Trauma is something that takes time to deal with, and I’m not entirely sure that it ever completely leaves you. On top of that, trauma affects everyone differently, and everyone deals with it differently. I hate thinking that many children tonight are going to go to bed with nightmares already stirring in their heads. I hate thinking that many children are going to be afraid to go to school. Nobody should be afraid to go to school. School should be a safe haven for children. I love school. I went to preschool when I was 2 and I’ll be 25 when I finish law school this coming spring. If I could, I would probably even spend an extra year or two studying abroad somewhere. School is fantastic.
Anyhow, I wanted to try to help the parents out, who are struggling with trying to talk to their young children about the events that happened today in Newtown, Connecticut; but also just for anyone dealing with trauma in general. I’ve had to deal with quite the traumatic experience, and though I wasn’t a young child when I went through that I experience, I think my experiences with coping afterwards may be able to help some of you out. After all, we learn from sharing—sharing our experiences, our mistakes, our triumphs, etc. Just remember, I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’m speaking from my own experience.
Initially, someone suffering from trauma may sort of shut down from shock. They may not want to talk. Talking is important, but you have to let it come naturally. So if your child, or whoever suffered the trauma, is not talking, don’t force it. Just make sure he or she knows that the communication lines are open.
We all want to protect our children and our loved ones. If we could, we would build an invisible shield around them to repel all the evil in the world. We can’t though. So when someone suffering from trauma tries to talk to you, and tells you that he or she is scared, confused, or whatever it is they’re feeling, don’t just say, “It’s okay, everything’s going to be okay.” Ask that person why she is scared. What are her fears? There’s probably not just one answer. Just listen. Don’t try to fix their fears and confusion for them. By asking the questions, you are helping them. Children aren’t as good with verbal communication, so you might have to help them out a little more with talking about what’s on their mind. If they ask you questions, be kindly honest. Don’t fluff, but don’t be rough. And if “I don’t know” is your most honest answer, then simply say, “I don’t know.” Also, reassure them that they are in fact safe—that you are there for them, and looking out for them.
I think one of the hardest questions to answer is “Why did this happen?” I imagine a lot of children and parents are asking this question tonight. I’m not sure if there’s a right way to answer this question, or any way. I imagine though, if I was a kid, I’d want to hear what I’m not always so patient to hear now—probably because I already know its truth, and sometimes when you’re down you don’t want to be told what you already know. If I was a kid today, asking my mom why a man shot and killed twenty children, I’d want to hear that bad things happen, and we don’t always know why, but we have to learn from them and make tomorrow better so that today and yesterday were not wasted. I think one of the things that really helped me, was when my dad said to me, “Now from this experience, promise me you’ll help those who can’t help themselves.” Basically, he was telling me to turn a negative into an exponential positive. Of course, I was much older than the children affected today, but it was helpful, and maybe you can find a different version of that message to tell your child.
I’m also a strong believer in therapy for anyone who is a direct witness/victim of trauma, like the children at Sandy Hook—physically harmed or unharmed—or even a child who witnesses abuse between his parents, even though he’s never touched. There’s something different about talking to someone in complete confidence, someone who knows how to listen, how to ask the right questions, and really just someone who is not prone to react overprotectively.
Some parents get uncomfortable confronting their child’s pain—that’s why we fluff our answers—but you have to suck it up. You have to keep those communication lines open, and be there when they need you. It’s one of the best things you can do for your child and yourself, if you really want your child to feel safe, and to feel peace. If you try to gloss over it, or shush their fears away, you’ll risk closing up the communication lines. Just remember, you don’t have to force communication—if they feel and know the communication lines are open, they will come to you. If they’re not talking, then every now and then ask them how they’re doing to remind them that the communication lines are open.
While you’re being supermom, superdad, or super-sibling/cousin/friend, remember to be normal. One of my biggest fears was people treating me differently, or like I might shatter any second. I didn't want that. I'm not sure that young children can understand that, but don't give them a chance to have more fears than they may already have. You don’t want to walk on eggshells, and you don’t want your child to feel fragile or different. You want your child to get back to normal, and happy, as quickly as possible. Of course, you can’t rush anything; but you can remind them of how awesome they are. Remind them how strong they are. Remind them that their strength is necessary for sharing their awesome. It sounds cheesy, but sometimes people need a little help remembering how to stand up.
As times goes on, I think the thing that most people forget is that when someone suffers from a traumatic experience, after they are all smiles again and all seems better, different things could trigger all kinds of emotions—whether it’s fear, tears, or anger. Sometimes things that seem normal, or used to be normal, may cause a different kind of reaction. So don’t be quick to judge or ignore. Don’t smother either, but just try to be understanding of what you might not be able to understand. As time goes on, remember that even if a person blocks out certain memories, memories can have an odd way of coming back to us. So again, remember to keep the communication lines open. If your child asks a question seemingly out of the blue, maybe it’s not so out of the blue.
I could go on, but I think these are some good basics for communicating with someone healing from trauma. If you would like to have a one-on-one chat about dealing with trauma, please feel free to contact me through the contact section of this site.
BIG LOVE & HUGS