Helping Kids Through Trauma and PTSD

We all deal with stress everyday. Rushing to get to school in time, making ends meet during a recession, dealing with a particularly annoying in-law — stress is a part of life. And in most occasions, the stress we face is manageable.

But some sources of stress can be incredibly intense, overwhelming and beyond our physical and/or emotional resources to deal with. When this happens, the stressful event is said to be traumatic. All parents want to protect their children from things that can unsettle or harm them. But sadly, there are many things in life that even the most conscientious of parents can’t control. Our children may witness or experience traumatic events despite our best efforts to shield them. When this happens, they may have difficulty bouncing back. Sleep disturbances, sadness, anger and fear may plague a traumatized child long after the traumatic event has ended.

What is a Trauma?
Trauma is a psychological reaction to highly stressful events, particularly those that threaten life or safety. When an experience is considered traumatic, it means that the coping resources of the person witnessing or experiencing it are not enough to deal with the impact of the event, and some degree of psychological shock or breakdown occurs. Events that most people consider traumatic include vehicular accidents, crimes, natural disasters and physical or sexual abuse. Although parents may think that trauma results only from catastrophic events like war or rape, it can actually occur as a result of more normal and common events. For instance, a child can be traumatized by being chased by a dog, by a harsh reprimand from a teacher, from a threatening bully, or from being laughed at while giving an oral report. What makes an event traumatic differs from person to person, as individual coping abilities must be taken into account. Personality factors, psychological profile and past history all play a role in producing a traumatic reaction.

A trauma response often includes symptoms like reliving the event over and over again (by obsessing about it; experiencing intrusive thoughts that interrupt thoughts and activities), panic attacks, nightmares, numbness & fog responses, avoiding people, places and things that trigger a memory of the event, depressed and/or angry mood and increased nervousness (startle response).

Trauma can initiate a syndrome that shows up long after the traumatic event or events have ended. Like an initial trauma response, it affects physical and emotional functioning causing nightmares, hypervigilance, panic attacks, intrusive memories, numbness and other symptoms; the syndrome is called PTSD or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. It can occur weeks, years or decades after the traumatic events have passed.

Those who have some level of anxiety to begin with and those who have suffered several previous traumatic incidents are more likely to develop PTSD than other people. Lack of a support system or lack of adequate emotional support right after a trauma, also increases the chances of developing PTSD later on.

What is the Best Way to Handle PTSD?
PTSD is a mental health disorder that can be effectively treated. Self-help is part of the process for teens and adults, including finding support groups, reading up on PTSD, engaging in effective stress-management routines (including regular exercise, relaxation techniques and routines for self-care), utilizing alternative treatments to strengthen the nervous system (such as herbal remedies, Bach Flower Therapy, Aromatherapy, homeopathy, accupuncture and so forth). Parents can help incorporate calming strategies into a child’s routines.

Parental support is critical when a child is dealing with trauma. Unlike adults, younger children don’t yet have the ability to understand what they are going through. Not only is the original event traumatic, but their trauma symptoms too, can be traumatic. For instance, physical symptoms like tremors and nightmares, mental symptoms like obsessions and hallucinations, and emotional symptoms like fear and anxiety can be overwhelming for a child to be experiencing.

The first line of business is to help children manage their emotions. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. A traumatized child may talk about the same thing over and over again, and this is okay. The content of the sharing is less important than the process of getting things out. If a child finds difficulty in expressing what he is going through verbally, either because of age or because of the trauma, then consider non-verbal ways of venting emotions. Letting it all out can also be done using drawings and pictures, clay sculptures and toys, play-acting, and storytelling.

Second, give your child a rational explanation of the traumatic event, that is appropriate to his or her age. The more information the child has, the less he or she is likely to generalize the event to other situations. For instance, knowing that a car crashed because it skidded on the snow can help a child feel safe in cars with good snow tires and in cars driving on dry roads. Without this information, the child may conclude that all cars are dangerous at all times. (While this is in fact true, the healthy state of mind is one of sufficient denial that a person can comfortably drive and be driven at all times. Phobic and traumatized people, on the other hand, over-exaggerate the likelihood of a catastrophic event occurring again, such that they can’t live in a normal way.)

When a child is suffering rather mild symptoms, parents may find that self-help interventions are sufficient. For instance, learning how to do EFT (emotional freedom technique) with the child may complete calm the youngster’s nervous system. However, parents may prefer to take their child to a child psychologist who practices EFT or EMDR. Both of these techniques are used to rapidly heal the trauma of one-time events. If the child is experiencing many symptoms of trauma, it is essential that parents DO NOT try the self-help approach. Instead, they should take their child to a mental health professional who is specifically trained in the treatment of PTSD.

The Bach Flower Remedy called “Rescue Remedy” can help reduce temporary and chronic symptoms of trauma and is especially effective for home-management of symptoms in between psychotherapy sessions. If you are aware that the child has just suffered a traumatic event (like watching someone get badly injured or being personally assaulted, injured or threatened), offer Rescue Remedy immediately. It may help prevent a traumatic reaction from setting in.

However, the fastest and most effective way to end the debilitating symptoms of PTSD is to get the proper professional help. Not all mental health professionals are equally trained in the treatment of PTSD. Make sure that your practitioner is! Therapeutic interventions include EMDR (Eye Movement, Desensitization and Reprocessing), EFT and other forms of Energy Psychology, TIR (Traumatic Incident Reduction),  and other specific tools for the treatment of trauma.

The good news is that children respond well to treatment of trauma. They can experience a complete healing of their symptoms and a return to “normalcy.” In fact, child are often even happier, calmer and more mature after trauma therapy than they were before the traumatic event(s) occurred.

Helping Your Child Deal with Death and Loss

Facing death is one of life’s biggest challenges. Inevitably, many children encounter experiences with death – ranging from the loss of a beloved pet to the loss of a beloved parent. How can parents help their child deal with death and loss?

Consider the following tips:

Children Handle Death Differently from Adults
Your child may act like everything is fine – he or she is playing with friends, chatting online, engaging in hobbies and after-school activities; everything looks “normal.” This is just the way children deal with trauma. In fact, traumatic events like life-threatening illness and death can be so overwhelming for children that they sometimes bury it deep inside themselves where it is locked away for later review – often decades later. Meanwhile, they carry on with life. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of psychic energy to keep deep feelings of fear, loss and grief buried inside. The child may become depressed, anxious, poorly behaved or highly distracted (see below). It’s much better if some adult can help the child deal with the feelings and let them out, little by little, so that there is no “pressure cooker” inside.

Types of Reactions to Loss
Some children react to death by “acting out.” This means that their behavior deteriorates. Again, they may seem to be unaffected by the death in that they’re not crying, they’re not acting sad or depressed, and they’re not wanting to talk about the death. However, they are getting into plenty of mischief at home and at school. If you notice this sort of behavioral change in your child, then professional counseling can help. Although the counselor may recommend cutting the child some slack for a short time, make sure that you do so ONLY for a short time (i.e. a couple of weeks). It is important to impose regular standards and normal structure for the child, including reasonable limits on behavior. Accept all of the child’s emotions, but not any of the child’s destructive, disrespectful or dangerous behaviors. Just because a child is distraught it is not O.K. for him or her to swear at people or destroy property or disregard the rules of the house. As parents step in to gain control of the situation, the child will actually begin to feel more in control as well. The limits can be reassuring, communicating that normal life does go on and the parents themselves are O.K. enough to do normal parenting. All of this helps the child to return to a normal baseline.

Some kids kids become very anxious after a death, suffering from bad dreams or nightmares, having trouble sleeping, developing fears of the future and phobias in the present and obsessing about the death, the dying process or the person who died. If your child develops intense fears that don’t clear up within a month, seek professional help. Sometimes these signs may be symptoms of a post-traumatic stress reaction that requires specialized treatment.

Children May Become Withdrawn After a Loss
Instead of acting OUT, they act IN – becoming sad and isolated. It’s fine to allow children some quiet time, a time in which to lick their wounds and slowly recover. However, if a child is still turning away from life several months after a loss, seek professional assessment. It may be that counseling can help speed the mourning process along and help the child return to his or her life.

Talk about It
Very often, kids will not initiate conversations about the loss. This does not mean that they don’t need to talk. It often means they don’t know HOW to talk about it or they’re afraid of causing the parent upset. Parents, therefore, need to try to initiate talk. If the child doesn’t want to join in, then give the child space. However, some kids will be very happy to have the input of their parents. You can talk a little (not too much, so as not to overwhelm the child) about your own sadness and loss, but be sure to show interest in the child’s feelings. “We’re all sad and missing Grandma. I used to talk to her every day and now I really miss that. How are you doing with it? It must be hard for you too.” This sort of sentence gives the child an opening. Some kids will take the opportunity to express anger. “Why did she have to die? I want her to be here with us!” Acknowledge the child’s pain BEFORE answering questions. “Yes, we’re all upset about it. We all want her here. I know how much you miss her. No one really knows why people have to die – it’s all part of God’s plan. For some reason we don’t understand, we can’t live forever here on earth. But when the body dies, the soul still lives and in that sense we never die… (explain death in whatever way you understand it).”

When you support your child through a grieving experience, your child learns that he or she can turn to others in times of crisis. This is a very important life lesson that helps to stress-proof your youngster.

Other Healing Strategies
Some children will cope better by drawing their feelings. In fact, there are art therapists who can help your child process grief and loss through artwork and this can be a very gentle and helpful process. Or, just have drawing time a couple of times a week and ask your child to draw his or her feelings on a blank page. It doesn’t matter whether the picture is “nice” or not – it is simply a channel for the expression of emotion.

Making a “memory book” of the lost person or pet can also be a helpful exercise. You can help the younger child and the older child or teen can do it independently. Stories, pictures, thoughts, photo’s – anything about the person or pet may be put in the pages of this special book designed to honor the departed one. It is common to cry and laugh while making such a book –  many feelings are released. The exercise is very healing and helps the mourner move forward, taking the positive aspects of the loved one forward with him or her.

Be Aware of Your Impact
Although grieving adults are often in too much pain to parent well, it is important to remember that your children are always watching you. Your reactions – at least the ones they can observe – teach them a lot about life and stress management. If you are too overwhelmed to function well, show them how you access professional help or family support. Let them know by your model, that you needn’t go through pain and deep stress alone. If you are so sad that you find yourself crying all the time, let the kids know that the tears are temporary and that they are your way of letting the sadness out of your body. If you are crying in front of them for more than two or three months, get professional help. Your intense emotion can alarm your kids and give them a feeling of helpless despair. Ideally, after the first few weeks, you can cry when the kids are in school or asleep or at other appropriate times. Keep in mind that people go to work after the death of a loved one and they are able to refrain from crying eight hours a day when they are being paid to function well. Functioning well at home is equally important as children are sensitive to and affected by their parents’ mood.

Consider Professional Support
If your child has changes in behavior that are of concern like chronic loss of or increase in appetite, intense behavioral problems or new behavioral problems, nervous habits, bedwetting, a new set of “bad” friends, suspicious behaviors, sleep disturbances, fears, low mood, new academic problems or any other behavioral or emotional symptom that worries you, get a professional assessment. Sometimes intense stress can trigger latent mental health concerns or cause complicated grief reactions that benefit from professional help. The sooner you can help your child, the sooner your child will return to normal functioning.

Funerals and Death Ceremonies

The death of a loved one is one of the most painful and most stressful experiences in the world. It’s literally the end of a family structure, and a push towards life without the person who passed away. While funerals and death ceremonies can never heal wounds or bring what’s lost back, they can provide symbolic closure to a difficult moment.

Why are funerals and death ceremonies so important when grieving? Consider the following:

Acknowledgment of Pain
The family is in pain, and rituals can help acknowledge the fact. Funerals and death ceremonies provide that moment when each member can say “I am devastated.” Being able to feel the emotions that come with a loss is the first step in grieving and eventually moving on. If feelings are repressed, they just get bottled up inside the person — which can force grieving in less than optimal ways. In a way you can say that funerals and death ceremonies are the family’s way of saying: “it’s alright to feel confused, sad and angry.”

Moments of Support and Sympathy
Funerals and death ceremonies are family events, and also involve non-family members who are significant to the person(s) who passed and their survivors. This is because the death of a loved one is a situation difficult to manage in isolation. You need the support of all the people who care about you — your friends, neighbors, co-workers and extended relatives. Funerals and death ceremonies are opportunities for those who lost a loved one to help each other get through the worst. It’s also a way for people to express their sympathies, prayers and wishes to the family.

An Opportunity to Say Goodbye
In the events leading up to funerals and death ceremonies, the loss may not be really felt in full yet. Shock and confusion may still be the prevailing emotion, as well as normal denial of the situation. The rituals, then, provide family members with the opportunity to say goodbye — and acknowledge that the deceased has gone, but will be remembered. For example, seeing the deceased’s casket lowered to the ground can be a symbolic way of letting go. The same goes for leaving flowers and candles on the grave. Many people who, for some reason or the other, never get to attend the funeral and the death ceremony of a loved one often have trouble accepting the loss.

A Way to Close Open Issues
It’s not unheard of for unfinished business to exist between the person who passed away and his or her survivors. Perhaps there were things that were left unsaid. Or maybe the relationship with the deceased wasn’t always pleasant and left a mark. Funerals and death ceremonies provide opportunities to be able to close these issues in a positive way. Family members, for example, can create a ritual where they all get to express a final message about or to the deceased. Letting go of the person can also involve letting go of past resentments, unmet needs and things that will never be.

Children and Funerals
Children find funeral and mourning rituals as helpful as adults do. However, some young children may find burial services traumatic. For deaths that are not involving very close family members like parents, siblings and grandparents, it is not necessary to bring young children to the cemetery burial. When close family members are involved, take the personality of each child into consideration before deciding what to do. If possible, get advice from a professional or clergy member. Older children may benefit from attaining more closure after witnessing burial (just like adults do) but some younger children may develop fears and anxieties around loved ones “suffocating” in a box or in the ground. Each child is different. Whether or not a child attends the burial, however, it is important for all children to partake of mourning rituals in order to facilitate grieving and healing. Family get-togethers, “shiva” in the Jewish religion and other ceremonies help surround children with loving familial and communal support. It breaks the isolation of loss and helps them feel that life and loving support, continues. Consider professional grief counseling if you see that your child is suffering from intense and/or unremitting grief after loss.

Terminal Illness in the Family

It is hard to have to deal with serious illness in a loved one. However, when the illness is considered to be terminal (fatal or incurable), it is all the harder. Of course there are all the present, practical concerns such as arranging health care, and maintaining the continuing functioning of the family. In the case of terminal illness there is the additional stress of seeing someone you care about battle a disease he or she isn’t likely to win, along with the anticipated grief of loss and unresolved issues from the past. There is no way to make terminal illness in the family easy to bear. But there are some things that can be done to help lighten everyone’s load.

If you are dealing with terminal illness in the family, consider the following tips:

Educate Yourself about the Illness
When dealing with terminal illness in the family it is helpful to get to know the disease as well possible. Understanding the symptoms to expect, having an approximate timeline for the unfolding of the illness and learning about experimental treatment options available to the patient, can help the family maintain some sense of control amidst a chaotic situation. Grounding the family in sound medical opinion can help in making plans and decisions.

Talk about the Terminal Illness, Even with Your Sick Family Member
When there’s a heavy emotional issue in a household, it’s very tempting to pretend the problem doesn’t exist. This denial may be well-intentioned; perhaps you don’t want to upset your sick loved one by discussing an obviously painful subject, or perhaps the family wants to protect its younger members from any further trauma. But keeping silent on the issue just forces everyone to repress negative emotions.

The best support system for family members of a terminally ill patient are fellow family members who understand what is going on. Let the crisis be an opportunity for everyone to bond together, and offer each other much needed care and understanding. Families have been known to find grace in troubled times, grace that helps make members be closer and more resilient.

This may also be the opportunity to say to your sick loved one the positive things you haven’t said before, to express love, gratitude and forgiveness. Get to know your sick loved one’s wishes; wishes for both for immediate concerns like the treatment plan and arrangements for care, as well as future plans for the surviving family.

Share Responsibilities
There are many things that need to be done when there is terminal illness in the family. There’s caring 24/7 for the sick loved one, making sure that household duties such as getting dinner on the table is still happening and looking for additional finances to meet incoming large medical bills. If possible, don’t assign just one caretaker to help prevent care-provider burns out. Instead, look for ways everyone can contribute to manage the crisis. Even younger kids can have a role to play; in fact, new responsibilities can ease feelings of helplessness about the situation.

Make Sure Everyone Takes Self-Care Seriously
Terminal illness in a family causes serious stress, which is why it’s important that everyone — even the youngest family member — knows how to stop for a while and take care of one’s self.

Having a friend or professional outside the family to talk  to can help; during a crisis issues and emotions can get so messed up, it helps to get a fresh perspective. Making sure that everyone gets ample “me” time for rest, relaxation, fu, normal life and maybe a bit of meditation and prayer is also a good thing. Similarly, keeping the entire family’s good health in mind, through proper diet and exercise ensures the family members get a new start everyday.

If it’s an available option, joining a community support group is a good way to aim for self-care. Support groups are made up of people going through the same experience, which helps in removing the feeling of aloneness and intense stress that comes with terminal illness. If a support group is not available in one’s state or area, an online support group may work just as well.

Dealing with Change

The saying “there is nothing more constant than change”  truly fits the experience of family life.

Indeed, no family remains the same through the years. Children grow up and become teenagers, and then adults. Parents move through young adulthood to become middle aged and eventually to become members of the seniors population. The number of children in the family grows and contracts, as births, adoptions, deaths and marriages occur. Priorities of each family member will change, as well as the relationships between people. Even events outside the family, such as an economic recessions or job loss, can significantly impact everyone in the household. The immediate community will also influence attitudes and outlooks. And significant life events, such as illnesses and trauma, can change the course of family living.

The following are just four of the many dramatic transitions families go through, alongside some tips on how to navigate them:

The Birth of a New Baby
The birth of a child is one the first major transitions in a couple’s life. It requires such a major shift in priorities that it’s not unusual for new parents to experience intense stress. But the key to starting a family is adequate discernment and preparation. If a couple invests a little time in planning their envisioned family, then they need not be blindsided by the many changes that come with their first pregnancy. Reading books, taking classes or joining online forums focusing on the challenges of baby’s first year can really help new parents know what to expect and how to deal with it. Why wait until crisis hits? Knowledge is power!

Expanding the Family
Is the birth of a second, third or fourth child a major family transition? You bet! Expanding a family requires a lot from parents. Parents don’t just need more hands to deal with more tots; they also need a more stable source of income to keep up with their expanding family’s many needs. Flexibility is also required in attending to each child’s individual needs — after all, each member of the family has a unique personality and is going through a unique developmental stage. There is no one size fits all in parenting multiple children, and unless parents are up for the challenge, they will experience extra stress. Now may be the time to take a more serious look at parenting courses and resources. Parents need more options in order to be able to meet the differing needs of each child. If it’s financially feasible, this may be the time to hire a little more help – someone who can assist with children or household tasks. Parents may have to do more tasks than they did before; for instance, a father who was not very involved in childcare when there was only one child in the family, may have to take on many extra parenting tasks now that there are more kids to look after. Or, a mother who was able to manage her full time job while raising two children may now find that she can’t continue when her third child is born; she may opt for part-time work or even full-time mothering. Of course, changes such as this may also necessitate other lifestyle changes such as cutting down expenses.

Kids Turning into Adults
One of the more sensitive family transitions is the change of children from young kids into full grown adults. Many changes happen, of course, during the transition from child to teenager. Parents have had to offer greater levels of autonomy and independence with each advancing birthday. The ultimate independence comes, however, when a child is ready to leave home. This is often a very difficult transition for parents. While the child is eager to move out into the world, the parent feels mixed emotion: pleasure at seeing the positive outcome of an undertaking that occupied two decades (raising the child) and sadness and grief over losing the companionship that a child brings. It can be hard to let go. Parents have to learn how to treat their young adult as an adult instead of the little girl or boy the person used to be. To parents, a twenty-two year old child might as well be a two year old child – it’s still the same person they carried, dressed, bathed, fed and guided for all those years. While parents may feel this in their hearts, they have to work hard to show new respect for the individual who stands before them. There’s no more asserting one’s authority. The parent-child relationship will now be based on mutual positive regard and respect or else it will be distorted in pain. Parents have to take a back seat and let their child do the driving of his or her own life. When consulted, they can offer advice but they need to learn from offering the unsolicited guidance that was their right not so long ago. Parents may find it helpful to read up on how to negotiate relationships with adult children – there are books and online resources that can provide insight and practical tools. If there are relationship problems at this stage of the game, family counselors can help you negotiate and resolve them.

The Death of a Loved One
Transitions are not just a cause for excitement; they can be tragic as well. The loss of a family member is one of the most painful family transitions there is. Death is a word nobody wants to hear because it means permanent physical separation from a loved one. When a family member becomes terminally ill, or experiences a fatal accident, the pain is almost unbearable. The challenge becomes: how to grieve and yet still move on as a family? Sometimes grief counseling or pastoral counseling can help. Techniques like Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) and EMDR can help speed and complete the healing of unresolved grief or death-related trauma. Professional therapy is appropriate when grief lingers longer than a year or when it interferes with functioning, or when it is accompanied by feelings of depression or anxiety.

Going with the Flow
How can families deal with transitions effectively? There’s only one way: being able to adapt to change. With so many changes happening both within and outside a family, it’s important that individual members are dynamic and responsive to new situations. Family transitions are crucial turning points; if family members are resistant to change, the transitions become a source of stress instead of a source of growth. What is important is to be able to let go — but also let come. Nothing stays the same forever, and it’s important that we are open to the blessings of the next stage in of our family life.

Helping Your Child Cope with Traumatic Events

All parents want to protect their children from things that can unsettle or harm them. But sadly, there are many things in life that even the most conscientious of parents can’t control. Our children may witness or experience traumatic events despite our best efforts to shield them. When this happens, they may have difficulty bouncing back. Sleep disturbances, sadness, anger, fear, or other symptoms of trauma may plague a traumatized child long after the traumatic event has ended.

What is a Trauma?
Trauma is a psychological reaction to highly stressful events, particularly those that threaten life or safety. When an experience is considered traumatic, it means that the coping resources of the person witnessing or experiencing it are not enough to deal with the impact of the event, and some degree of psychological shock or breakdown occurs. Events that most people consider traumatic include vehicular accidents, crimes, natural disasters and physical or sexual abuse.  Although parents may think that trauma results only from catastrophic events like war or rape, it can actually occur as a result of more normal and common events. For instance, a child can be traumatized by being chased by a dog, by a harsh reprimand from a teacher, from a threatening bully, or from being laughed at while giving an oral report. What makes an event traumatic differs from person to person, as individual coping abilities must be taken into account. Personality factors, psychological profile and past history all play a role in producing a traumatic reaction. A trauma response often includes symptoms like reliving the event over and over again (obsessing about it; experiencing intrusive thoughts), panic attacks, nightmares, numbing and fog responses, avoiding people, places and things that trigger a memory of the event, depressed and/or angry mood and increased nervousness (startle response).

How can Parents Help Children Cope with Trauma?
Parental support is critical when a child is dealing with trauma. Unlike adults, younger children don’t yet have the ability to understand what they are going through. Not only is the original event traumatic, but their trauma symptoms too, can be traumatic. For instance, physical symptoms like tremors and nightmares, mental symptoms like obsessions and hallucinations, and emotional symptoms like fear and anxiety can be overwhelming for a child to be experiencing.

The first line of business is to help children manage their emotions. Encourage them to talk about their feelings. A traumatized child may talk about the same thing over and over again, and this is okay. The content of the sharing is less important than the process of getting things out. If a child finds difficulty in expressing what he is going through verbally, either because of age or because of the trauma, then consider non-verbal ways of venting emotions. Letting it all out can also be done using drawings and pictures, clay sculptures and toys, play-acting, and story-telling.

Second, give your child a rational explanation of the traumatic event, that is appropriate to his or her age. The more information the child has, the less he or she is likely to generalize the event to other situations. For instance, knowing that a car crashed because it skidded on the snow can help a child feel safe in cars with good snow tires and in cars driving on dry roads. Without this information, the child may conclude that all cars are dangerous at all times. (While this is in fact true, the healthy state of mind is one of sufficient denial that a person can comfortably drive and be driven at all times. Phobic and traumatized people, on the other hand, over-exaggerate the likelihood of a catastrophic event occuring again, such that they can’t live in a normal way.)

When a child is suffering rather mild symptoms, parents may find that self-help interventions are sufficient. For instance, learning how to do EFT (emotional freedom technique) with the child may complete calm the youngster’s nervous system. However, parents may prefer to take their child to a child psychologist who practices EFT or EMDR. Both of these techniques are used to rapidly heal the trauma of one-time events. If the child is experiencing many symptoms of trauma, it is essential that parents DO NOT try the self-help approach. Instead, they should take their child to a mental health professional who is specifically trained in the treatment of post-traumatic-stress-disorder (PTSD). PTSD is the name for the cluster of symptoms that occur in reaction to a traumatic event. The “p” in this label for “post traumatic” points to the fact that trauma symptoms can suddenly occur months, years or even decades after the original traumatic event(s). The mind/body seems to wait for the “right time” to release the memory of the event(s).

Technqiues like EFT and EMDR can also be used as part of a longer therapy addressing more chronic forms of trauma (such as being subjected to chronic bullying, physical abuse or incest). These and other interventions are specifically designed to heal both the memories and the bodily reactions and return the child to his normal state. In addition, the Bach Flower Remedy called “Rescue Remedy” can help reduce temporary and chronic symptoms of trauma and is especially effective for home-management of symptoms inbetween psychotherapy sessions.

The good news is that children respond well to treatment of trauma. They can experience a complete healing of their symptoms and a return to “normalcy.” In fact, children are often even happier, calmer and more mature after trauma therapy than they were before the traumatic event(s) occurred.

Death in the Family

Coping with the death of a loved one is one of the most difficult experiences a person can go through. There are intense feelings that typically come with loss: disbelief, sadness, anger, and fear. There can also be relief (especially after a very long illness), guilt and confusion. In addition, there are new stressors: having to manage funeral services and grieving rituals, dealing with clergy, relatives, medical personnel, and other officials, dealing with the children’s immediate emotional and physical needs, in some cases, dealing with tasks usually performed by the person who passed away, and handling the effects and estate of the loved one. The whole period immediately surrounding the death of a loved one can be overwhelming for adults. However, adults who are parents must also consider the feelings of the children who are affected by the death.

Children come into contact with death in many different ways. Sometimes an elderly grandparent or other relative passes away. Sometimes, the parent of a classmate dies. Occasionally, a friend or classmate dies. Children can also experience the loss of a parent or a sibling. And many experience the loss of a beloved pet. The closer the relationship to the child, the more intense the grieving process will naturally be. This is why even the death of a pet can be devastating and traumatic for a child.

If your child has encountered death or is expressing concern about death, consider the following tips:

Your Child Grieves Differently Than You Do
Children, more than adults,  can sometimes LOOK unaffected by death. They can go on with life as usual, laughing, playing and engaging in all of their normal activities. In this way, they can fool parents into thinking that they are just fine. In most cases where kids seem perfectly happy after the death of a parent or other close relative, the death is actually so traumatic that the child dissociates from it. In other words, he or she blocks it off in the mind, storing for a time later on in life when it can be safely processed. This is a natural defense mechanism and needs to be respected. If you would like your child to begin to more fully acknowledge and deal with a significant loss, don’t try to make him or her face reality yourself – take the youngster to a professional grief counselor or other mental health professional.

Some children react to death by “acting out.” This means that their behavior deteriorates. Again, they may seem to be unaffected by the death in that they’re not crying, they’re not acting sad or depressed and they’re not wanting to talk about the death. However, they are getting into plenty of mischief at home and at school. If you notice this sort of behavioral change in your child, then professional counseling can help. Although the counselor may recommend cutting the child some slack for a short time, make sure that you do so ONLY for a short time (i.e. a couple of weeks). It is important to impose regular standards and normal structure for the child, including reasonable limits on behavior. Accept all of the child’s emotions, but not any of the child’s destructive, disrespectful or dangerous behaviors. Just because a child is distraught it is not O.K. for him or her to swear at people or destroy property or disregard the rules of the house. As parents step in to gain control of the situation, the child will actually begin to feel more in control as well. The limits can be reassuring, communicating that normal life does go on and the parents themselves are O.K. enough to do normal parenting. All of this helps the child to return to a normal baseline.

Some kids kids become very anxious after a death, suffering from bad dreams or nightmares, having trouble sleeping, developing fears of the future and phobia’s in the present and obsessing about the death, the dying process or the person who died. If your child develops intense fears that don’t clear up within a month, seek professional help. Sometimes these signs may be symptoms of a post-traumatic stress reaction that requires specialized treatment.

Children may become withdrawn after a loss. Instead of acting OUT, they act IN – becoming sad and isolated. It’s fine to allow children some quiet time, a time in which to lick their wounds and slowly recover. However, if a child is still turning away from life several months after a loss, seek professional assessment. It may be that counseling can help speed the mourning process along and help the child return to his or her life.

Very often, kids will not initiate conversations about the loss. This does not mean that they don’t need to talk. It often means they don’t know HOW to talk about it or they’re afraid of causing the parent upset. Parents, therefore, need to try to initiate talk. If the child doesn’t want to join in, then give the child space, as discussed above. However, some kids will be very happy to have the input of their parents. You can talk a little (not too much, so as not to overwhelm the child) about your own sadness and loss, but be sure to show interest in the child’s feelings. “We’re all sad and missing Grandma. I used to talk to her every day and now I really miss that. How are you doing with it? It must be hard for you too.” This sort of sentence gives the child an opening. Some kids will take the opportunity to express anger. “Why did she have to die? I want her to be here with us!” Acknowledge the child’s pain BEFORE answering questions. “Yes, we’re all upset about it. We all want her here. I know how much you miss her. No one really knows why people have to die – it’s all part of God’s plan. For some reason we don’t understand, we can’t live forever here on earth. But when the body dies, the soul still lives and in that sense we never die…..(explain death in whatever way you understand it).”

When you support your child through a grieving experience, your child learns that he or she can turn to others in times of crisis. This is a very important life lesson that heps to stress-proof your youngster.

Be Aware of Your Own Impact
Although grieving adults are often in too much pain to parent well, it is important to remember that your children are always watching you. Your reactions – at least the ones they can observe – teach them a lot about life and stress management. If you are too overwhelmed to function well, show them how you access professional help or family support. Let them know by your model, that you needn’t go through pain and deep stress alone. If you are so sad that you find yourself crying all the time, let the kids know that the tears are temporary and that they are your way of letting the sadness out of your body. If you are crying in front of them for more than two or three months, get professional help. Your intense emotion can alarm your kids and give them a feeling of helpless despair. Ideally, after the first few weeks, you can cry when the kids are in school or asleep or at other appropriate times. Keep in mind that people go to work after the death of a loved one and they are able to refrain from crying eight hours a day when they are being paid to function well. Functioning well at home is equally important as children are sensitive to and affected by their parents’ mood.

Discuss What Happened, in a Way Suitable to Their Developmental Stage
Never sidestep the topic of death, or downplay the event through statements like “you’re too young to understand”, “we can get you a new pet!” or “so & so is in Heaven so there’s nothing to be upset about” or “We’re not talking about that anymore.” Kids will pick up the sadness and grief all around them. They need information or their own imaginations will fill in the gaps in the worst ways possible (“It must have been my fault”). Explain about illness and death in ways that they can understand and relate to, but do avoid traumatic images. There is certainly no value to telling a child that Auntie Mary bled to death or little Robby got crushed under a car. Child often have very vivid imaginations and can suffer terribly from their own picture-making process. It’s enough to say that Auntie Mary had a disease and died and little Robby was in a car accident.  Answer all questions and allow your child to talk about the subject freely.

Acknowledge What They Feel
Give them an opportunity to vent out what they’re feeling, whether it’s sadness, confusion or anger. Tell them it’s okay if they want to cry, stomp their feet or shout. Assure them there’s nothing wrong in missing those who passed, and wishing they are still there.

Younger kids can be encouraged to express their emotions through creative ways. You can ask them to draw, create stories or express in play what they want to say.

Let them be irritable while grieving; this is normal. And always be there to offer your support and assurances. Tell them you’d answer all the questions they have, and that you can be approached if they don’t want to be alone.

Note: it’s normal for kids to experience nightmares or perceive “ghosts” at this time. When you notice that your child may be struggling with fear, identify the cause and address it. For instance, kids may be afraid that what happened to the one who died will also happen to them, and to other people they love. Assure them that while everyone dies eventually, it’s not likely to happen to them or you soon. Explain that in most cases, people are very old when they die, and they have lived a full and happy life.

Create a Ritual for Closure
Rituals give kids, as they do adults, a sense of “end” to something that they loss. They can be very therapeutic to a grieving child; they give kids something concrete they can refer to when they feel sad. This is better than leaving them to imagine all kinds of things they associate with the trauma of death.

Examples of rituals that parents can do with their kids include attending a memorial service, creating artwork or a “memory book” in memory of the deceased person, and praying and lighting candles for the one who passed away. Memory books can be very helpful for older kids and teens particularly when the deceased is a parent or other close family member. Such books normally contain photo’s of the person, favorite sayings, lessons learned from them, stories of happy times together, special characteristics of the person and other things that might otherwise be forgotten over time.