When brains experience trauma, they struggle to cope with it.
It’s normal – and part of the healing process – to have flashbacks, nightmares, or intrusive thoughts immediately following a traumatic experience. Knowing this and normalizing this matters! Recent research found that kids who believed their response to trauma was bad, wrong, or a sign something was wrong with them were more likely to develop chronic symptoms (PTSD) than kids who didn’t view their trauma response as a bad thing. 1
This sketchnote is based on a 2019 study by Meiser-Stedman & team, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 03/2019
This doodle fleshes out that research article a bit more: I think the most interesting takeaway is this: kids who spent a lot of time and brain-space trying to process their experience had a higher risk for PTSD. While this could be a chicken vs egg scenario (i.e. are naturally thoughtful kids at a higher risk for PTSD?) my takeaway from this research is the following:
1. This research indicates that we shouldn’t pressure kids to talk about their trauma in a grown-up way. (Kids and some tweens are going to work it out through their play, so we can support unscripted play to be a supportive presence.)
2. We can support kids through trauma recovery by normalizing their responses. One of the best ways? The phrase: “of course you feel ____”.
At the end of the day, the best trauma response is to help a brain process and understand the trauma it has experienced, which begins with offering normalization and a safe place for discussion.
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- Meiser‐Stedman, R., McKinnon, A., Dixon, C., Boyle, A., Smith, P., & Dalgleish, T. (2019). A core role for cognitive processes in the acute onset and maintenance of post‐traumatic stress in children and adolescents. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 60(8), 875-884.