the neocortex grows over these two brains. It is important to know that the neocortex is underdeveloped at the time we are born. You can think of it as a brand new hard drive with no data on it. So the way to think about this is what is each brain doing in your child’s head?
Firstly, the reptilian brain is always asking “Am I safe”?
Secondly, the limbic brain is always asking “am I loved”? and
Lastly, the thinking brain or neocortex is always asking “what can I learn from this?”
If the first two questions are not answered properly then the thinking brain goes offline until the first two questions are fully satisfied. Play is the way your child may put into words their experiences.