Knowing that your child has gone through a traumatic event is arguably one of the most stressful, devastating, and overwhelming things a parent can experience. And yet, since parents serve as a child’s strongest source of support and safety in everyday life, they must muster the courage to calmly deliver this support, especially after a child experiences a traumatic event.
If your child has experienced a trauma, you may feel anxious about what to do to help him recover.
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Every child will likely experience some form of stress in early life, whether it be a car accident, death of a loved one, a stressful move, or another more traumatic experience like war, abuse. Most children naturally develop negative emotional reactions to aversive experiences, but those negative feelings are most often self-limited, resolving over time.
In a minority of children, however, their symptoms become more severe and persistent, and eventually develop into post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
A child with PTSD will experience a specific set of symptoms for at least 1-month: 
The longevity of the symptoms is what differentiates it from an acute stress reaction, which is self-limited (i.e. lasting less than 1-month). Therefore, if your child experiences these symptoms, it is important to have him or her evaluated by a mental health professional. The earlier a correct diagnosis is established, the sooner an appropriate therapy and treatment can begin, and the more likely a full recovery will occur.
There are some social and familial factors which have consistently been associated with a more severe and protracted course of PTSD in children:
Studies in the pediatric population have determined that these other factors can also increase a child’s risk of developing PTSD:
So, what can you do after your child experiences a trauma to decrease his chances of developing PTSD or to shorten the length of his symptoms?
Although there are no well-documented strategies known to certainly prevent PTSD from developing, there are some strategies which are known to facilitate recovery and shorten his course of symptoms:
Listed below are tips that help your child recover from his or her trauma: 
Parents who are sensitive to their child’s distress, offering reassurance and support, have children who tend to recover faster and more completely. Parental “warmth” following a traumatic exposure is associated with fewer PTSD symptoms.
Remember, some traumatized children will intentionally push their parents away (even if they want nothing more than for you to connect with them). In spite of this, provide attention, comfort, and encouragement in ways your child will accept.
For younger children, this may mean giving extra hugs, offering more cuddle times, or snuggling for longer at bedtime. For older children, this might just mean spending time together as a family. Follow their lead and be patient if children seem needy.
Parents who reinstate their child’s pre-trauma activities and schedule, earlier rather than later, tend to see their children improve faster.
While it is important to watch your child closely to make sure they are open and amenable to activities, encouraging him or her to participate in the extracurricular activities and hobbies they enjoyed before can have a positive impact on their recovery.
This helps foster their confidence again and also helps them channel negative energy into a positive outlet.
This provides the child with a much-needed opportunity to reassess the trauma and have misunderstandings about the event corrected by the parent. Reassure him or her that the situation was not their fault.
This is especially important early on before the child’s memories of the event are reinforced and solidified.
Watch for behavior that doesn’t “fit” the situation. Is something distracting your child? Is something making him more irritable, angry, or stressed than you would expect? There may be seemingly benign things in your home or environment which may be triggering your child without you realizing it.
Once you identify those triggers, help your child avoid them until he has adjusted and healed from his trauma.
You may notice that your child loses emotional control or becomes upset very quickly. After a trauma, your child may be so sensitized to stress, that even being looked at directly for an extended period of time may trigger an emotional breakdown.
If this occurs, respond calmly but try not to respond emotionally. Keep your voice calm and quiet. Attempt to disarm his anger or stress. This is difficult if you are caught off guard or hurt by his reaction. Don’t disengage, but rather, acknowledge your child’s feelings without taking them personally
This is of utmost importance if the traumatic event involved abuse. It is important to set limits and discipline. Children do better when they know the rules. But avoid physical punishment when your child disappoints you.
If your child succeeds in finding acceptable words and means to express himself when he is feeling overwhelmed and victimized, this is an accomplishment worthy of praise and acknowledgement. Commend him when this occurs.
Positive reinforcement is far more powerful than punishing negative behaviors. “Catch” your child behaving positively, and lavish attention and approval on him when this occurs. This encourages long-term change.
It is important not to avoid difficult or uncomfortable conversations, especially about the trauma. Teaching avoidance as a coping mechanism not only delays recovery, but it also teaches your child to avoid future problems when they occur.
This is the time to listen and help your child face his trauma. Empowering him will give him the tools to overcome this trauma, and future disappointments as well.
On the other hand, it is important not to push your child to talk about the trauma if he or she is not ready. It is normal for children to have conflicting feelings about these events, so it is important to allow your child to decide when and how to breach this conversation with you in order to avoid feelings of confusion. This also tells your child that you believe he is in control, which is imperative in re-establishing feelings of adequacy
If your child enjoyed playing an instrument, reading, or playing sports, encourage him or her to resume these activities. These activities foster confidence and pride in oneself, which is of paramount importance when trying to convince himself of his own self-worth. Also encourage regular bedtimes, regular healthy eating, and many opportunities for play in younger children.
In order to encourage relaxation and to help your child de-stress, encourage him to practice meditation, slow breathing, mindfulness exercises, and verbalize reassuring statements (for example, “I am safe now.”)
If you have a child, who has experienced trauma – be patient with him or her. In other words, take your direction from your child. Remember, every child is different and every trauma is different. Keep in mind that everyone has a personal history that, in part, determines how he or she will react to traumatic situations.
It is also important to understand that some children may be more resilient, than other children, which means that one traumatized child’s recovery may look different than another’s.
Therefore, the ultimate goal of recovery is always to rebuild trust, instill a sense of self-worth and value, and to empower your child to feel capable of succeeding, despite the trauma. This is the key to helping your child conquer the after-effects of the trauma.
Furthermore, it is important to seek help for your child from a qualified mental health professional, be patient, listen to your child, and praise and encourage him or her, as much and as often as possible. If you do these things for your child, he or he will most likely be well on his or her way to a full recovery.
Dr. Lydia Jenkins is a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of the King's Daughters. She received a degree in psychology and biology from the University of Arizona, and studied medicine at the A.T Still University School of Osteopathic Medicine.
Jenkins has contributed research articles in reputable medical journals. Her medical specialties include pediatric oncology, neurology, and nutrition, and her interests range from infant/newborn care, to child health and development, adolescent and young adult health.