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How to Help Kids Understand and Heal from Trauma

Kids start to understand race and racism starting from a young age. This video, about middle schoolers talking about race, shows just how well young children can verbalize how their race has affected their experiences.

Pat Parker is a Certified Social Worker, who received her Bachelor of Social Work from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a graduate certificate in Community Mental Health from the Trinity College of Vermont. She has over thirty years of experience in the human services field, conducting workshops, seminars, and trainings since 1986. Her work focuses on bringing equitable practices to social work, like reducing racial disparities in child welfare and juvenile justice, creating diversity and spirituality in family-centered practice, and addressing alcohol and drug abuse issues in families. 

A Stressful Year

Parents and children are living through a time of elevated stress and anxiety. For families of color, systemic racism has added another challenge to these already difficult times. COVID19 disproportionately impacts people of color, with African Americans taking the first major hit. The number of Latinos affected surged shortly after.

The deaths of Black individuals have been recorded, aired online and TV, and have ignited protest and unrest across the country. Reliving these scenes over and over is traumatic for Black youth, research finds.

The Three Types of Trauma

There are 3 types of trauma that may be have an impact on the development of foster children and their caregivers:

  1. Collective trauma is a traumatic event that is shared by a group of people, even down to bystanders
  2. Secondary trauma or compassion fatigue is trauma endured by those working with or helping a traumatized individual.
  3. Socio-cultural, race-based, or historical trauma are trauma responses that are seen across collective groups of marginalized individuals, which lingers for generations after a traumatic event or series of events.

Historical trauma can be seen after traumatic events like terrorism, racial discrimination, harassment, or micro-aggressions, which are considered ongoing low-level stress. Racial trauma may also result from witnessing racial harassment or experiencing institutional racism. 

The impacts of trauma can look different in different people, but some common symptoms can be depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, feelings of humiliation, poor concentration, or irritability. Complex trauma can also impact attachment and relationships, physical and mental health, emotions, behavior, and learning.  

How do we Help Children Heal?

  1. Help them relax
    • Adults must create a safe space to encourage kids to talk about their feelings and express their ideas. They must also lead by example and make sure children have the language to describe their emotions.
  2. Redirect their activities when they have intrusive thoughts (flashbacks).
    • When they become caught up in their thoughts, involve children in a different activity that they like doing and reassure them they are in control of what they are doing now.
  3. Encourage hope: Their life will get better!
    • Even though life is tough now, things will certainly improve. Help them imagine a happy future.
  4. Develop and maintain healthy eating habits.
    • Food can have a major impact on physical and mental health. Serve balanced meals and encourage daily physical activity to keep the mind and body healthy.
  5. Make bedtime uneventful and comforting.
    • Routine is good for kids, but it doesn’t need to be long and complicated. Try storytelling and book reading to create a peaceful, uninterrupted nighttime environment. 

                  Read: 5 Ways to Make Bedtime Easier 

                  1. Allow them to heal in their own time and in their own way.
                    • Although there are many things you can do, sometimes the best way to help is by simply being the best support system you can, and letting a child figure things out on their own.
                  2. Get help from professionals.
                    • You also don’t have to do any of this alone. Mental health professionals are trained to help children overcome trauma.

                        Schedule a telehealth appointment today.