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December 12, 2017

Tips for Talking With Children and Youth of Different Age Groups After a Disaster or Traumatic Event 

 

PRESCHOOL CHILDREN, 0–5 YEARS OLD 

Give these very young children a lot of cuddling and verbal support. 

Take a deep breath before holding or picking them up and focus on them, not the trauma. 

Get down to their eye level and speak in a calm, gentle voice using words they can understand. 

Tell them that you still care for them and will continue to take care of them so they feel safe. 

 

EARLY CHILDHOOD TO ADOLESCENCE, 6–19 YEARS OLD 

Nurture children and youth in this age group: 

Ask your child or the children in your care what worries them and what might help them cope. 

Offer comfort with gentle words, a hug when appropriate, or just being present with them. 

Spend more time with the children than usual, even for a short while. Returning to school activities and getting back to routines at home is important too. 

Excuse traumatized children from chores for a day or two. After that, make sure they have age-appropriate tasks and can participate in a way that makes them feel useful. 

Support children spending time with friends or having quiet time to write or create art. 

 

Encourage children to participate in recreational activities so they can move around and play with others. 

Address your own trauma in a healthy way. Avoid hitting, isolating, abandoning, or making fun of children. 

Let children know that you care about them-spend time doing something special; make sure to check on them in a nonintrusive way. 

 

A NOTE OF CAUTION! Be careful not to pressure children to talk about a trauma or join in expressive activities. While most children will easily talk about what happened, some may become frightened. Some may even get traumatized again by talking about it, listening to others talk about it, or looking at drawings of the event. Allow children to remove themselves from these activities, and monitor them for signs of distress. 

Toll-Free: 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727) | Info@samhsa.hhs.gov | http://store.samhsa.gov 

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