How can you experience life after children

Helping children with trauma


This information is intended for parents whose children are affected by stressful experiences or who are facing a stressful measure, such as an operation. Of course, they can also be of interest to teachers, educators or other adults to whom children are entrusted or who are in closer contact with them. If you are dealing with a traumatic experience of your own and none of this applies to you, just skip this section. For you, it is first about finding your own peace and balance again. Information about trauma in children could add concern to you. If you are interested, you can read the chapter at a later point in time. If you have children of your own, please take them in any case our tip note in this section.

We now know that trauma in childhood usually has serious short- and long-term consequences. The main ones are similar to adult psychotraumatic stress syndrome. Four characteristics can be distinguished:

  • 1. Recurring, intrusive memories.
  • 2. Repetitive behaviors. In "traumatic play" children repeat the traumatic event over and over again. The children often have no awareness of the connection between play and event.
  • 3. Fears. These focus on the traumatic situation and appear again and again when something is reminiscent of the trauma.
  • 4. Changed attitudes towards people, life and the future. Loss of confidence and negative expectations about life.

Not all children talk about stressful experiences. However, they show behaviors after the trauma that were not previously observed. Many appear depressed and listless, or become overly active ("hyperactive") and tyrannical. After being exposed to the uncontrollable situation of trauma, they now strive to control and "command" everything in their environment, even their parents . This can lead to further complications and conflicts that then add to the trauma.

In children, trauma is caused by similar events as in adults. Through accidents, disasters, war experiences, experiences of violence, sudden death of relatives, etc. In addition, through violent, mentally ill and / or alcohol-dependent parents. Children are particularly vulnerable when they are separated from their trusted caregivers and from their familiar surroundings for long periods of time. The younger they are, the stronger. And finally, through medical interventions. It is not uncommon for the two to come together in medical measures. The child becomes separated from their parents and is subjected to an action they do not understand.

Around 50% of the children's clinics, however, have open visiting hours and are spatially prepared to accommodate the parents with the children overnight. This offer significantly reduces the child's susceptibility to emotional harm. The presence of the parents makes them feel protected in the unfamiliar environment and can bear the medical treatment more easily. The child must be appropriately prepared for medical treatment, such as an operation.

This is best done with children of preschool age in such a way that the treatment is made understandable to the child in their language and is also played through with puppets. Often the children then take on an active role. You want to play the doctor yourself who gives the child the injection. Even an operation is less threatening when the child plays the doctor who performs it. The threatening pages should rather be presented as a routine process. The abdomen is not "cut open", but the skin is opened so wide that the "pain" can be removed or the bone can be repaired so that it is stronger afterwards. The wound heals quickly, as the child has often experienced with minor injuries. The anesthesia makes a pleasant, "blue dream". The parents are close by. If the treatment of your child turns out to be significantly different from what is described here, do not hesitate to provide the doctors and nurses with your information and explain your concerns.

Have you ever observed how a young dog recognizes danger? When something unusual happens, he initially looks baffled, maybe "whuffs" and looks at his dog mother or dog father. If they are not worried, everything is fine. The game continues. Similarly, children orientate themselves to the reaction of their parents. It It is therefore very important that you calm down yourself first if you want to calm your child down. This is not easy when a disaster comes as a surprise. Perhaps one of the calming or distancing exercises from this information leaflet will help you. Otherwise, do whatever you want can calm down.

Our tip - talk to children

If you've had a harrowing experience yourself, see if you want to talk to your child about it. If you have decided to do so, choose a point in time when you have managed to calm down and find your way back to a certain inner balance. It is best if you can at least partially convey your hope for a new life after the trauma to your child. Of course, there is no point in burdening your child with ghastly details. Children have a very good feel for their parents and understand their frame of mind and experiences without too many words. On the other hand, children are very worried when they feel the shock of their parents but cannot get any explanation for it. You should also take this into account when considering whether to talk to your child about your experiences.

We can prepare the child for any separations that become necessary. Explain to him where it will be, where the mother or father is, and when they will be back. In most cases, a kind of "separation training" is required, starting with only short periods of time. If the child has learned to bridge the time of separation and if it has acquired the certainty that it can also be well looked after by another person, then gradually can Longer periods of time can be endured. Such "training" can even promote the development of the child. In the event of a sudden, abrupt separation with no time perspective, children initially fall into great anxiety, even panic fear. This is often followed by indifferent withdrawal to oneself. Adults who are not good child watchers confuse the child's indifference and hopelessness with real acclimatization and successful adaptation to the new situation.

Why does separation from trusted caregivers give children such fears? The human "bond system", the bond that has been built between mother and child since the beginning of life, functions in a very similar way to that of our closest relatives from the animal kingdom, the so-called primates. Imagine a little monkey whose parents are out of sight. Even if it can climb skilfully, it can easily become attractive prey for all kinds of predators. It screams fearfully and is very worried if it cannot reach its parents in an instant. The "primordial brain" of our children now reacts exactly as it did with it Monkey in its natural environment, due to a development over millions of years. It does not register that the child is in a closed room, where predators and other natural enemies of humans are not allowed. In the "natural environment" of humans, in the forest, in the savannah, a life-threatening situation exists if the child's screams of fear do not immediately result in a mother or father. Panic and screaming "with physical strength" are the natural, appropriate reactions. This helplessness of the child can lead to trauma, childlike resignation and an attitude of "learned helplessness": the child has "learned" that it is left alone in a situation of panic fear and threat. His trust in his parents was badly shaken. This experience can later transfer to other people. In earlier times, paediatricians advised mothers to let their child "scream through" at night. This should "strengthen the lungs" and prevent the child from becoming spoiled.

Do not follow such "advice" if it is still carried out to you today. Practice step-by-step "separation training" with your child. For adults it is difficult to understand what havoc "screaming through" and helpless, weary falling asleep can wreak in the small, abandoned "monkey".

The long-term consequences of excessive separation for the child and the later adult are significant. Here in research we speak of so-called "deprivative damage" (from Latin "deprivare", which means "to be cut off from the necessary support"). The most common consequence is a tendency to depressive reactions, which can sometimes persist for life are some proven rules you can use to avoid deprivation harm in your child.

Info: Avoiding childhood separation damage

  • It is beneficial if several people you trust take part in caring for the child at an early stage, for example the father. Then a trusted substitute is always available.
  • Children under one year of age should not be given away for third-party care. From one year onwards only if very individual care of the child is possible by a trusted person, for example a childminder. A day nursery should also be selected or designed according to this point of view.
  • If the child is hospitalized, the parents should visit the child daily and participate in the care and preparation of the child in the event of medical measures.
  • Medical interventions should only be carried out when the child is calm and feels safe.
  • Children's homes and inpatient facilities should be organized in such a way that they take account of the child's need for permanent caregivers.
  • If a caregiver dies prematurely, the child must be sensitively prepared for the news of the death.

Can childhood trauma be compensated for again?

Yes, this is the good news. Basically in a similar way to what you got to know in this educational guide for trauma in adults. Support everything that restores the feeling of security and security in your child. When you have calmed yourself down, so will your child. Address your child's feelings without judging or forbidding any of their reactions. Don't tell him not to cry when he's sad, angry, afraid, or in pain. On the contrary, help them perceive and express their feelings. Trauma is the dangerous "intersection" where there is a split between mind and feeling, body and spirit or parts of our own selves. At some point the "bad parts" of the body or the "bad feelings" just don't belong anymore, they You can prevent this "splitting up" and support a unified self-awareness of your child if you respond to his feelings, his physical experience, for example, ask how the "tummy feels now", after a hernia operation. Everything what attention Experienced through the adults remains alive and "belonging" to the child as well. And do everything that strengthens your child's initiative and active handling of situations to which they were previously only passively exposed.

In his "traumatic game" a child who was hit by a car plays the same scene over and over again with his dolls and play figures. In it a child crosses the street, a car comes along and runs over the child. The child comes to the hospital and dies there.

Do not disturb your child when you watch scenes like this, do not interrupt them. If you take good care of them, support them, and let them feel your closeness and care, a small change may occur on the one hundred and one-one passage through the "traumatic game." The doll child that was run over by the car survives in the hospital or can save itself by being jumps aside at the last moment. Trauma is an interrupted action, a fight or flight reaction. Now the child resumes this interrupted action and leads it to a happier outcome. As in the preparatory puppet show, for example for an operation, you take over Child now play an active role.

Unlike when you playfully prepare your child for an operation or a separation, after a traumatic experience it does not make sense to show the child a happier turn of the stressful scene or to encourage them to do so. You would then only change "symptoms", not the trauma itself. The child would then even lose the opportunity to express their traumatic experience. Because the trauma did not arise in play, but in real life If your child can find his way back to his activity, to his own rhythm in life, he hopes to be able to cope with the traumatic experience at some point. In his fantasies, in dreams or in play, your child tries out cautious "solutions" will eventually come to fruition in his life.

Note: In the information book New Ways Out of Trauma, a section follows on ways to help with child sexual abuse. We have not included the section here, as more thorough knowledge of psychotraumatology is required, which cannot be adequately conveyed in this outline for personal "first aid".