Parent guidelines for helping youth after a traumatic event

The emotions of young children are often influenced by the reaction of their parents to mass violence. The suggestions below are intended to help parents recognize potential signs of a struggling child.

If you are the parent or caregiver for a child who experienced a traumatic event, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) recognizes that the child’s emotions and reactions “are strongly influenced by how parents, relatives, teachers, and other caregivers respond to the mass violence. They often turn to these adults for information, comfort, and help.” The following suggestions are provided by NCTSN to help parents recognize potential signs of a struggling child after a traumatic event. 

Common Reactions:

  • Feelings of anxiety, fear, worry about the safety of self or others
  • Changes in behavior - new or worsening behaviors, self-harm, substance abuse, sleep disturbances, appetite changes, anger, sadness, irritability, lack of concentration/attention
  • Physical symptoms - headaches, aches/pains, stomach aches
  • Changes in school or relationships with friends or family
  • Searching excessively through news or social media for the event.
  • Experiencing strong emotions or reactions with reminders of the traumatic event.
  • Increased sensitivity to sounds that may startle or scare them.

Things I Can Do for Myself:

  • Recognize how this event has also impacted you. “Take a few moments for yourself so you can express your own emotions and also find the words you want to use to your children about what happened.” 
  • Take care of yourself physically through proper diet and exercise.
  • Help other members of your family, friends, or community to talk and support one another. 
  • Avoid making any life-altering decisions at this time. 
  • Allow yourself time to have a mental and physical break. 

Things I Can Do for My Children:

  • Be open to discussions with your children. Allow them to ask questions but do not force them to talk if they are not ready. 
  • When your child wants to talk, be present and listen. Use that time as an opportunity to learn about their feelings. 
  • Help your children sort through the various information they might read about the event, especially as new details emerge. It is also a good idea to limit how much news coverage is being watched or how social media is being used. 
  • Talk to your child about any safety concerns or new protocols in place, especially following a mass violence event. 
  • Check-in with your child to ensure regular schoolwork, activities, or family rules are still being followed. Be patient and understand that your child will be impacted, and a return to normal will take some time. Children can also benefit from daily reminders of things to focus on, especially if they have lost their concentration.
  • If there were changes in relationships, encourage your child to talk to friends, family, or others for support. Spend time as a family to discuss how everyone is feeling. A change in attitudes or feelings is a typical response after a traumatic event. Help your child find ways to express their feelings and regain control of their life. 
  • Get your child’s teacher or another caring adult to offer help and support too. If the child is still experiencing trauma for an extended time, reach out to a doctor or mental health professionals.             

If you, or a loved one, experienced a traumatic event, Mental Health Partners recognizes the impact on a person’s mental well-being. You do not have to deal with this experience alone. Call us at (303) 443-8500 to speak to a trained professional available to help.