It is normal for children to have confusing memories about the event, and uncertainty about what happened and how they are feeling. It is important to open up discussion to help your child make sense of the event so they can have the mental space and clarity to communicate.
Talking about the event is also important to help put the event in the past, which can help your child to move on and learn that they are safe.
Opening up the conversation can be a great way to let them know their feelings are normal and will not last forever.
Allowing your child to discuss their experience and any thoughts is a chance to correct any unhelpful thoughts about the event or how they are feeling. They may have unhelpful thoughts about:
Take some time explore how they are feeling and what they are thinking and identify these unhelpful thoughts. You can practice the ‘thought challenging’ activity below.
Revisiting memories of the event can be difficult for both your child and you and trigger some intense emotions. Exploring memories and making sense of them can reduce distress and help the memory seem less scary.
Over time, the memory will have less power over your child, and they can better tolerate any trauma-related reminders or triggers. This can help them have control over the experience and their feelings.
When talking with your child, it is best to take it at their pace and ensure feelings of safety and comfort.
Explore the tabs below to learn about how to start and navigate discussions with your child, as we all as some guidance on seeking further support if they are struggling or if symptoms are getting worse. Once you have finished reading, you can explore activities you can do at the bottom of the page.
Sometimes parents might avoid talking to their child about what they experienced, because they are worried about upsetting them. But creating space to talk about what happened can be a useful way to help them overcome their distress, even if it is difficult at first.
If your child wants to talk about the trauma, it is a good idea to let them.
Avoiding talking can send the wrong message. Your child may think they shouldn’t talk about what happened. Or they may imagine that it was too awful to talk about.
Don’t just wait for your child to come to you, but also don't force them to talk. The important thing is to make it clear that it is okay to talk and try to be open and available. That way your child understands that the trauma is something that they can talk about with you.
This is quite common, so try not to be offended.
Some children choose not to talk about the traumatic experience because they don’t want to upset parents. Some, who are coping well, may simply not want to go over it again. Others are not yet ready to talk. If this applies to your child, ask them how they are feeling and make sure they know you are there when they do feel able to open up.
You may find yourself asking your child questions but getting little or nothing back. Again, this is common. Continue to ask open questions and remind your child that you are available and ready to listen when they are ready.
If your child finds talking about what happened too difficult you cannot—and should not—force them. Instead, you could:
It can be difficult to find the ‘perfect’ time to talk about the trauma or how your child is feeling.
The important thing to keep in mind is to make sure that the space is one where they feel safe enough to talk, and that you are able to take care of them if they get upset or overwhelmed.
Sometimes, it can be helpful to have a dedicated time to sit down and talk with your child. This can be planned with your child, or you can pick a time when you feel as though your child has the capacity to talk. Or your child may approach you themselves.
For children who avoid talking about it, you can talk at times when the focus is less on the worries. For example, when you are in the car, walking the dog, cooking, or shopping. This can mean that they feel less ‘put on the spot’.
Some ways to initiate a conversation include:
The main goal here is to help the child make sense of:
Try to use questions they can’t answer with a straight ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’ ‘Open questions’ can get them talking and help you understand their point of view.
Sometimes it may be helpful to help your child find words for their strong feelings, especially if they are younger.
Remember to keep your child’s age in mind and use language which they are able to understand.
Here are some examples:
It is important to communicate in a manner which is clear, curious, kind, and to respect how they are feeling and what they are saying. Try not to judge your child’s actions or feelings.
Focus on asking and listening and give them opportunity to disagree.
The main thing is to be there and to listen. However, after a bad experience, it is quite common for children to feel more vulnerable, feel as though they are changed for the worse in some way, or as if the world is more dangerous than before.
You can help by:
Sometimes, especially for younger children, having a conversation may be difficult. In this case, you can encourage your child to express their feelings and memories through other mediums. For example:
This can make the discussion less scary or even boring. You can also follow up conversations with a little reward, especially after a discussion which may be particularly difficult.
The best thing you can do here is to validate their emotions, and that it is okay to feel upset and that they will not feel this way forever.
Try to stay together and talk until you are both feeling OK, rather than stopping or avoiding the conversation.
Rather than avoiding the conversation altogether, soothe them so that they can be ready to talk through it again. Either shortly after, or at another time.
Remember we don’t expect you to be a therapist. If your child seems overwhelmed by their distress, it can help to seek support. Contact your GP if you are worried about your child’s reactions or feel you could do with professional help.
As your child returns to 'normal life', people might ask questions about what happened. This can be stressful for your child. So, it might be helpful to prepare some responses to questions your child might be asked.
As your child becomes more able and comfortable discussing what happened and how they are feeling with you, you could work together and have some responses ready. They could use these if they are questioned by others (e.g., friends, or family members). Some questions you can think about are:
They don't have to use these response - sometimes just knowing they are prepared can ease anxiety or anticipation.
In this section we learned about how you can create a space where your child feels comfortable to talk about their experience or their feelings. Giving them the opportunity to talk to you is important in helping them - and yourself - to process what has happened and your lives after the event.
Some key things to remember when approaching conversations with your child include:
Below are a couple of activities you can try. The goal of these activities is to notice any worries or unhelpful thoughts your child may be having, and how you can work with your child to rethink these unhelpful thoughts.
Please click on the links below to learn more about these techniques.