A traumatic experience can cause a period of intense stress, fear, and other challenging emotions. Because of the intensity of these feelings, the brain can struggle to process the event and holds onto these emotions to create ongoing emotional challenges after the event has passed.
When these traumatic events happen to children or teens, the way that younger people experience and process them can be different from the way that adults do. Children are still developing physically and emotionally. Their brains are still growing and many of the complex emotions experienced during a traumatic event will be far beyond their previous emotional range.
If your child or teenager is dealing with the effects of a traumatic experience, it is normal to feel overwhelmed yourself and unsure how to provide the help they need. But with a better understanding of what your teenager may need during this time and the right resources, you can provide the necessary support to assist with recovery.
Identifying PTSD in Teens and Providing Effective Support
There is a wide range of events that can be traumatic and that will cause a lasting effect. Although the events and experiences that can trigger a trauma response are different for everyone, in general, trauma can be considered an event where the person felt their life was at risk or where they endured high stress for a long period of time. Common traumatic events for teenagers include:
- Car Crashes
- Loss of a Friend or Family Member
Being involved in these events, witnessing them, or having one of these experiences happen in their community can prompt a child or teen to feel stressed and fearful even after the event is over and they are no longer in danger.
The first step in supporting a teenager or a child after a traumatic event is to identify that they are suffering. This can sometimes be the most difficult part. For younger children, they may not have the words yet to express that they are struggling. For teenagers, keeping their struggles to themselves can help them feel more in control again. Children of all ages may also have complex emotions following the trauma that makes them hesitant or afraid to speak out.
Because your child may not express their challenges explicitly, watching for common indicators of trauma can often provide valuable insight. These generally include any behavior or emotional changes that do not otherwise have an explanation. Particular behavioral changes could include appetite changes, sleeping pattern changes, withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy, unexpected rule breaking, or an alteration in school performance.
When you notice any of these and believe they are the result of a previous traumatic event, you can provide effective support by:
- Listening But Not Pushing – It can be tempting to push your teen to tell you everything, but this can often be more stressful for them than helpful. Instead, make sure that your child knows that you are ready to listen when they are ready to talk. Let them come to you on their own time.
- Create a Safe Environment – When you are listening, be receptive and create a safe space where your child is free to process any emotions they may experience. This will be key in their ability to move past the events. Let them cry or be angry as long as the behavior that they are exhibiting does not put them or anyone else at risk.
- Provide Safety – After a traumatic event, a child can experience significant anxiety that something similar will occur again. Taking steps to help them feel safe will combat this anxiety and help them rebuild their sense of safety. This can include letting them set personal boundaries, giving them permission to avoid places or situations that are triggering, and making sure that when they express a need, that need is acknowledged. These will help them regain their sense of control over their life.
- Find a Pediatric or Adolescent Psychotherapist – A therapist trained in trauma counseling and in working with younger patients will be able to guide the processing of experiences and provide effective and targeted resources for parents. A therapist has the training to help a patient access their feelings and has methods of understanding those feelings that are appropriate for different age ranges.
Another important step in supporting your teen or child can be to address your own mental health challenges, especially if you have gone through the same event or a similar one. This can better prepare you to help and reduces the chances of you being triggered while doing so. It can also encourage the vulnerability necessary for your teen to start a conversation with you about their experiences and emotions. Taking time to process your own emotions, practicing self care, and seeking therapeutic help when necessary w will help you overcome your own trauma.
Get the Support Your Child Needs – Call LICS Today
A traumatic event can be an overwhelming experience for a child or teenager, making it hard to move forward and potentially leaving a lasting impact on their mental health. Fortunately, therapy for teens and children coping with trauma is often effective and younger patients with the right support recover well.
In addition to providing support of your own, the team of psychotherapists at Long Island Counseling Services can help patients who are experiencing anxiety, depression, or simply difficulty coping after a trauma. With our expansive team, we have pediatric therapists and those experienced in working with adolescents, as well as those capable of treating anxiety and depression in adults. This enables us to support all ages in recovery from trauma.
Contact our team to get matched with one of our therapists and begin the process of helping your teen overcome any traumas they might be living with.