If you’ve worked with children for any length of time, you know that most of them love to talk. Remember to listen as they tell you about their family, the time they went to the beach and got stung by a jellyfish, the time they rode a really scary ride at the fair and found out they loved it, the time their brother was mean to them and snatched their toy away, or the time their mommy and daddy yelled at each other. Kids process a lot through verbalization and, if you’ll let them, they’ll pour their hearts out to you- the good and the bad.
In the midst of enjoying the children who babble like brooks about their lives, we need to remember that there are children around us who don’t talk about their problems, but could still be struggling. We need to pay close attention to these children and equip ourselves in order to help them, as some children may have experienced some sort of grief or trauma, even though they’re young.
But what do ‘grief’ and ‘trauma’ actually mean? Aren’t they basically the same thing? Well, to go through grief is to experience deep sorrow or to mourn the loss of a loved one or property, even including a special (or favorite) toy. Trauma, on the other hand, happens when one goes through a deeply painful or disturbing experience such as rape or a bad car accident. While everyone on the planet will experience grief at some point in their lifetime, not everyone will experience trauma.
So how can you help children who are struggling if they won’t talk about it? These children, like the rest, need to know they are loved and that you are a safe place to share whatever it is they have been facing. Here are some practical tools you can use to help a child heal if they have been through grief or trauma:
- Give time for trust to be built between you and the child.
- Wait for the child to be ready to open up and share; don’t push them because you think they should be ready.
- Make time for the child to share their story- don’t rush!
- Listen with your whole body- don’t be distracted.
- Allow the child to cry & take as many breaks from sharing as needed.
- Have the child draw a picture of their family or an experience that was painful for them (this is especially helpful if you are working with a child that will not verbalize what has happened.)
- Be patient and don’t give up! Healing is a process and will come with time.