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First Aid for Children  Affected by Traumatic Event

If You or Someone You Know is in Crisis and Needs Immediate Help

If You or Someone You Know are Thinking about Self Harming or Attempting Suicide

Call 988, Suicide & Crisis Lifeline or 911


How do Young People Respond to Traumatic Event

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is one of most well known and common psychological condition that people are going to develop after a traumatic incident. One of the best examples of this is soldiers coming home from war. The memory of the traumatic incident rather than trauma itself can cause more psychological damage and distress to the individual. Trauma can be caused from multiple incidents as well as one singular event. Specifically, historical trauma can be defined as "cumulative scarring" during the lifespan as well as across generations from massive group trauma experience. On the other hand, trauma for a victim of bullying can be from one or more than one bullying incident. 

Memory of the incident or incidents can be retrieved at any point in their lifespan. The memory of the incident can occur at any point after the incident including several days, weeks or even years after the trauma. Young people respond to traumatic incidents differently, especially children. Read more about symptoms of PTSD

Children who experience trauma may react immediately or have a delayed reaction.  If you know the victim, continue close observation of the individual's emotion. 

Assistance should be provided when the individual shows psychological changes (see the link above) as opposed to right after the trauma. (This only applies to first aid psychological support technique

It is important to know that people can differ in how they react to traumatic events:

  • One person may perceive an event as deeply traumatic, but another may not.

  • Particular types of trauma affect some individuals more than others.

  • A history of trauma may make some people more susceptible to later traumatic events. whereas others become more resilient.

  • Youth may respond differently than adults, depending on their age and psychological maturity

(From Mental Health First Aid USA)

How to Assist

Traumatic event are dangerous. How much can I take or help as an outsider? You do not have to experience the same things to empathize and support victims with trauma. Always remember the first rule of first aid, if you are not comfortable with the situation, it is absolutely fine to walk away. The best course of action for this troubled individual is to recommend them to a mental health professional. Monitor for any suicidal idea, homicidal idea, self-harm action, depression, anxiety, unusual amount of substance usage, or any psychosis behavior. If anyone's life is in immediate danger at any point, 911 should be summoned immediately. 

What are the First priorities for helping a youth after a traumatic event?

  • Ensure your own safety before offering help to anyone. Before deciding to approach a child or adolescent to offer your help, check for potential dangers. including any person who may become aggressive.

  • If you are helping a child or youth whom you do not know, introduce your sell and explain that you are there to help.

  • Find out the youth's name and use it when talking to them.

  • Remain calm.

  • Do what you can to protect the youth (whether by taking them to a safer location or removing any immediate dangers).

  • Reassure the youth that they won't be left alone, so far as this is possible, and ensure them that you, or another adult (such as a professional helper), are available to take care of them. Respect the culture of the youth by exhibiting physical and verbal behaviors that demonstrate this respect. For example, it may be more comfortable for the youth if you demonstrate that you care by placing your hand on the youth's shoulder instead of hugging them.

  • If you have to leave the youth alone for a few minutes to attend to others, reassure the youth that you will be back soon. However, try not to behave toward the youth in such a way that they feel in continued danger.

  • Watch for signs that their physical or mental state is declining, and be prepared to seek emergency medical assistance.

  • Be aware that the youth may suddenly become disoriented or may have internal injuries that reveal themselves more slowly.

  • Try to determine what the youth's immediate needs are for food, water, shelter, or clothing.

  • Do not take over the role of any professional helpers (police, EMTs, or others).

  • Do not make any promises you may not be able to keep. For example, do not promise the youth that you will get them home soon when this may not be the case.

  • If you are not the youth's parent or caregiver, and you believe it is appropriate to do so (e.g., will not further endanger the youth). ensure the youth that a parent or caregiver is informed of what has occurred.

  • Do this in a calm and reassuring manner.

(From Mental Health First Aid USA)

How do I talk to a youth who has experienced a traumatic event?

  • It is more important to be genuinely caring than to say all the right things.

  • Tell the youth that you understand and care and that you will do your best to keep them safe.

  • Talk to the youth using age-appropriate language and explanations.

  • Allow the youth to ask questions and answer them as truthfully as possible. Be patient if the youth asks the same question many times, and try to be consistent with answers and information. If you cannot answer a question, admit that you do not know the answer.

  • If the youth knows accurate, upsetting details, do not deny them. 

  • Do not force the youth to speak. Never force a youth to talk about feelings or memories of the trauma before they are ready to do so.

  • If the youth wants to talk about their feelings then allow them to do so. Some youth prefer to express feelings through writing, drawing. or playing with toys or video games.

  • Never tell the youth how they should or should not be feeling. Do not tell the youth to be brave or not to cry, and do not make judgments about feelings.

  • Do not get angry if the youth expresses strong emotions; instead, tell them it is okay to feel upset when something bad or scary happens.

  • Respect the youth's culture. For example, do not bring up religious or spiritual issues unless you know the youth's specific religious or cultural background.

(From Mental Health First Aid USA)

The content above serves as a guideline for educators and parent to talk to their adolescents after a traumatic incident in a safe and comfortable environment for children as their temporary psychological support. (Only serve as a bandage for the bleeding, which is what they might need at that particular moment)  More psychological professional help might be needed based on the individual situation.  

Abuse, Temper Tantrums and Avoidance Behaviors


When we see a child get hurt, we immediately tend to them. While it is important to provide the child with the help that they need and make sure that they are safe, people also often forget about the first rule of first aid. Each person's individual safety must be prioritized over anyone else's. If you are incapacitated, you cannot help anyone else. 

When helping an adolescent, safety can be provided by isolating them from the situation of abuse. Law enforcement and medical service should be called immediately. (Remember to follow local laws and regulations). Remain calm, introduce yourself and clearly state your intent. Reassure the child that they are in a safe place and remind them that they did the right thing by calling for help. Make sure that the environment is as comfortable as possible for the child which is an integral part of showing your intent. It is also very important to tell the child that it is not their fault that the situation occurred. If the person does explain any details of the event to you, try your best to remember the story, to relay the information to law enforcement. Remember - never confront the abuser. If you have any evidence of abuse, you should provide it to the authorities as well. 

Temper Tantrums and Avoidance Behaviors

The youth may avoid things that remind them of the trauma. Try to figure out what triggers sudden fearfulness, regression, or aggression in the youth. If the youth has temper tantrums or becomes fearful, cries, and becomes clingy to avoid something that reminds them of the trauma, ask the youth what they are afraid of. Do not get angry or call the youth "babyish" if they start acting more immature, for example, by bed-wetting, misbehaving, or thumb sucking. If the youth avoids things that remind them of the trauma but does not appear very distressed, ask what they are afraid of and assure them that they are safe.

(From Mental Health First Aid USA)

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