Many kids going through traumatic events may lack some of the emotional tools to deal with them. As a caregiver, you can help equip your child with the skills and language needed to help them move through the healing process.
Remind your child that all emotions are ok. Kids may react differently than we expect to trauma. It’s crucial to remind them that all reactions are normal and fine, be they anger, sadness, anxiety, or even having no feelings at all. We want to help mitigate any feelings or behavior that are harmful to the child (such as lashing out, self harm, disengaging from school and friends).
Model healthy emotional expression. As a caregiver, you can teach your child how to respond in a healthy way to trauma. This can mean if you cry or get frustrated, explaining to your child this is an ok way to feel. You can also empathize with the child and let them know you are also having a hard time. You can also model positive coping skills, such as getting exercise, talking about feelings, creating art, and making sure to prioritize good eating and sleeping habits.
Use the right words. One of the main difficulties I work with caregivers on is the very normal resistance to using words that they fear may be “scary” to the child. However, we want to avoid euphemisms and give kids the proper vocabulary to understand what is happening. Avoid saying terms such as “passed away” or “asleep.” These may lessen our discomfort but do not help children. A child may takes things literally and assume if they go to sleep they may also die. We want to explain death and dying in an age-appropriate manner. For younger kids, I like using books with animals that the child can relate to (one of my favorites is When Dinosaurs Die).
Teach coping skills. Be this making slime, drawing a picture of their feelings, playing sports, reading, or simply talking to you, we want to teach children that, while they may feel sad for a while, there are ways they can feel better.