Traumatic Experiences: Supporting Children

May is a time to highlight mental health and this year we are sharing resources for parents and caregivers on how to help children cope after traumatic experiences.

Every child responds to trauma differently but if left unaddressed, there are potential negative impacts can last a lifetime if proper support and intervention is not available. Having trusted and caring adults who love, support, and protect kids makes all the difference.

Traumatic experiences can include:

  • emotional, physical, or sexual abuse
  • witnessing violence in the home or the community
  • a parent’s addiction to alcohol or other substance
  • a family member’s mental illness
  • separation or divorce
  • the incarceration of a parent
  • involvement with the foster care system
  • bullying
  • experiencing racism

The Sesame Workshop is a great resource that provides activities, videos, and support for parents and caregivers on how to navigate traumatic experiences, big emotions, feeling safe and calming techniques.

Even after traumatic experiences, children are resilient, and there are things parents and caregivers can do to lessen the impact of trauma. In the Tough Topics section on Sesame Workshop, they share the following as best supports for children learning to cope after traumatic experiences:

  • parents who can cope and who understand their child’s development, positive parenting strategies, and their own responses to trauma;
  • Nurturing and attachment: when parents and other caring adults stay tuned in to kids’ needs and support them with love;
  • Social connections: when kids have family, friends, and neighbors who help;
  • Basic needs: having food, shelter, clothing, and health care;
  • Social and emotional skills: when kids and parents have ways to understand, express, share, and manage their feelings.

Traumatic Experiences

Feeling Safe

After a child has gone through a traumatic experience it is important for them to feel safe.

Sesame Workshop explains, “Our brains respond to danger and stress by going into “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. Chronic adversity means we stay in that mode even when the threat is gone. Being in a constant state of hypervigilance—of tightness and anxiety—blocks us from the more helpful resources our brains can offer. 

When children feel a sense of safety, their brains begin to calm. Then they can start exploring strategies and solutions that can bring them a little relief or “shelter from the storm” of sadness, anxiety, anger, fear, or confusion.”

Here are three ways to help a child feel safe from Healthy


  • Remind your child that they are safe and loved.
  • Use words and touch (high fives, for example, or hugs if appropriate), and extra one-on-one time.
  • Reflect with the child and let them know that it’s OK to feel what they’re feeling.
  • Create safe spaces in the home.

Return to routine:

  • Try to maintain regular daily routines.
  • Keep dependable routines for meals, bedtime, and time for homework or chores. Depending on age, creating visual schedules and prompts can help. Try to build in time for relaxing activities, such as family walks.
  • Explain any changes in the schedule ahead of time.


  • Help your child learn “self-regulation” skills to calm themselves and manage their emotions and behaviors.
  • In times of calm, play feeling charades—acting out being hungry, proud, or disappointed, for example.
  • Practice skills to use when they get upset or angry:
    • deep breathing
    • seeking an adult to talk with
    • taking a break for active play or exercise

Calming Exercises

When a child begins to feel anxious or stress, try one of these activities from Sesame Workshop. Calming exercises can also bring about feelings of safety.

  • Take a walk.
  • Take deep breaths, in through your nose and out through your mouth.
  • Draw a picture or create art.
  • Listen to music.
  • Talk to a trusted person.
  • Think of things you’re thankful for.

Responding to Big Feelings

Supporting a child is one of the most important things a parent or caregiver can do. Promote conversations about feelings and let children know that their feelings are okay. Sesame Workshop suggest putting a name to their feeling (mad, sad, worried, etc.), and remind them that feelings come and go—this one won’t last forever. Offer ways for them to release their feelings, like deep breathing or stomping.

Find Healthy Ways to Deal with Life Stressors

We all know stress can have negative effects on our physical health, but it also has the potential to affect our parenting. When caregivers are stressed out, frustrated, or overwhelmed, it’s hard to focus on positive parenting.

Ways to cope with stress:

  • Take breaks from news stories. While it’s good to be informed, news and social media can also be an overwhelming source of bad news and negative energy. It’s ok to take a break from all the negative stories and thoughts people share on social media.
  • Take care of your body, eat healthy and get enough sleep.
  • Get exercise to boost endorphins. Take walks outside and get fresh air, or find ways to sneak in exercise during the day, even if you have to break it up in little bits throughout the day
  • Recognize when you need a break. Taking short breaks throughout the day may help relieve stress. Just a few minutes of mindful breathing or stepping away from a stressful situation can help.
  • Try a relaxing activity. This could be creating art, walking, meditating, or anything you find calming.
  • Make lists. Prioritize what you need to do now and what can wait.
  • Practice gratitude. Remind yourself daily of things you are grateful for. Be specific. Write them down at night, or replay them in your mind. There are lots of great app that help you track and think of things to be grateful for.
  • Focus on positivity. Remember words matter. Try daily affirmations with a positive message and make sure to give yourself plenty of self-love. Focus on your strengths, especially during tough times.
  • Practicing self-care is intentional and requires diligence. Remember, self-care looks different for everyone, and it make take trial and error to discover what works best for you.

If you or a loved one is struggling with their mental health, please reach out to your healthcare provider. While these strategies are helpful in reducing stress and practicing self-care, they are not a replacement for getting professional care.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat

Resources on Mental Health:

Caring for Your Mental Health – National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) (


This entry was posted in News.