Creative tips to use when living with or ministering to a traumatized child



In another blog, “Do you recognize the behaviors of a traumatized child?” I presented how children might act when exposed to various crises.

Today let’s look at what we can do when ministering to, living with, or working with a child that has been traumatized.

What to do

When dealing with unruly children change from thinking or asking, “What’s wrong with you?” to “What has happened to you? How can I help you?” I’ve mentioned this before but think it needs to be repeated.

Develop discipline policies of love and discipline where you actually disciple a child instead of punishing a child for actions and misdeeds.

Get rid of policies such as “1-2-3 strikes you’re out.” Policies like this come across as punitive to the child. Other children see them as a challenge. This “challenged” child will set out to prove a point to you and your leaders. Many don’t care if they get “kicked out of church.”

Here are ways to get creative as you think through and pray through various situations that you may encounter.

Playing and working through the trauma

Weather-related crisis

  • For a child that has experienced a weather-related crisis, help them draw storms.
  • Or make a “storm in a bottle” they can shake and watch the storm swirl around inside the bottle.
  • Talk about safe places they can go when they hear an approaching storm such as moving into a room that has no windows.
  • Help them create a storm survival kit. Many localities have lists of items for various weather-related situations.
  • Check what is needed in a survival kit in your community.
  • Print out the list for the child to take home or put into the beginning of a survival kit.
  • At least send the child home with bottled water, a flashlight, etc.

Deployed parent

  • Allow children who have deployed parents (or children who have observed a terrorist attack on TV) to play through their fears with hands-on toys.
  • Encourage parents or other adults to interact with the child.
  • For my own grandson when his mom left for Afghanistan he set up a replica of what he thought the base where she was going to be stationed would look like. He spent hours playing war with the little plastic army men. Even though he was a young teen he needed to “play through” his fears.
  • I’m not sure how electronic games would contribute to this role. There has not been a lot of research done in this area. At this time I’m going to say that it is probably not good to leave a child alone to rage, maim and kill others in violent electronic war games. Use hands-on active toys where the child uses his or her imagination and has to think through the process of how to survive.

For all situations encourage the children to draw or journal their thoughts.

  • Journaling helps a child to put order to their thoughts.
  • Later when they read their journal it helps the memories to focus on what came first, second, and so on.

Help each child talk through the situation.

  • It is important to not allow kids to be glued to the TV during a crisis or following it.
  • Kids can’t realize it was only two planes that hit two buildings. They wonder how many planes are going to hit how many buildings, which only adds fear to their young brains.
  • However, it is important to talk about things when they are ready and you can help by asking open-ended questions. “What did you think when you heard the sirens and then the wind started blowing?” “What happened next?”

Realize that many children won’t talk or acknowledge an event for 18 months to 2 years after the event. This was found to be true after the Oklahoma City bombing, Katrina, and the 911 terrorist attack on the World Trade Towers.

In church groups acknowledge something has happened.

  • After a school shooting teachers and church leaders should include healthy conversations right away.
  • For instance, start by asking if they know what happened and if they’d like to talk about it.
  • Take your cues from the kids.
  • Leave out the sordid details but reassure them that the kids are safe right now.
  • Talk about how important it is to remain calm in any event.

For children experiencing the divorce or separation of their parents, DivorceCare for Kids or DC4K can be a game-changer in how they process the divorce. It is a group support program that helps a child understand they are not alone and there are others that care about them. It is a place where they in turn can help another child. It gives them tools to use and introduces them to life-living problem-solving skills.

Always remember the Holy Spirit can help kids overcome their fears. Life dictates that we all will experience various crises and traumatic events. As we get older we have the brainpower and previous experiences to help us deal with such events. Little children have undeveloped brains. They don’t have previous life experiences to help them process the event.




This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on March 23, 2015.

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2 thoughts on “Creative tips to use when living with or ministering to a traumatized child

  1. Hi Linda! It is a very informative blog for those parents who are suffering from this condition of their child If you notice any misunderstandings about the traumatic occurrence, address them head-on and convince them that it wasn’t their fault. Educate your child on how to unwind. Help your youngster relax by practicing slow breathing, playing soothing music, or using affirmations like “I am secure now.” Thank you for this helpful blog, Keep posting.

    • Thank you, Laura. In our DC4K groups, we talk a lot about breathing and have the kids practice deep breathing. We also talk a lot about being safe. Actually, our DC4K leaders are called Safekeepers. We also have what we call Alphabet Stretches to help the children stretch and breathe deeply and sometimes even laugh at themselves.
      Linda J.

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