Navigating Tough Times: 3 Tips to Help Kids Cope if They Witness Trauma

Feb 27, 2024 | Parenting

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​​​​​​Resilience is your capacity to rise above tough circumstances, and helping our kids become more resilient is an important part of the parenting journey.

While children are naturally resilient, they can still be deeply affected by tragedy in the news or witnessing others’ traumatic events. A friend’s serious injury or a death in a classmate’s family can bring up feelings that require support from a parent or caregiver.

At Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital and Our Lady of Lourdes Women’s & Children’s Hospital, our Child Life specialists are specially trained to provide emotional support for children and their families as they cope with the stress and anxiety that comes with being hospitalized. These same principles of comfort, routine and emotional regulation are essential for supporting children through trauma, even when they’re experiencing it more indirectly.

Use these three essential strategies, drawn from expertise of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to support your child as they cope with difficult events, even when they’re experiencing them indirectly.

1. Reassure: Provide Comfort and Security 

After a troubling event, kids often need reassurance that they are safe and loved. 

Remind your child of their safety and security within the family. Use gentle words and comforting touches like high fives or hugs, depending on their preference.

Encourage open communication by reflecting on their feelings and validating their emotions. Let them know that it’s OK to feel scared, sad or confused.

Create safe spaces within the home where your child can feel secure. Whether it’s building a tent in their bedroom or designating a special “safe chair,” giving them a place to retreat can provide a sense of comfort and control.

2. Return to Routine: Establish Predictability 

Maintaining regular daily routines can offer stability and a sense of normalcy to children after any unsettling experience.

Stick to dependable routines for meals, bedtime and other activities as much as possible. Visual schedules and prompts can be particularly helpful for younger children.

Explain any changes in the schedule beforehand to prepare your child for what to expect. Introduce special rituals or activities before and after schedule changes to provide continuity and comfort.

Incorporate relaxing activities into your routine, such as family walks or quiet reading time. These moments of calm can be soothing for children and caregivers alike.

3. Regulate: Teach Self-Regulation Skills 

Helping children learn to manage their emotions and behaviors is essential for their long-term well-being. 

Practice relaxation techniques together, such as deep breathing, stretching or simple yoga poses. These activities can help children calm themselves during times of stress.

Engage in activities that encourage emotional expression, like playing feeling charades or discussing where in the body different emotions are felt.

Teach your child coping skills to use when they feel upset or overwhelmed, such as seeking support from a trusted adult or taking a break for active play or exercise.

It takes time for children to learn to identify and manage their feelings after a scary or upsetting event, even if it’s something that happened to others. Stay calm and close, and connect with your pediatrician if you need more support in helping your child cope.

Learn more about building resilience from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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