Helping a young child deal with trauma

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How to Help Young Children Deal with Trauma
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Helping a young child deal with trauma

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With elementary school children, there’s a big difference between a pre-schooler up until about 7 years old, so I’ll talk about that first. It’s very easy to have them do make-believe. Two things you can do, one is in general, just have them be their favorite animal and see if they were their favorite animal, they can be puppet or they can get on all fours and crawl around and show how they would escape. It’s very important to have children focus on a good outcome, a correction, something that makes them feel like it’s really over. So they can pretend that they’re running or that they’re scaring away the person who scared them by showing their fierce teeth and pretending they’re a lion, or a tiger or a grizzly bear. If they’re older elementary school, it’s very easy to have them notice what happens when they think about the bad thing that happened and how they got away. Like for instance, if it was a fire they witnessed and they were really scared. You can ask them to look around in their imagination and see where the helpers were, because there’s always helpers. Were there paramedics? Were there firefighters? What did they do? What action? Because when kids, especially when they witness something terrible, they feel so helpless. There is nothing they can do and they stand-by absorbing all the stress without movement. So if you have them focused instead on the movement of the people that came to help, and have them pretend that they’re that person, the paramedic, or the firefighter, or the nurse, or the doctor; and have them do the actions that they would do, they feel empowered and they start to feel like they can do something, and it helps to make the bad feelings go away, some of the helpless, hopeless feelings go away.

See Maggie Kline, LMFT's video on Helping a young child deal with trauma...

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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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