How to Prevent PTSD in Traumatized Children

shutterstock_289045826Welcome to the tenth post in Jolene Philo’s series about PTSD in children. The previous post in this series summarized several effective therapy methods for children with PTSD. The new treatment methods provide hope that children can be healed of PTSD and learn to manage the vestiges that remain after effective therapy. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if adults took measures to prevent PTSD in children, so treatment would be required less often? This post reviews some of the techniques parents and other adults can use to lower the risk of PTSD developing in our kids after they experience a traumatic event.

Prevent PTSD by Encouraging Resilience

Resilience is the elusive quality attributed those children who experience trauma and are able to overcome it. For decades, child psychiatrists and psychologists have been asking the question that may be buzzing in your brain right now: What makes some kids so resilient? Dr. Bruce Perry and Maia Szalavitz asked that question in their book Born for Love. They profiled a young woman who is the daughter of heroin addicts. Her seven younger siblings have all had run-ins with the law and struggle with addictive behaviors. But this young woman is married, has two children, and holds a good job. She and the authors attribute her resilience to several factors:

  • First she has an innate, empathetic awareness that allows her to tune into and focus on loving moments.
  • Second the constant state of high alert, or hyperarousal, she developed in childhood while caring for her siblings, has made her aware of the feelings of others so she knows how to avoid or defuse potentially dangerous situations.
  • Third she is intelligent enough to see cause and effect clearly and solve problems creatively.
  • Fourth her intelligence attracted the attention of caring teachers and other people outside the home who supported and encouraged her.

Dr. Perry and Szalavitz said, “the most important fact in Trinity’s success was her ability to see the good in others and find caring people outside of her family to help. . . .The ability to find and connect with nurturing people outside an abusive family is another factor frequently linked with resilience in the research.”

If what Perry and Szalavitz observations are true, and I believe they are, the single most important thing adults can do to create resilient children is to develop strong relationships with and support systems for all children.

Prevent PTSD by Trauma-Proofing Your Kids

In Trauma-Proofing Your Kids, Dr. Peter Levine and Maggie Kline delineate a step-by-step process they call “first aid for trauma prevention.” They suggest parents follow these steps after a child has experienced a traumatic event.

  • Check your own body sensations first. Make sure you are calm before comforting a child after a traumatic event because children are very sensitive to the emotional states of adults.
  • Assess the situation. Look for signs of emotional shock in the child. f you see them, sit quietly with the child until the shock wears off.
  • Guide the child’s attention to his body sensations when the shock wears off. Ask questions that are increasingly specific about how the child feels to guide him back to the present.
  • Slow down and follow your child’s pace. Carefully observe for any physical or emotional changes in your child. Let the child to resolve each cycle of emotions before asking more questions.
  • Validate your child’s physical responses. Put a hand on his shoulder if he’s trembling or crying. Tell him it’s okay to let the scary stuff out.
  • Trust in your child’s innate ability to heal. Don’t rush the process. Give your child the necessary time to process excess energy and expel it.
  • Encourage your child to rest, even if he doesn’t want to. Sleep helps a child process the event and discharge energy. A calm, quiet environment helps your child complete the healing.
  • Attend to your child’s emotional responses and help make sense of what happened. Initiate this step after the child is calm and rested. Make time to ask what happened. Assure your child that it’s okay to feel scared, sad, guilty, or embarrassed. Share a story about when you felt like your child feels. Remind your child of your unconditional love, and provide opportunity for your child to retell the story using drawing, clay, or play.

Examples of how to implement these steps can be found in Trauma-Proofing Your Kids, and in my new book. Information about how to prevent trauma-related to pediatric medical and dental procedures, as well as hospital stays, can also be found in my book.

Practicing trauma prevention and seeking early treatment are two crucial components for parents who want to advocate for traumatized kids. The next installment in this series will look at two specific traits parents must cultivate to become the best advocates they can be for their kids, See you then!

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JoleneGreenSweater.jpgDoes My Child Have PTSD? is designed for readers looking for answers about the puzzling, disturbing behaviors of childen in their care. With years of research and personal expererience, Jolene Philo provides critical information to help people understand causes, symptoms, prevention, and effective diagnosis, treatment, and care for any child struggling with PTSD. Available for pre-order at Amazon.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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