Signs to look for after a child experiences trauma

Maggie Kline, LMFT School Psychologist & Therapist, shares the main signs parents should look for after their child experiences a traumatic event to check for shock
Child Trauma Advice | Signs To Look For After A Child Faces Trauma
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Signs to look for after a child experiences trauma

So after a child experience something traumatic, it’s very important for the parent to notice their own body language first and come to a place of calm, and then to notice their child’s body language, because trauma is a shock to the nervous system which means that it causes the child to be actually in a state of shock where their skin may go pale, their eyes will widen. They may either braise their muscles like their braising against something and retracting backward, or they may actually collapse into almost a fainting spell. So parents need to be very aware of their child’s reaction, especially their breath, their skin color, their temperature; if they’re beginning to shake and tremble or if they’re beginning to tighten, and then they can assist them to move through the initial shock reaction. If they are a young child, the parent can put their hand on their shoulder or on their back; you don’t want to hug the child tightly to stop the natural reaction of moving through the stress, that’s very important for them to know, for parents to know. What you want to do is touch the child with a calm nervous system so that, through the body, they feel your calm nervous system. Then you reassure the child it’s over, that the worst part’s over, you know that they saw something scary, but they’re going to be okay. Then when you let them know they’re going to be okay, then you watch to see if the body begins to soften. When the body softens, usually what happens, some color comes into the cheek and after, maybe 5 minutes or so, sometimes the child will start to tremble and shake, especially if they've had a bad fall like off of a bicycle or they witnessed something really frightening, like a bank robbery or a shooting, or a car wreck where people are injured; after they start to shake and tremble, usually there’ll be some tears that come, and you want to watch as the child’s tears are winding down, are they starting to relax more? Or are they staring to wind up, like holding their breath and getting more tensed? These are really easy things for parents to look at, are they winding up or are they winding down with their tears? If they’re winding up, you want to use a soothing voice and say, “You know it’s over, look at mommy or look at daddy, you’re going to be okay.” You can even put your foot on the child’s foot to help them get their ground back, have them look around and see that it’s over, and then usually the body softens and the breath comes in, a deep breath. Then maybe some more tears and that’s when the parent knows that the stress is beginning to release and the child will come back to normal and be able to talk about it if they want to, then you can address the emotional reaction. The most important thing is to address the physiology first.

Maggie Kline, LMFT School Psychologist & Therapist, shares the main signs parents should look for after their child experiences a traumatic event to check for shock


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Maggie Kline, LMFT

School Psychologist & Therapist

Maggie Kline has been a marriage, family, and child therapist for almost 30 years, and is a retired school psychologist.  After beginning her professional career as a teacher in 1970, Maggie has continued to garner vast experience with children of all ages from pre-schoolers through teens. She uses Somatic Experiencing (SE) with individuals, couples and families in psychotherapy. She also integrates SE with art, dream work and play when helping youngsters recover from trauma. Maggie is a senior faculty member for the SE Trauma Institute, currently teaching on five continents. She has co-authored two books (listed below) with Peter A. Levine which have been translated into 11 languages,  and has also written "It Won't Hurt Forever", which was published in Mothering  Magazine in 2002.  Most recently, Maggie has originated two seminars for professionals who help traumatized children:  "SE for Kids, A Games-Based Approach" and "Conscious Connections, Providing Reparative Opportunities for Healthy Attachment". She has presented her work in schools and agencies, at conferences, and in mass disaster settings such as the Southeast Asian Tsunami and the Oslo Massacre.

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