What Teens With Trauma Want You to Know 

May 13, 2014
Colored pencils next to a stack of books.

The bottom line to helping teens who’ve experienced isolated or constant traumatic events such as abuse, neglect, violence, or the death of a loved one is that giving them consistency, reliability, and predictability is vital to helping them heal.

As the events they’ve been exposed to have sent their nervous systems into hyper-alert, their behavior can be wild and maladaptive. But you’re there to help them feel safe and learn how to cope with what they’ve been through. Your supportive approach can help them learn to behave more productively and positively, and the National Childhood Traumatic Stress Network offers a tip sheet [PDF] to help you do just that.
Written from the point of view of a teen who’s grieving a death, the sheet offers ways to recognize and respond to the behaviors of a person of just about any age who’s dealing with virtually any kind of trauma. For example, the sheet highlights the importance of keeping in mind a point of view such as “I want you to know that I may have physical reactions like jumpiness, stomachaches, headaches, a pounding heart, or body aches. These may be worse after being around people, places, sounds, situations or other things that remind me of the trauma.”
Another excellent resource for helping kids with trauma is clinical psychologist Mitch Abblett’s first-person empathy poem [PDF], which reminds us: “I just want a chance to fit in; to do something right once in a while. I just want to feel okay for a day. . . . I just don’t want to have to remember all the bad stuff from before all the time.”

For insight into setting reasonable limits with people whose behavior stems from trauma, read Abblett’s “Holding Shards: Recommendations for Helping the Developmentally Traumatized Child.”

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