Helping Kids Through Trauma

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The Blended Life has been quiet for the past month due to a serious accident in our family. All my time and strength has been invested solely on the home front to aid in the healing of my husband. As I look up from an intensely emotional and trying time I find that most of what I have to say is not about the horror of the accident but rather some specific insights gleaned from helping my children cope over the past month. While I thought I knew a little something about trauma from walking in the adoption world, when it came right down to it, I knew very little.

Navigating through the past month I landed on a number of key things that felt right and gave greater life to our family. If you are walking a road of trauma and sorrow in your life today I want to say “I get it.” Day to day my emotions varied. One day I would be fine, the next, I would fall apart in the grocery store. Friends who came by were often met with smiles, while others received tears. Today I can confidently say we are healing and I have never been more grateful for my husband and his presence in my life.

But the reaction to trauma is a uniquely individual experience. Each of my children responded differently to the stress and emotions of hearing and then seeing their dad seriously hurt and physically changed. One of my children rarely left his side while another would not look at him and avoided being in the same room. From overly responsible to completely incompetent I saw all manner of crazy behavior and ultimately each of my children’s coping mechanisms at work. There is no rhyme or reason to our reactions but there are helpful things we can do as parents to aid our children in their individual processing of a traumatic event.

Regardless of age, here are five things you can do to help kids during a traumatic event. (And I daresay, help yourself too.)

Tell the truth.

This seems absurd. Don’t we always strive to be honest? However in times of difficulty we so often gloss over the reality of the situation proffering instead untruths that we think will bring comfort but all too often bring deceit. Kids more than anyone can ferret out an untruth from a parent.

In the emergency room I overheard others talking about what to say ‘to the kids’. It was then that I decided to tell my kids the truth. We would travel the road of healing ahead together, why begin our journey with dishonesty? Resolving to, in age appropriate ways, tell them the truth no matter what, I felt calmed sitting beside my husband that first night knowing as a family we would know together what lay ahead.

Let them see you grieve appropriately.

My middle daughter asked me the second day my husband was home if I was sad. I was shocked by her question. She held my hand and put her head on my shoulder and put the question to me gently. She hadn’t seen me cry. She wondered why. She was sad.

My grieving was taking place alone. I was hiding my tears and emotions from my kids thinking I would upset them. Don’t we do this as parents? It is no wonder that our children at times think we are emotionless, and they alone experience the high feelings in the family.

Later that day when washing the dishes (it is always the quiet moments that overwhelm us in trauma isn’t it?) hot tears welled in the corners of my eyes and I made a the choice to let them run down my face and splash into the soapsuds while my children came around me one by one clutching my waist and one another.

Follow the normal routine.

I sent them to school when they didn’t want to go. I made them play soccer, practice trombone, and go to the library when they didn’t feel like it. Normalcy is like a drug during trauma. It inoculates us and allows life to continue on revised terms. My kids needed to see their friends. My kids needed to be with their teachers and bandmates and teammates. Support came in many different ways from so many different people. They received the love and support they needed from those that surround them in their everyday lives. Routine was invaluable in freeing me from being their only support.

Let them help you.

That first night in the Emergency Room in the midst of my phone buzzing and dinging I received a text from my eleven year old daughter.

“How’s daddy doing? Is he doing okay? How bad is everything? How many injuries does he have and what are they (everything please)? How are you doing mommy? I am praying and give you and daddy my love and hope. Tell me if you need anything, I will prepare it for you and daddy and have someone to bring it to you.”

She felt helpless. She wanted to take action – to do something. A common response to life reeling out of control is grabbing ahold of something and getting it done. Coming home my children asked what they could do, took on more responsibility, created lists and action plans for our family. And I let them do it. Was anything the way it needed to be done or in my estimation done ‘correctly’? No, not really. But they needed to help and so I let them –even if that meant the dishes got washed twice.

Talk. But more importantly LISTEN.

Hours were spent downstairs on the couch with an arm around one of my babes listening to them about what they thought would happen, what-ifs, woulds, and maybes. Sometimes they would stop mid-sentence and just lean in, arms around my neck, hot breath turning into sobs and articulated fears. I realized they didn’t really need answers from me, rather they needed to be heard. Medicine for an aching heart is another that listens.

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Life is returning to normal for us. I realize we have had a relatively short road compared to some. My husband said yesterday that he feels at about 90%. I started to disagree and then decided to let him feel that 90% cause it feels good. And it feels good to feel good.

Physical wounds heal. Now onto the rest of the healing.

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