How to Help a Teenager After a Traumatic Event

Experiencing a traumatic event is a challenge for anyone and it can be a struggle to deal with the emotions and memories that follow it. But recovery after trauma can be yet more challenging for teenagers in many instances. Many teenagers are still developing emotionally and may not yet have the mental capacity to process their experiences effectively. The teenage years can often be isolating as well, causing a teen to feel particularly alone after a traumatic event.

But because dealing with trauma can be challenging for everyone, it can be difficult to know how to respond and give your teen the support they need. Knowing how to identify trauma and what to do to help your teenager through it are valuable parenting skills.

Supporting an Adolescent Processing Trauma

Teens can experience a range of different traumas. From upsetting events in their community to loss of a loved one to abuse, traumas can cause teens to struggle in the aftermath. A teenager may develop an anxiety disorder or depression, or experience different symptoms that interrupt their day to day lives.

The first step in helping a teenager is identifying that they may be struggling with trauma. Not every teenager will be open about their experience. This could be a way of gaining a feeling of control over their life or out of a sense of fear, shame, or another emotion following the trauma. 

Looking instead for symptoms can clue you into a child experiencing traumatic stress. These symptoms include otherwise unexplained changes in behavior, changes in eating habits, excessive sleeping or insomnia, fear, irritability and mood swings, drug or alcohol use, and withdrawal from activities and friends.

If you notice these behaviors, your teenager shares that they went through a trauma, or you experienced the trauma together, the best ways to support them include:

  • Create an Environment for Expression – Much of processing a traumatic experience involves going through each of the emotions it prompts. This could include intense sadness, fear, anger, and more. Maintaining an environment where your teen can express these emotions without judgment can help them start to work through the trauma. The main task you need to do here is to listen rather than try to problem solve or minimize emotions.
  • Restore Control – Many traumatic events create a lasting impression because they remove a person’s feeling of control. Helping a teen feel like they have more control over their lives can help target this. Encourage your teenager to set boundaries, express wants, and make choices, starting small in the beginning.
  • Create Routines – Routines can be relaxing after a trauma since they help remove unexpected elements. Get your family involved in setting and following routines while going through the recovery process.
  • Process Your Trauma – If you experienced the same traumatic event as your teen or you are dealing with the trauma of your own, make sure to do your own processing and get any help you need. This will enable you to better help those around you and encourage your teen to advocate for themselves the way that you are.
  • Seek Professional Help – Dealing with trauma is complicated and extra assistance can often help the process go faster and make challenges more manageable. A psychiatrist can treat depression, anxiety, and other disorders that may occur as a result of trauma. They can also use psychotherapy to encourage effective processing and coping skills.

For Dallas teens and their families who need help coping after a traumatic event, Dr. Surin Sehdev at Aware Behavioral Health treats adolescents coping with PTSD, panic attacks, generalized anxiety, depression, and more. He can work with teens and their parents to create age appropriate care plans that help them manage symptoms and recover from trauma. Make an appointment with a Dallas psychiatrist today.

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