The Impact of Trauma on Children and Families


Mary Dietzen, Ph. D.


The impact of a traumatic experience is far reaching and it often has an incredible ripple effect on the families of children and adolescents who have been traumatized.


It is incumbent upon parents whose children have been traumatized to be attentive listeners and to encourage your children to "tell their story." Is is critical that children and adolescents have the opportunity to seek professional therapy from a qualified therapist who specializes in PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and the therapist should work well with children.


Most children and adolescents exhibit behaviors that alert you that they experienced a traumatic event. Trust your "gut instincts," as they are usually accurate 99.9 percent of the time. There are other times you become aware of the trauma due to the child's disclosure of the event(s).


Listen and be attentive and validate your child's feelings, and let the child know you love him/her and it took courage for the child to disclose this information.


Traumatic events destroy the victim's fundamental assumptions about the safety of the world, the positive value of the self, and the meaningful order of creation. They discard certain assumptions about how the world works and how they don't feel as safe as they did. You need to reassure your child that you will do whatever it takes to help him/her feel safe again. It is important to discuss why parents need to spend time getting to know people before allowing their children to spend time with them.


In situations of terror, men and women cry for their mothers, or for God. When this cry is unanswered, the sense of basic trust is shattered. Traumatized people feel utterly abandoned, utterly alone, and their sense of alienation and disconnection pervades every relationship, including family, friends, and affiliations of community and religion.


Unsatisfactory resolution of the normal development conflicts over initiative and competence leaves the person prone to feelings of guilt and inferiority. No matter how brave and resourceful the victim may have been, his/her actions were insufficient to ward off disaster. In the aftermath of traumatic events, as survivors review and judge their own conduct, feelings of guilt and inferiority are practically universal. To imagine that one could have done better may be more tolerable than to face the reality of utter helplessness.


It is the job of the parents to help their children understand he/she did nothing to cause the trauma. The perpetrator is responsible for his actions. It is essential to provide unconditional love, attentive listening and nurturing love. Remember that as you model compassion, your child will be able to eventually heal. Professional help is critical for individuals who experience trauma and a medication consult is also recommended.