By Quek Li Koon, Manger of Epworth Foster Care

How would you react if you witnessed an angry outburst by a child?

Having to look after a child who had experienced trauma can be challenging. This is especially so for parents and caregivers who have their own set of bad experiences and issues to manage.

While self-care is paramount, having a good understanding of trauma, its impact and effects are just as crucial. Not only will it help the parent and caregiver to better manage expectations; it also gives them a better understanding of the child’s misbehaviour before jumping to conclusions.

Trauma results from having experienced adverse and serious circumstances. These experiences can be physically, psychologically and emotionally harmful.

The impact of trauma on a child can cause several issues. For example, anxiety, insecurity, attention issues, sleeping and eating disorders, irritability, and inability to interpret social cues accurately.

When the child is unable to cope with his traumatic past experiences when triggered, he may exhibit behaviours such as aggression, anger and withdrawal.

Traumatic experiences can change a child’s way of thinking, emotions and behaviours. Strategies that may have worked before may not work well on children who have experienced trauma. Here, we share a few tips on caring for a child who had experienced trauma.

Here, we share a few tips on caring for a child who had experienced trauma.

Helping the Child Feel Safe and Secure

It is important to create an environment that will help the child feel safe and secure. For example, leaving the lights on at night, giving the child a soft toy to cuddle, and preventing the child from seeing images that will trigger a traumatic memory. In order to give the child a sense of security, establish a set of structure and routine. It helps the child feel at ease when he knows what to expect.

Most importantly, spend time to connect with and understand the child. This builds trust and helps the child feel safe.

Manage Your Emotions

Instead of acting on negative emotions at the spur of a moment, stay calm and regulate those emotions. This provides more headspace and control over the situation instead of allowing it to spiral out of control. This is crucial as the child will be looking and learning from how the situation is being handled.

Understand and Be Curious

Instead of being quick to point out what is wrong with the child when he misbehaved, take a step back and seek to understand what has happened.

Understand the situation by probing and asking questions. For example, ask the child in a calm manner, “What made you overturn the table?”. Nudge the child into sharing his feelings by guessing the intention behind his misbehaviour. “Did you overturn the table because you felt angry when your friend gave you a nickname?”. This gives the child a sense of assurance that he is sought to be heard and understood, instead of being sought to get punished.

When the child is assured, he will be more receptive to share about his feelings and reason behind his misbehaviour.

Accept and Correct

Saying the right words such as “That must be difficult for you,” will help the child feel understood. In situations where the child has done wrong, provide the assurance that he is still cared for and loved. Walk the child through his actions and the motivation behind them, then address any arising issues.

Correct the child whenever appropriate. For example, letting the child know that overturning the table is not right and that he should put it back to its rightful place.