How to Help Your Teenager Process Trauma
As a parent, you undoubtedly want the best for your child. You try to shield them from pain, and you work hard to provide them with a happy and meaningful life.
That said, despite your intentions, no parent can protect their child from everything. Research shows that more than two-thirds of children experience at least one traumatic event before age 16. Although this may seem harrowing, it doesn’t mean your child is doomed.
Regardless of the circumstances, you can be a supportive ally, and you can help your teenager process trauma. Let’s get into what you need to know.
Actively Listen To Their Feelings
Active listening refers to remaining present, engaged, and attuned to the other person. Most of the time, we listen with the intent of talking. We don’t listen to try to connect and understand.
To cultivate this skill, it’s essential to:
- Eliminate distractions as much as possible.
- Pay attention to nonverbal communication.
- Avoid using cliches like it’s not that big of a deal, or it could have been so much worse.
- Withhold any judgments or assumptions.
- Reflect on what you have learned.
Keep in mind that you shouldn’t force your teenager to talk about what they experienced. Trauma can trigger intense feelings of shame, guilt, and fear. It’s normal for a child to feel skeptical about divulging their feelings to their parents.
Subsequently, when they do share their feelings, validate them. Let them know it’s perfectly reasonable to feel whatever they’re feeling. Encourage them to express themselves however they need, and let them know that you’ll never judge them for how they feel.
Teach Healthy Coping Skills
People cope with trauma in different ways. Some teenagers may bury themselves in schoolwork or extracurricular activities. Others might isolate themselves from their friends and family and want to stay in their bedrooms.
Remember that your child doesn’t know how to react to what they experienced. They may feel entirely untethered by their own feelings. This is a good time for you to show them how to practice practical coping skills like:
- Deep breathing.
- Talking to a friend.
- Hugging or playing with a pet.
- Going for a walk.
- Listening to music.
At times, your child may rebel or “act out” to cope with their pain. If this happens, do your best to avoid shaming your child. For example, if they keep coming home after curfew, address the behavior without criticizing them. Try to understand what’s going on rather than jump to the punishment.
Remain Consistent and Maintain a Routine
Do your best to act calm in front of your teenager, even if you feel flustered or angry inside. If they believe you’re overreacting to the situation, they might shut down altogether.
Additionally, adhering to structure offers the reassurance that things can and will be okay again. This means that you can and should encourage your child to keep up with their usual activities, like school and sports.
You can be flexible, and you should anticipate some pushback. But remind your child that practicing self-care and following a routine will help them feel better with themselves.
If consistency is a problem, brainstorm with your teenager to determine a reasonable compromise. By giving them some ownership, you can restore some of their semblance of power and control.
Remember That You Don’t Need To Have All The Answers
Life doesn’t always make sense. Awful things can happen without reason, and it can feel jarring and devastating when they happen to your child.
It’s perfectly acceptable to admit when you don’t know something. It’s also okay to share how you feel with your child, as long as you aren’t letting your emotions take center stage.
If you’re struggling to know how to help your child, reach out for support. Talk to other friends or family. Connect with a therapist or join a support group for parents.
Finally, don’t neglect your own self-care during this time- your child needs you to be healthy and dependable. Even though you’re concerned about them, you also must prioritize your physical and emotional well-being.
How Therapy Can Help Your Teenager Process Trauma
Therapy can help teenagers process their trauma in a safe and nonjudgmental environment. It’s especially worth considering this option if your child is experiencing the following symptoms:
- Self-injurious behavior (cutting, burning, hitting oneself).
- Disordered eating.
- Suicidal thoughts, jokes, or behaviors.
- Extreme withdrawal and isolation from others.
- Hurting other people either physically or emotionally.
- Recurrent panic attacks.
- Substance use.
As a parent, it’s important for you to remain loving and optimistic during this vulnerable time. Simply listening and showing your support can make a profound difference in how you help your teenager process trauma.
At Willow Counseling, we support both teenagers and adults struggling with trauma symptoms. We are here for you and your family. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation.
Willow Counseling, PLLC – Nashville, TN
Willow Counseling, PLLC exists to provide quality trauma-informed mental health counseling to the Nashville community, recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, spiritual and physical selves. We work together to alleviate symptoms, learn better coping skills, relieve burdens, remove the pain of trauma, and so much more. However, our greatest desire is for you to know what it means to feel purpose and joy again and to recognize the strength and worth you have to offer the world.