Living in South Africa, where historical and contemporary challenges have left their mark, healing from trauma is a vital journey for ourselves and our children. Indeed, addressing a trauma and the impact it has on us is essential for building resilience, cultivating healthy relationships, and creating a more optimistic future.
Let’s take a look at the very important practical steps we should take for our children and ourselves to begin the healing process.
“More than half of the South African population experience some form of trauma in their lifetime.”
Healing for your child
Belinda Gruenbaum, who is a counsellor at the Family Life Centre says, “It is important to understand that trauma can affect a child’s mood, appetite, sleep and general wellbeing. It is vital to provide them with reassurance and support through love and guidance.”
She also says that children pick up on a parent’s anxiety and stress, that they are very good imitators of what they see being modelled in front of them. “It is therefore important to show your child you are taking steps to manage the trauma you have experienced, and they will be likely to follow suit.”
Gruenbaum recommends you as the parent take the following practical steps as soon after the traumatic event as possible to help your child:
- Encourage them to openly share their feelings. Acknowledge and validate them. However, try discouraging them from obsessively reliving the traumatic event as this can overwhelm their nervous system. When they are obsessing, distract their minds by reading to them, playing a game, building a puzzle together or watching an uplifting movie.
- Start helping them to rebuild their sense of safety and trust again by showing affection, maintaining routines, speaking of future plans and keeping your promises.
- Minimise media exposure as much as possible as this can be further traumatising. If they end up being exposed to something negative in the media, watch with them and place the events in context.
- Engage your child by providing ongoing opportunities to talk. Keep and validating their concerns and provide reassurance.
- Encourage physical activity and feed your child a healthy diet, as fried foods and sugar can impact their mood negatively.
Healing for yourself
Gruenbaum suggests that you, as the parent, should practice the following steps to heal from your own trauma:
- Be aware and recognise the symptoms of trauma as they present themselves. Acknowledge each feeling and deal with it as it crops up. Don’t suppress your feelings. It helps to normalise them.
- Don’t shy away from communicating about the traumatic event as it is beneficial for the mind to process everything that has happened.
- Understand that each family member may not experience the trauma in the same way so show empathy and be kind to one another.
- Drink water to flush out toxins in your body, practice deep breathing and relaxation techniques to de-stress, be patient and give yourself time to heal. It’s important to practise self-care daily.
- Implement positive coping mechanisms and seek professional help from a trauma counsellor or therapist if you feel you or your child isn’t coping.
Living in South Africa
South Africa’s history of apartheid plus its ongoing challenges, has left a significant impact. More than half of the South African population experience some form of trauma in their lifetime. Most of us have normalised traumatic events to the degree that we ignore them when they take place, and this has left us with a national mental health crisis.
Gruenbaum says, “Unresolved trauma can have serious physical, psychological and emotional consequences, which can include depression, anxiety, PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and physical health complications.” She also states that ignoring the symptoms of trauma “can manifest into addictive behaviours, the inability to deal with conflict, confusion and low self-esteem.”
Healing from trauma is a journey that requires time, patience, empathy, kindness and dedication. In a country like ours, where trauma’s impact is pronounced, as a society we need to heal our wounds more than most, or we will continue struggling to build a better and brighter future for our children.
So, when next you find yourself or your family dealing with a traumatic event, no matter how big or small, take the practical steps outlined in this article and begin the process of healing if not for your own sake, then for your children’s.
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