Guest Blogger: Talya Steinberg, Psy.D
For children in particular, traumatic events can be very hard to understand. Memories related to frightening, unfamiliar experiences are often confusing not only because a child’s cognitive and language development is limited, but also because intense emotions and fear affect how experiences are processed and stored into memory. Therefore, reactions to trauma are often different for children than for adults, and children tend to show their distress through repetitive play, vague nightmares, or reenactment of the specific event (American Psychiatric Association, 2000). Reminders of the event can be positive or negative, triggering the grieving response unexpectedly.
Evidenced-based treatments, which are based on supportive research, are often helpful for addressing trauma symptoms in children. Robin Goodman, PhD, who runs the bereavement program at and is executive director of A Caring Hand, The Billy Esposito Foundation, in New York City, uses a method called trauma-focused cognitive behavior therapy, which was originally developed by Judith A. Cohen, MD, Esther Deblinger, PhD, and Anthony P. Mannarino, PhD. With this method children create a trauma narrative, or story, which helps the child process and make sense of the incident, alter cognitive distortions such as excessive guilt, and address life transitions and new meaning. The concept of gaining in new meaning, or benefiting in some way from personal experiences with trauma, is called post-traumatic growth.” Helping children to develop “post-traumatic growth,” in addition to coping with the aftermath of traumatic events and loss, can make a huge difference in their future lives. University of North Carolina at Charlotte psychologists Richard G. Tedeschi, PhD, and Lawrence G. Calhoun, PhD, who coined the term “post-traumatic growth” believe that trauma can help individuals discover new possibilities, better ways of relating to others, new personal strengths, positive spiritual changes and a stronger appreciation of life.