How to Help Children Cope with Trauma

Although children have many of the same reactions as adults do to trauma, they have different ways of expressing their reactions and need some special help to cope.  The following are some suggestions for dealing with the child in crisis:

    • Encourage children and teens to talk about their concerns and to express their feelings.  Some children may be hesitant to initiate such conversation, so you may want to ask what your child has heard and how they feel about it.
    • Explain the facts that you know about the event. Use simple, direct terms to describe what happened. Give factual information. You may have to explain more than once.
    • Encourage children to talk about confusing feelings, worries, daydreams, and disruptions  of concentration by accepting the feelings, listening carefully, and reminding them that these are normal reactions (any of these feelings are okay) following a very scary event.
    • Reinforce safety and security.  Let children know that tragic incidents are not common and that, day-to-day, schools are safe places.  Your child needs a lot of reassurance that you will take care of him.
    • Maintain family routines and activities.  Help children get enough sleep and maintain a balanced diet.
    • You may need to be flexible with bedtime routines.  A child may need for you to stay with him while he falls asleep, he may want a night light, or to sleep with a sibling or with you.
    • If your child is fearful of going to school, if counselors know when your child is in crisis, they can frequently help.
    • Spend extra time with your children and your family.  Hugs help!


Children’s responses to trauma vary according to the age of the child.  Generally, children respond by reverting to behavior typical of an earlier developmental stage.  These responses are considered NORMAL if they are of brief (less than three weeks) duration:

  • Increased somatic complaints (e.g., headaches, stomachaches, aches and pains)
  • Changes in sleep, nightmares
  • Changes in appetite, weight loss
  • Marked changes in school performance; absenteeism
  • Lack of interest in usual activities (e.g., after-school activities, time with friends)
  • Poor concentration, sleepiness, inattentiveness
  • Increase in hyperactivity
  • Irritability with friends, teachers, events
  • Anger outbursts and/or aggression
  • Reckless or risk-taking behavior
  • Neglects about dress and appearance or health
  • Persistent sadness or depression
  • Withdrawal

 For children:  

                                           AGES   1-6

             Bedwetting                           Fear of being left alone

             Immobility                            Confusion

             Excessive clinging                Thumb-sucking

             Fear of darkness                    Inattentiveness

             Nightmares                            Awakening during night

             Crying                                   Inability to sleep without a light or

                                                               with someone else

                                            AGES  7-11

            Bedwetting                                  Nightmares

            Change in sleep patterns             Unwilling to fall asleep

            Need for night light                     Fear of sleeping alone

            Fear of darkness                          Irritability

            Disobedience                               Loss of concentration

            Fighting                                       Refusal to go to school

                                             AGES  12-18

            Running away                                   Suicidal thoughts

            Stealing                                             Sleeplessness

            School problems                               Inattentiveness

            Confusion                                          Use of drugs

            Relationship difficulties                    Use of alcohol

            Aggressiveness                                  Irritability

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