Helping with Recovery from Childhood Trauma

Every parent’s worst nightmare is that something harmful will happen to their child. For many adoptive and foster parents, recovery is an everyday battle from the moment they receive their child, but no child is exempt from these struggles. The American Psychological Association estimates that two thirds of children will experience a potentially traumatic event by the age of 16, meaning that most parents will, at some point, have to deal with the aftermath. While every child and every situation is different, here are some straightforward solutions to help your child get and stay on the road to recovery.

Identify Their Experiences to Start Assisting Recovery

While you should not try to force a child to talk about their traumatic experiences, it is important to let them know you are listening when they are ready to talk. Gently encourage them to discuss and ask questions about what happened to them, and make sure they have regular access to time alone with you. Child abuse can fall into a number of categories, the main four being emotional abuse / psychological abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, and neglect. When your child is ready to talk, listen intently, and try to mentally note exactly what was going on. Were they hit by a caregiver as an expression of anger? Perhaps they were never hit, but were consistently told cruel things. Maybe nothing was done to them that was wrong, but nothing was done overall, leaving them to fend for themselves. Identifying your child’s experiences as a specific type of abuse can help you find resources that will help them recover.

Be Aware of Baggage

Once you are made aware of what your child went through, keep your eyes out for baggage that may be related. If your child was physically abused, watch for things such as sudden flinches or protective posture. Note when that is happening, and try to identify a trigger. If your child was neglected and becomes withdrawn, try to gently reassure them you are not going anywhere and will always be there to help. Another common form of baggage is silently believing lies from abusers, such as “you are worthless” or “no one will ever love you.” Be intentional about reminding your child they have value, are loved, and will do great and good things in this world.

Watch for Coping Mechanisms

Sometimes, baggage can develop into coping mechanisms, such as eating disorders or self-medication with drugs and alcohol. Keep your eyes out for risk factors and symptoms of these coping mechanisms, and be ready to have hard conversations with your child about what they are doing. Be sure to talk to them in a way that reinforces that they have value and are loved, not in a way that could reinforce the belief they are broken or lacking.

Parenting a child that has been through abuse and trauma is no easy task. There are burdens far too big for their young shoulders to bear, and it is easy to feel hopeless in the face of them.  Do not lose hope. There is always a tomorrow, a brighter future, and your child needs to hear you say it. Now that you are armed with a little more knowledge, continue fighting alongside your child for their own beautiful future.

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