Supporting children following trauma- Parents/ Carers

Updated: 25/08/16

Children, young people and adults can all be exposed to traumatic events from time to time. Please see below some information about traumatic responses. For specific information about children and young people please see this leaflet.

Common responses to trauma – and coping strategies (2003, Patti Levin)

After a trauma, people may go through a wide range of normal responses. Such reactions may be experienced not only by people who experienced the trauma first-hand, but by those who have witnessed or heard about the trauma, or been involved with those immediately affected. Many reactions can be triggered by persons, places, or things associated with the trauma. Some reactions may appear totally unrelated.

Here is a list of common physical and emotional reactions to trauma, as well as a list of helpful coping strategies. These are NORMAL reactions to ABNORMAL events.


aches and pains like headaches, backaches, stomach aches
sudden sweating and/or heart palpitations (fluttering)
changes in sleep patterns, appetite
constipation or diarrhea
easily startled by noises or unexpected touch
more susceptible to colds and illnesses
increased use of alcohol or drugs and/or overeating


shock and disbelief
fear and/or anxiety
grief, disorientation, denial
hyper-alertness or hypervigilance
irritability, restlessness, outbursts of anger or rage
emotional swings – like crying and then laughing
worrying or ruminating – intrusive thoughts of the trauma
flashbacks – feeling like the trauma is happening now
feelings of helplessness, panic, feeling out of control
increased need to control everyday experiences
minimizing the experience
attempts to avoid anything associated with trauma
tendency to isolate oneself
feelings of detachment
concern over burdening others with problems
emotional numbing or restricted range of feelings
difficulty trusting and/or feelings of betrayal
difficulty concentrating or remembering
feelings of self-blame and/or survivor guilt
diminished interest in everyday activities or depression
unpleasant past memories resurfacing
loss of a sense of order or fairness in the world; expectation of doom and fear of the future


mobilize a support system – reach out and connect with others, especially those who may have
shared the stressful event
talk about the traumatic experience with empathic listeners
hard exercise like jogging, aerobics, bicycling, walking
relaxation exercise like yoga, stretching, massage; listening to relaxing guided imagery;
progressive deep muscle relaxation
prayer and/or meditation
hot baths
music and art
maintain balanced diet and sleep cycle as much as possible
avoid over-using stimulants like caffeine, sugar, or nicotine
commitment to something personally meaningful and important every day
hug those you love, pets included
eat warm turkey, boiled onions, baked potatoes, cream-based soups – these are tryptophane activators, which help you feel tired but good
proactive responses toward personal and community safety – organize or do something socially active
write about your experience – in detail, just for yourself or to share with others


People are usually surprised that reactions to trauma can last longer than they expected. It may take weeks, months, and in some cases, many years. Many people will get through this period with the help and support of family and friends. But sometimes friends and family may push people to “get over it” before they’re ready. Let them know that such responses are not helpful for you right now, though you appreciate that they are trying to help. Many people find that individual, group, or family counseling are helpful, and in particular, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), which is a therapeutic approach to help people with for post-traumatic stress disorder.

Either way, the key word is CONNECTION – ask for help, support, understanding, and opportunities to talk.