Helping Children Deal with Trauma: Parents Talk About How They’ve Helped Their Children Deal with Tough Family Situations
When Greg Colver lost custody of his three children to Child Protective Services, he says he got the motivation he needed to get off drugs. He’d been in drug treatment programs off and on for years, but says he’d “always left the program at the door.” When CPS got involved, it “stopped being about me,” he recalls. A social worker referred him to Parents’ Anonymous, and he joined.
But then he faced another challenge—helping his children deal with the trauma they’d experienced during the years he was on drugs. Parents’ Anonymous got him into a wraparound program with services for the entire family.
When parents struggle to turn their life around, they have the added challenge of helping their children cope with the trauma they’ve faced. A few parents share what worked for them.
“Every child is different”
“Every child, every situation is different. There can be a range of reactions, depending on the stressors, the child’s age, and their developmental level,” says Linda Perez, child psychologist at the Epiphany Center for Women and Children.
A child may be anxious, depressed, tuned out, or aggressive, or have tantrums, language problems, or changes in sleeping or eating patterns. “It’s not a child that’s acting out, but a child that’s needing help,” adds Perez.
“My youngest son Anthony, who’s two, was very angry,” says Michelle Mandujano, a recovering mother of two whose children witnessed her substance abuse. “He was abusive to others and would bang and slam his head on things.”
Graciela Rodriguez, whose four children witnessed domestic violence against her, found her oldest daughter was “extremely shy and had very low self-esteem.” Her two younger daughters were often “timid and scared.”
“Parents have to reassure children and make them feel safe,” says Perez. “Domestic violence is usually lots of screaming, so loud noises (or fighting) might trigger traumatic stress. Try to remove the triggers—that’s why working with therapists is helpful.”
Reprinted with the permission of the Action Alliance for Children.
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