Trauma and your child

Last updated 09:05 28/12/2012
night terror
SLEEPING SCARED: While night terrors cannot psychologically harm your child, witnessing them experiencing a night terror can cause distress.
night terror
SLEEPING SCARED: While night terrors cannot psychologically harm your child, witnessing them experiencing a night terror can cause distress.

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The Christchurch earthquakes affected many families in New Zealand and the effects could still be happening in your whānau.  SKIP Advisor Elizabeth Goodwin looks at the ongoing effects of traumatic events on children, and what parents can do to help.

Long after they are over, traumatic experiences can continue to affect children's emotions, thoughts and behaviour. A child's brain has not yet learnt to calm their fears and may continue to experience reactions far beyond the event.

Things to look out for include

  • Developmental regression - where your child goes back to behaving in a way they did when they were younger Fears and clinginess - loss of confidence and increase in attachment
  • Aggression or impatience - easily angered or irritated
  • Avoidance or unresponsiveness - trouble paying attention
  • Sleep disturbances -difficulty getting to sleep, waking in the night and/or nightmares.

After a traumatic experience, it can be hard to know how to help children deal with what's happened. Here are some tips for helping your child cope with the hard stuff.

  1. Spend quality time - look after each other and stay close with lots of hugs and cuddles for reassurance.
  2. Keep to a familiar routine - children feel more secure when they know what's going to happen next.
  3. Get physical - exercise and active games are a great stress release for kids.
  4. Encourage creativity - children can express their feelings through drawing and playing with toys, while singing and storytelling can be useful ways to calm fears.
  5. Make an emergency plan if you haven't already - get your kids involved in making a plan for what to do if the situation ever happens again.
  6. Don't be afraid to get help in order to ensure you are taking good care of yourself and the kids.
  7. Be a role model - it's important for you to model the behaviour you want to see in your kids by remaining calm even when you're not feeling it.
  8. Try to be patient - the effects on your child's behaviour could continue for some time - it's important to understand and support them.

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But it's not all bad

A traumatic experience can eventually lead to positive outcomes for children, with the right support.  

Over time, they can learn how to take care of themselves and others in dangerous situations, and develop great qualities such as compassion and empathy. It can also inspire them to work towards making the world a better and safer place.

About SKIP

SKIP (Strategies with Kids, Information for Parents) works with New Zealand communities to support positive parenting. Our aim is that children are safe and nurtured so they can grow into happy capable adults.   


- Essential Mums


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