Trauma—the physical and emotional responses of a child to events that threaten their lives or the physical or emotional wellness of themselves or of someone critically important to them—can have lasting effects.1 But caring adults hold so much restorative power in their hands. You can help children learn coping strategies—or ways to feel better—that can help lessen the negative effects of trauma.

Here are a few ideas to help you and your child cope with difficult or traumatic situations.  Many of these strategies can be done any time, any place. You may need to try a few strategies to find out what works well for you. Remember that each person is different; what helps you feel better may be different than what helps your child.

Remember:  As you explore these resources, remember that your safety, security, and comfort are your priorities. It’s okay to focus on just making sure you and your children feel safe and calm. In those moments, a deep breath or a quiet moment may be all you need (or, sometimes, all you can do). If you still feel stressed, it’s okay to take your time and come back when you’re ready.

Sources

What is Child Traumatic Stress?” The National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

 

  1. 1
    Video

    Give Yourself a Hug

    Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VVhkPAge_TY

    Giving yourself a hug is one coping strategy that can help children rebuild a sense of safety.

    Watch the video together and explain that hugs are one way we show love and support for people we care about, especially in tough times. And you can always give yourself a hug–wrap your arms around your own body! You can also:

    • Invite children to try patting themselves on the back, closing their eyes, and rocking back and forth, or squeezing tightly or gently. Do they have a favorite way to hug themselves?
    • Remind children that when they’re feeling anxious, sad, angry, or scared—or any of those feelings at the same time—a hug can feel really good.
  2. 2
    Article

    Practicing Comfort Strategies

    When our brains may be preoccupied by big feelings like fear, anxiety, or anger, simple techniques and nonverbal activities can help children and adults get “unstuck.” Practice these strategies with young children (remember, they work for grown-ups, too!), then talk about other ways you can feel calm, safe, and comforted.

    • Breathe. Paying attention to our breath helps us come back to the present moment, and it can be done anytime, anywhere. Take three deep breaths—in through your nose, and out through your mouth—and feel your belly rise and fall.
    • Move your body. Sometimes our feelings are too big for words. Invite children to express their feelings with their body. They could jump up and down, reach up high, squeeze into a tight ball, run very fast, or dance to an uplifting song.
    • Draw your feelings. Children can express their feelings through art. You might ask them to draw what made them sad (or mad, or happy!), or to explore the feeling itself (“What color is your sadness?” “What shape is it?”). These questions can help children learn about their emotions and feel comfortable talking about them.
    • Keep a journal. Offer children their own notebook. They can write or draw anything in it—what happened during the day, a made-up story, a poem—the act of writing can help them sort their thoughts and make sense of new information. If children are not yet writing on their own, they can tell their thoughts to you, and you can write them down.
    • Snuggle a comfort object. Having something familiar to keep through changes, such as a favorite blanket, a piece of clothing with their favorite color, or a stuffed animal, can give children a sense of security.
  3. 3
    Printable

    Feeling Faces

    Download printable

    Understanding and expressing feelings is another important coping skill for children and adults. Helping children name emotions is an important first step in building social-emotional skills, and can lay the foundation for honest, healing conversations. Knowing the names of feelings can help children identify and talk about their own emotions, as well as develop empathy for others who may be feeling the same way.

    Print this page and point to the different characters. Talk with children about how they are feeling. You can say, “Look, Big Bird is feeling happy. He’s smiling.” Make feeling faces along with the characters. You can say, “This is my happy face.” Children can color the page.

  4. 4
    Interactive

    Slow it Down

    Launch Slow it Down

    Big changes or difficult situations can leave children feeling agitated, drained, or scared. Calming activities, such as looking at mesmerizing images, sitting in the beauty of nature, or creating a new kind of art can soothe children overwhelmed by big feelings.

    This activity offers children different ways to feel calmer. Each session begins with a Muppet leading a short “breathe in, breathe out” exercise. Then children choose one of six activities, including drawing in sand, stamping in glitter, “playing” in slime, experimenting with calming musical tones, and watching slow-motion video. Each session ends with a final breathing exercise.

    You can play it together, or if a child is having an emotional moment, you can simply hand it over and give them some space in which they can calm down.