Trauma can show itself due to a variety of reasons in a variety of ways. As most of us know, there are almost always clear causes of trauma in children regardless of whether or not it was physical, emotional, or something else. However, many people do not realize that there is something known as second hand trauma that can cause the same symptoms and require similar treatments. According to Bayan Mental Health, second hand trauma is also commonly referred to as compassion fatigue (2022).
This condition occurs when the individual experiences trauma-like responses after being exposed to hearing about traumatic events. Many professional adults face this situation in their careers when it comes to being as therapist, first responder, or DCP&P worker just to name a few. They hear and see other people’s suffering and begin to become overwhelmed with emotion and response. Children are no exception to this concept. In some cases, they suffer worse because of their lack of full understanding. They are also more likely to be empathetic at an early age due to their innocence.
As parents, we generally try to shield our young children from things that are beyond their scope of understanding. We are cautious to what they see on television and social media, and minimize exposure to negative influence based on what we feel is acceptable. As our children get older, their exposure to outside influence increases dramatically. This is especially true with teenagers. When kids hear their parents talk of a life changing and traumatic event, or the news post a story of violence or destruction, it can cause their own fears and trauma-like responses. Teenagers often share things from their own lives with peers that can also cause fear and anxiety as if the individual experienced it themselves.
The symptoms of second-hand trauma can include but are not limited to anxiety, depression, mood swings, fear, physical symptoms, and cynicism (Bayan Mental Health, 2022). Mental overload and burnout can also occur. It is important to talk to your children if something seems to be bothering them. Most parents assume that something must have happened directly to the child but it may be their response to something else. We all hope our kids will be tough and able to cope with such things, but for many, that just isn’t the case.
Treatment for second hand trauma is often considered to be similar to that of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Making sure the child has someone accessible that they trust to speak to is always a good thing. Even if they won’t talk to you, it’s better if they have someone trustworthy that they can confide in. Additionally, counseling is often recommended. After an evaluation, a treatment plan can be made between the child, parent and therapist. Talk to your child and make sure they know it’s okay to feel the way they do but that holding it in can be harmful. Untreated symptoms can have lasting emotional effects into adulthood. This makes it much harder to get control of.
Now more than ever, the world has been in chaos and our children are being bounced back and forth when it comes to different beliefs, acceptable behavior, and what is expected of them. They learn of minor political issues in school that generates more questions and concerns. Hate is something that spreads quickly and with unjustified hate, comes confusion. That by itself can be stressful for youth, but adding the internet and other external influences can be stressful. Not all kids are willing to open up, but the more we get them talking, the more influence we have over second-hand traumas.
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