When a child experiences or witnesses any form of emotional or physical abuse, their trust can become shattered. Trauma survivors may have trouble trusting their close family relationships or friendships. The symptoms of trauma can cause problems with trust, closeness, communication, and problem solving. These problems may affect the way the survivor acts with others.
Traumatized children do not believe the world is safe or that adults will protect them. They often live in fear of what could happen next. All children need calm and caring caregivers, but especially traumatized children. Remaining calm when your child is agitated and teaching calming techniques reduces the anxiety and emotional arousal that affects their mood, sleep, and concentration.
Children need to learn that adults can be dependable, caring, patient and loving following a divorce, bullying incident or child abuse. Parents can become their children’s secure base by being emotionally available, sensitive, responsive and helpful. Parents can learn when not to push and when to hold back. Most of all, parents need to feel confident that they can help their child move through their healing process.
Here are 8 steps to help your child heal from trauma and learn to build trust again:
1.Talk with your child: communication builds trust and is a constructive coping skill; find times they are likely to talk; start the conversation – let them know you are interested.
2.Listen: listen to their thoughts, feelings, and point of view with empathy – don’t interrupt, judge or criticize; this opens the door to a healing relationship.
3. Accept feelings: anxiety, irritability, anger and depression are normal reactions to loss and trauma and will subside over time in a safe environment.
4. Be patient and supportive: it takes time to come to terms with trauma and grieve losses; each child’s path to recovery is unique; offer comfort and reassurance and be available when they are ready.
5. Encourage healthy expression: children act-out distress negatively without constructive outlets; foster the use of talking, art, play, music, sports, journaling and other healthy methods.
6. Maintain consistency: structure and routines enhance security and stability; provide appropriate rules, expectations, boundaries and consequences.
7. Promote a sense of control: children feel helpless and powerless in response to trauma; help them believe they can successfully deal with challenges via constructive activities (e.g., hobbies, sports, clubs, volunteering).
8. Make home a safe place: your home should be a “safe haven,” a place of comfort, security and peace; stress and chaos provokes traumatic reactions; minimize conflict and discipline with calmness and love.
Rebuilding trust takes time, patience and a great deal of strength on every parent’s part. Remember your dreams for your child can be rebuilt. They just may look a bit different.
Dr. Sue Cornbluth is an Adjunct Associate Psychology Professor at Temple University and a National parenting expert in childhood trauma. She received her doctoral degree in clinical psychology in 2006 with a specialization in Marriage and Family Therapy. Dr. Sue just published her second best selling book Building Self Esteem in Children and Teens who are Adopted or Fostered. She has appeared on an array of television shows and networks around the country. She can be contacted at www.drsueandyou.com.