EARLY TRAUMA TREATMENT NETWORK
AFTER A CRISIS: HOW YOUNG CHILDREN HEAL
From The Child Trauma Research Program University of California, San Francisco
For more information go to NCTSN.org or Childparentpsychotherapy.com | Chandra Ghosh Ippen, Alicia F. Lieberman, & Patricia Van Horn, 2005
Young children, toddlers, and preschoolers know when bad things happen, and they remember what they have been through. After a scary event, we often see changes in their behavior. They may cry more, become clingy and not want us to leave, have temper tantrums, hit others, have problems sleeping, become afraid of things that didn’t bother them before, and lose skills they previously mastered. Changes like these are a sign that they need help. Here are some ways you can help young children heal.
SAFETY FIRST—YOUR YOUNG CHILD FEELS SAFE WHEN YOU
• Hold your child or let them stay close to you.
• Tell your child you will take care of them when things are scary or difficult. With children who are learning to talk, use simple words, like saying “Daddy’s here.”
• Keep them away from frightening TV images and scary conversations.
• Do familiar things, like singing a song you both like or telling a story.
• Let them know what will happen next (to the degree that you know).
• Have a predictable routine, at least for bedtime: a story, a prayer, cuddle time.
• Leave them with familiar people when you have to be away.
• Tell them where you are going and when you will come back.
ALLOW EXPRESSION OF FEELINGS
• Young children often “behave badly” when they are worried or scared. Children can “act out” as a way of asking for help. Remember! Difficult feelings=Difficult behavior.
• Help your child name how they feel: “scared,” “happy,” “angry,” “sad.” Tell them it’s OK to feel that way.
• Show your child the right way to behave, like saying “It’s OK to be angry but it’s not OK to hit me.”
• Help your child express anger in ways that won’t hurt, using words, play, or drawings.
• Talk about the things that are going well to help you and your child feel good.
FOLLOW YOUR CHILD’S LEAD
• Different children need different things. Some children need to run around, others need to be held.
• Listen to your child and watch their behavior to figure out what they need.
ENABLE YOUR CHILD TO TELL THE STORY OF WHAT HAPPENED DURING & AFTER
• Having a story helps your child make sense of what happened and cope better with it.
• Children use play to tell their story. For example, they may make popping sounds to show what they experienced. They may hide in the closest to show what it was like to shelter-in-place.
• Join your child in showing and telling not only what happened, step by step, but also how you both felt.
• As you tell the story, follow your child’s lead. When
the story is difficult, your young child may need breaks: running around, being held, playing something else. This is OK. They will come back to the story when they are ready.
• It can be hard to watch your children’s play or listen to their stories of what happened. Get support if it is too hard for you to listen without becoming upset.
TIES—RECONNECT WITH SUPPORTIVE PEOPLE, COMMUNITY, CULTURE & RITUALS
• Simple things like a familiar bedtime story, a song,
a prayer, or family traditions remind you and your child of your way of life and offer hope.
• If you belong to a group, like a church, try to find ways of reconnecting with them.
• You can help your child best when you take care
of yourself. Get support from others when you need it.
YOUR CHILD NEEDS YOU
• Reassure your child that you will be together
• It is common for children to be clingy and worried about being away from you.
• Just being with your child, even when you can’t fix things, helps your child.
• If you need to leave your child, let them know for how long and when you are coming back. If possible, leave something that belongs to you, or a picture that your child can have.
I am here for you.
I see the best in you.
Ilene Wolf, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for 30 years
Offices conveniently located in
San Francisco Bay Area and Marin
now available for children and teens in Marin and San Francisco
“I would heartily recommend Ilene to any new parents out there …”
“My husband and I had a baby 7 months ago that, as you can understand, brought many changes into our life. We felt that speaking to someone about all these changes and trying to work through some of the issues that started appearing in our relationship was the positive and proactive approach to handling all that was going on! We both felt an instant connection and felt that Ilene perceived to the heart of some of our issues fairly quickly. While this is still new and fresh for us, we are seeing some positive changes and are looking for to additional discussions that will help us both grow in our personal relationship as well as the bond with our new baby girl. I would heartily recommend Ilene to any new parents out there that just need some additional hand holding while they wade through what can be some pretty rocky waters!”
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