Children and parents affected by PTSD can begin to address specific concerns by following these steps:
- Contact a licensed mental health professional with knowledge and experience in treating people who have been traumatized, to learn how to manage and respond to PTSD symptoms and develop healthy coping skills.
- If you can’t find or afford a therapist, look for a support group at your child’s school, at church, or at your local community center.
- Be supportive, empathic, and compassionate. Let your child express honest thoughts, feelings, and emotions related to the traumatic event(s). Those closest to your child can also offer the safety and security of a long-term relationship that has the potential to heal in ways that modern medicine and psychotherapy cannot.
- Be sure to communicate that healing is also related to spiritual health. Try to help your child connect with supportive pastors, youth leaders, and Christian peers who can listen, pray with him, and seek guidance from Scripture when appropriate.
Be a LOVESAFE Parent
The LOVESAFE acronym can help you remember what to do:
Listen. It’s helpful for you to listen to your child’s experiences of the traumatic event without trying to correct distorted perceptions or offer words of comfort. Listening communicates an interest in engaging and understanding what your child is experiencing.
Observe. To decide whether or not professional help is needed, take time to observe and record any changes in physical, emotional, or social patterns you have seen in your teenager since the traumatic event happened. The important word here is patterns, because patterns, rather than one-time, out-of-the-ordinary occurrences, may indicate a problem. Look for patterns of behavior that are different from pre-event behaviors.
Validate. When you tell your child that her post-trauma thoughts and feelings are real and understandable, you may help her avoid feeling crazy, which is a common reaction after experiencing a traumatic event. You don’t have to be in agreement with her thoughts or feelings, just validate their presence. Your child needs to know it’s acceptable to have some strange thoughts or feelings, even though it may not be reasonable to act on them.
Engage. Social connection with friends and family members is vital after experiencing a traumatic event. Help your child choose people to be around who are likely to be a comfort and who will encourage healthy interaction. It’s important too, not to overdo the amount of time your child spends with others. Be careful not to plan celebrations that are intended to help him forget about the event: he may feel this is harmful.
Teach self-care. Encourage your child to stay hydrated, eat small meals throughout the day, participate in some physical activity, and get plenty of sleep. These steps toward self-care help reduce stress and facilitate healing. Remind him about God’s care for him, too.
Allow alone time. There’s a tendency for us to hover over our child after a traumatic event. But too much attention can cause her to dwell on the event more than is necessary. She needs short periods of time alone to engage in quiet, safe activities she enjoys. Also, since her concentration is likely to be disrupted after a crisis, she needs time to gather her thoughts.
Find support. Recovery from PTSD usually requires help and support from friends, family members, teachers, pastors, doctors, and mental health professionals. Help your child recover by finding those resources in your community. Identify people who will listen and be patient with your child’s struggles rather than those who might want to offer unsolicited advice or offer a quick-fix solution. It’s also vital to encourage fellowship with other Christians who can offer spiritual support.
Encourage. Frequent and consistent encouragement of your child’s recovery from PTSD is necessary to instill hope in him and for you to feel hopeful yourself. This is especially true when your child experiences symptoms that feel involuntary and difficult to control. Encouraging him to engage in regular, rigorous, and safe exercise may help him diffuse the disruptive physical and emotional reactions to trauma.
While professional help from skilled practitioners is necessary for your child to recover from PTSD, equally essential to your child’s health is a loving, engaging relationship with you, friends, and family members.
The treatment for PTSD may be fairly lengthy, so make sure you get some support too. You’ll need respites that can come from regular, relaxing times spent with good friends, participation in a church small group or Bible study, or counseling.