Support, Love, and Patience: Helping Your Teen Cope With a Traumatic Life Event

caregiver consoling teen

From the day your child took their first breath, you knew you’d do anything to keep them safe. Since then, you’ve worked hard to support their physical and emotional well-being and encourage them in any way you know how.

However, life is unpredictable. No matter how much you love your child, there are parts of the world that will be tough. They might struggle in school, face challenges with peers, or, in some cases, be faced with a traumatic event.

Traumatic events are one-time events or series of events that cause a lot of stress. They’re something that no child should have to experience — but, unfortunately, they do.

Traumatic Events in Children and Teens

1 in 4 children and teens will experience a traumatic event by the time they turn 18 years old.

While reactions to traumatic events may vary from teen to teen, it’s important to be there for your teen as they navigate particularly tough life situations.

What is a Traumatic Event — and How Can it Impact My Teen?

Everyone goes through some sort of stress in life, but traumatic events cause stress that is more severe. These can be one-time events, such as a natural disaster, a serious accident, the divorce of parents or caregivers, or the sudden death of a loved one.

Or, traumatic events can be ongoing, such as bullying, racial tension, or pandemics, like COVID-19.

Helping Your Teen Cope With a Traumatic Event

Traumatic stress can be overwhelming for teens — and your role in helping them overcome that stress is critical. You can help your teen manage their symptoms, feel safe again, and move forward.

Ways to help your teen cope include:

  • Encourage them to talk about how they are feeling. Let them know their feelings are normal, and actually listen when they open up.
  • Try to keep them from obsessively reliving the event, such as replaying footage or constantly researching it. It may also be helpful to limit news coverage on the TV, newspaper, or online.
  • De-stress as a family. If a traumatic event has impacted your entire family, practice relaxation techniques, exercise, or go for a walk together.
  • Maintain a routine as much as possible. Stick to normal meal times, homework times, and family rules to provide your teen with a supportive structure.
  • Give them time to grieve any losses from the event. This may include friends, relatives, your home, or simply how their life used to be.
  • Make them feel safe in any way you can. Extra hugs, a reassuring pat on the back, a kind note in their lunch bag — these small details will give your teen a sense of security and love.

Don’t forget to cope with your own stress in a healthy way, too. Exercise, journal, meditate, or talk to a mental health professional — modeling these practices will go a long way in helping your teen understand how to cope.

Seeking Extra Support For Your Teen

Sometimes, you won’t be able to provide all the support your teen needs — and that’s okay. Certain traumatic events may require the involvement of a mental health professional, and knowing when to seek extra support is just as important as providing the support yourself.

If you believe your teen needs additional support, reach out to your child’s pediatrician to determine the next steps.

Look for signs of a mental health crisis

Take any suicidal talk or behavior seriously. If you believe your child may be experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

For more information about suicide, see the American Psychological Association’s suicide help page.

Throughout their life, your teen will be faced with times of sadness, frustration, and fear. But they will also experience happiness, excitement, and laughter.

As a parent or caregiver, your role is to support your teen through it all. Laugh with them, cry with them, celebrate with them, and be there for them whenever they need your support.

If you think your child may need extra support navigating a traumatic event, contact your child’s pediatrician.

NEW: Adolescent Medicine at Children’s

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Children’s Physicians has always treated adolescent patients. But to even further meet the unique needs of this age group, we have opened a new department focused solely on adolescent medicine.

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