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Trauma in a child may be due to several reasons including bereavement in the immediate family, a disaster that they may have witnessed personally or an accident undergone. A caregiver can support the child in such cases to help overcome such trauma.
Holding the child while her body is wracked by sobs can be as difficult for the caregiver as the experience is traumatic for the child. During such times, what children need most is a calm place where they can confront their fears and try to find the answers their minds are seeking. The aftermath of trauma may leave behind long standing repercussions, which a caregiver needs to understand and handle with patience and compassion. Bereavement in particular, especially of someone close, can be bewildering for a child and manifest in the form of feelings of abandonment and fear. As a caregiver, here are five things that will help you support your child through trauma:
1. Reverting to an Earlier Schedule
After the first few days of the event that triggered the change, try and bring the child back to her earlier routine. The comfort of the familiar will be an effective balm to soothe the uncertainty that the child must have gone through. Going back to preschool or daycare, visiting the toy library for a weekly exchange can be some of the things to begin with. This also gives her the assurance that things may go back to being the way they were before the event.
Your little one may face a lot of triggers to the trauma during the first few weeks. If it was an accident in a car, she might get scared of getting into another car; or if it was a swimming accident, she might refuse to go near the water anytime soon. At the outset, tell her that you respect her choice to not enter the water, and that she will not be forced into anything she is not comfortable with. Show her yourself that the water is safe to swim in by taking a few laps yourself. Try and rationalise the reasons why things went wrong the last time, and how have you done things differently this time. Give her the confidence that you are aware of her fear and trauma, and are willing to help overcome it. Be patient.
3. Verbalising Feelings
At times, while you have realised that the child is suffering from trauma, the child herself may not have the emotional maturity to comprehend this. Help her by verbalising it for her. You may begin by actually spelling out that you are aware she is scared of the water because of the accident she was in the last time. This helps her become aware of her own feelings and making her more receptive of what you have to offer in terms of a solution.
4. Sharing Your Own Anxieties
Secure her confidence by sharing some of your own fears and anxieties with her. For example you may tell her how you are scared of bugs or the thunder. This helps in making her aware of the fact that it’s alright to feel scared about something, and more importantly to admit to one’s fears rather than keeping them bottled up inside.
5. Developing a Bedtime Routine
The dark often brings out the worst thoughts and fears in all of us. Stay by your little one’s side until she is fast asleep – at least for the first few weeks. If left alone, she may lie awake thinking about her trauma and create some monsters in her mind. You may also want to try and read a funny story to make the routine fun.
The road to recovery is a long one, and is to be tread with patience and care. Do not hesitate to reach out to your baby’s pediatrician if you feel the situation is out of control. Professional intervention is effective when brought in at the right juncture.