Supporting a young person after a traumatic event
It can be difficult and confusing to know how to help your child when they have experienced or witnessed a frightening event. The aim of this page is to support you and help you to understand your child’s reaction.
Feeling distress after a traumatic experience is normal
It is entirely normal to experience some difficulties or distress after a frightening event. If this is true for your child and/or for you, please know that this is natural and that you are not alone. You can find out more on our trauma page.
Early intervention after a traumatic experience
Intervening early after a child or young person has experienced a frightening event can help to improve resilience and reduce the development of post-traumatic reactions.
Below are examples of early intervention strategies.
- Help the child or young person to understand what has happened with truthful explanations.
- Help the child or young person to understand that what they are experiencing is a normal reaction to a frightening event. It is very helpful to understand that many of the physical symptoms, emotions, memories and thoughts we have after frightening or traumatic experiences are part of how our minds and bodies react to try to keep us safe.
- Be available to talk and listen to the child or young person, should they wish to talk, without pressuring them if they aren’t ready.
- Encourage a return to a normal routine and activities as soon as possible. Routine and predictability can help a person feel more grounded and safe.
Experience of trauma does not have to determine a child’s future. By enhancing protective factors around the child, we can help children to become more resilient.
Protective factors include:
- Developing trusting and non-discriminatory relationships around the child or young person.
- Promoting continuity and stability in relationships around the child.
- Promoting a child or young person’s sense of agency.
- Remembering to prioritise the child or young person’s sense of safety.
- Be conscious of not re-traumatising the child or young person.
- Understanding that the child or young person may have good reason to feel untrusting of others.
- Supporting emotion regulation, helping the child or young person learn to manage and calm their emotions.
- Tackling systemic factors that might lead to inequality or prejudice.
Talking to children about what happened
- Try and help your child to understand what happened with age appropriate, truthful explanations. This can correct misunderstandings, such as children blaming themselves.
- Help your child or young person to understand that while bad things can happen, such events are rare, and that they don’t need to feel afraid all of the time.
- Reassure your child or young person that their symptoms will recover over time.
- Explain that you are there if they want to talk and you will be okay hearing about it. However, let them lead this and explain that they don’t need to talk about it before they feel ready.
- Provide opportunities for talking and be ready to listen to the child young person talk if and when they wish to.
- Sometimes parents can be afraid that talking about what happened might make things more difficult. Talking about the event (when the child or young person is ready) can be helpful and important, and may support them to be less afraid and preoccupied about the event.
You may experience your own difficulties or reactions because of what happened to your child. This is also entirely normal. Making sure that you look after yourself is important in helping you to be there for your child.
Make use of support from your friends and family and try to plan times where you can get some rest or do something that makes you feel relaxed.
If you feel that you need some help with your own experiences, please speak to your GP.
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Page last reviewed: 8 March, 2023