I cannot tell you how many of my adult friends went through some truly traumatic experiences as children which they never told their parents about until much later, if at all.
Yet one thing almost each one of them has said at some point or other is that they’re surprised their parents never noticed the changes in their behaviour caused by their experience.
Truth be told, all children will experience some sort of distressful experience at some point or other.
Whatever your child goes through, it’s important to acknowledge their feelings and answer their questions. Children will ask about things they need and want to know and understand. They seek clarification and explanation to what they don’t get.
As a parent or guardian, when your child is hurting:
• Are you able to feel what they may be experiencing including their emotional struggles?
• Do you listen to your child with empathy and compassion?
• Are you able to verbally acknowledge and validate their feelings of distress to them?
You may wonder why any of this is important to do.
Well, simply put, when you contain your children’s feelings and emotions they develop feelings of security and safety. They learn how to trust their own feelings as opposed to doubt if what they’re feeling is right or justified and I’m sure you will agree that learning to trust your own feelings is one of the greatest qualities an adult can possess.
Thing is, if and when their feelings of hurt are not acknowledged and taken care off, not only will their ability to recover from this experience be impacted, but so will their development.
Saying things like, “I’m sorry it happened”, “It’s normal and ok to feel sad when things like these happen”, “It’s ok to cry” can go a long way in helping them cope.
Remember, you can say this to infants too. They may not respond as you would expect but that doesn’t mean they cannot hear you nor the concern and care in the tone of your voice. Talk to them.
Where feelings are persistently left unattended to or recognised, you child may instead learn to do the following as a means of coping:
• stop or bury their own feelings
• learn not to trust their own feelings
• learn to introject or identify with other people’s feeling instead of their own which may in turn mean that the life choices that they end up making are based more on other people’s feelings and wishes as opposed to their own
When your child is hurting, they will show you, probably more than tell you. Changes in their actions, behaviours and temperament may be more visible indicators that there’s something wrong. Ask them. Tell them that you have noticed there have been some changes in them. Bring it out into the open.
They need to know that you know. They need to know that you are aware and that you care. Ask them and take care of it for them.
Let me know how I can help – email@example.com
Soila is a Child Development Psychologist, accredited Triple P (Positive Parenting Program) parenting practitioner, Certified Trauma Specialist and trained Family Mediator. She works in private practice mainly, but not exclusively, with families going through divorce and separation.
Soila is a member of Resolution and a graduate member of the British Psychological Society.