Helping a teenager deal with trauma

School Psychologist & Therapist Maggie Kline, LMFT, shares advice for parents on how teens can have difficulty dealing with trauma and the best ways to help them through it
Advice For Helping A Teenager Deal With Trauma
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Helping a teenager deal with trauma

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If a teenager experiences trauma, very often they don’t want to talk about it. They’ll sulk, they’ll go inside, they’ll close their door. It’s very important to let them know that you’re there when they’re ready to talk, and that you understand that they’re having a hard time – To empathize with them. Then when they do start to talk with you about it, it’s really important to notice their body language, how it’s different from before the tragic thing happened. So if your child is usually high-spirited, and now all of a sudden, they’re depressed and sulking, it’s important just to name it. Say, “I notice that you’re really struggling and it’s difficult for you to enjoy your life. We can go for a walk and you don’t even have to talk about it, if you don’t want to. But I think it’s really good to start moving, because it always makes me feel better, as a mom, and I think that’ll make you feel better too.” Then usually the child would begin to open up, because motion actually changes our emotion. Movement helps to move our physiology, that’s why so many people enjoy dancing, especially teenagers or martial arts sport, athletics. So to get your teenager back into movement, that will start to help them to open up and start to talk. Now there are 2 things that happen when there’s a tragedy. One is they’re shocked and the other one is grief. I’ll give you an example of a boy who lost his father in an auto accident. It happened suddenly. He was at soccer camp. He thought it was his fault because he wasn't home. He wasn't able to eat , sleep or study for school even after 3 months after his father’s death. One of the things that I did with him was I asked him to just notice his breath as he talked about his dad, and to notice where his feet where. He said, “I don’t have feet.” I asked him to spend a little time and just feel his feet. I happened to have my pet dog with me, and my dog sat on the boy’s feet and put weight on the feet; and then he started to feel his feet. As soon as he felt his feet and started feeling his breath come back, the tears started to roll down a bit down his eyes, and he started to come out of shock. Then he was able to start the process of grieving - Talking about his father, talking about how much he loved him, talking about how angry he was at the person who hit his father’s car; sharing all the emotions. Up until that, he wouldn't talk about it, he’d just say, “I don’t know”, “It’s okay”, “There’s nothing I can about it”, you know how teenagers are. But once you get the teenager back into feeling their feet, their grounding and their breath, and into a physiological state of movement, they begin to open up, and then they can share their emotions and their parents really can help them.

School Psychologist & Therapist Maggie Kline, LMFT, shares advice for parents on how teens can have difficulty dealing with trauma and the best ways to help them through it

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Maggie Kline, LMFT

School Psychologist & Therapist

Maggie Kline has been a marriage, family, and child therapist for almost 30 years, and is a retired school psychologist.  After beginning her professional career as a teacher in 1970, Maggie has continued to garner vast experience with children of all ages from pre-schoolers through teens. She uses Somatic Experiencing (SE) with individuals, couples and families in psychotherapy. She also integrates SE with art, dream work and play when helping youngsters recover from trauma. Maggie is a senior faculty member for the SE Trauma Institute, currently teaching on five continents. She has co-authored two books (listed below) with Peter A. Levine which have been translated into 11 languages,  and has also written "It Won't Hurt Forever", which was published in Mothering  Magazine in 2002.  Most recently, Maggie has originated two seminars for professionals who help traumatized children:  "SE for Kids, A Games-Based Approach" and "Conscious Connections, Providing Reparative Opportunities for Healthy Attachment". She has presented her work in schools and agencies, at conferences, and in mass disaster settings such as the Southeast Asian Tsunami and the Oslo Massacre.

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