If you are concerned about a child or youth it is important to know that you can help them. Children and youth are resilient; a caring adult can make a huge difference in their life.
The age of the child or youth when trauma occurs or begins to occur is important as it may impact healthy development. As early as infancy we begin learning how to settle ourselves or self-regulate. The younger the child is when trauma occurs, the more difficult it may be for them to learn to regulate their nervous system. They may not be able to rely on their caregivers to help them settle or self-regulate. A caring adult’s response to the child or youth is crucial. An attuned, supportive and reassuring response helps children and youth resolve and heal traumatic experiences (Levine, 2007). Sometimes, a mis-attuned adult response (anger, fear, ignoring) can be more traumatic for the child than the specific event.
Adults, children and youth commonly react to a traumatic event with a fight, flight or freeze survival response. Children and youth often do not understand how their bodies work and the way they responded or continue to respond. Their ability to learn, sleep and make connections with others may be impacted as the majority of their attention and energy is focused on their ongoing survival responses. Children and youth often feel confused by and sometimes shameful about their responses. Helping identify and explain these responses, and beginning to develop control over them, can help a child or you make sense of their experience.
It is important to remember that children and youth can and do recover and heal. It may be that you as a caregiver, family member or concerned adult need help to assist them. It is important to ask for help as this model’s for the child or youth how to access help for themselves.
Families Affected by Sexual Assault Program at New Directions for Children, Youth, Adults and Families