Helping Children Deal with Traumatic Events

These suggestions and ideas related to debriefing children are made with the assumption that should trauma be involved, those preparing to debrief children are seeking experienced or licensed help in doing so. Even when the trauma would not seem to be something that involved children personally or overtly, debriefing with children when parents or siblings are affected by trauma demands special experience in both trauma and experience with the age of the children being debriefed or included in family debriefing.

Debriefing offers a structure for listening and talking to a traumatized child. It opens the door for the child to begin to share with you. It helps you to discover how the child feels, and it provides an opportunity for the child to understand what happened. It usually makes the child feel stronger and less vulnerable.

What Debriefing Does

Debriefing will not heal emotional wounds of a trauma overnight, but it will help speed the healing and recovery rate for the child.

STEP 1: Fact Phase

Have the child share the story through words, pictures, play, role-play, or writing

STEP 2: Feeling Phase

Have the child share feelings about the events

STEP 3: Thought Phase

Have the child share thoughts about the events

STEP 4: Healing Phase

Normalize the reaction and provide support

Source: Adapted from Brooks & Siegel. 1996, The Scared Child. Taken from the Society of Christian Schools in BC, Responding to a School Emergency.

To learn about more things you can do to help a child in crisis, go to Emotional First Aid.

Permission to copy, but not for commercial use.