Childhood Trauma Therapy - Hilo, HI - Stephanie Dodge, PhDDo You Think Your Child Might Be Struggling With the After-Effects of a Traumatic Event?

  • Does your child seem anxious and cry or fight when asked to go to a certain place or be around certain people?
  • Does your child become extremely upset about things that seem small or didn’t bother him or her before?
  • Is your child having nightmares and struggling to sleep?
  • Have your child’s behaviors regressed? For example, has he or she begun to wet the bed again, even after successful toilet training?
  • Is your family having a change the way they do things because of your child’s fears?
  • Do you wish you could help your child heal from trauma and return to the way he or she used to be?

Following a trauma, it can be difficult to know what is truly going on with your child. You may know that your child experienced something upsetting, such as a car accident, intense conflict in the home, a natural disaster or something else, and fear that the memories of the event might impact the rest of your child’s life. Or, you may only suspect that something has happened to your child because of his or her sudden changes in behavior, but when you ask about it, your child says nothing. Maybe your child is adopted or lived in foster care, so you know that something went wrong even if you don’t know the particulars. Perhaps you have just found out that your child experienced trauma, and now you feel alarmed, sad and full of guilt, wondering how you didn’t know and how you can move forward now.

Your child may be reacting to an intense experience by acting out or having uncontrollable meltdowns when he or she feels afraid. Perhaps your child has thrown tantrums even when you asked him or her to do small things like turn off the T.V. Maybe your child has developed behaviors like hoarding food (especially if he or she was in a known neglectful environment before placement with you) or clinging to you. You might suspect bullying because of your child’s reluctance to spend time with classmates or friends. Maybe teachers or other school officials have alerted you to changes in your child’s behavior, which may even include inappropriate touching. Or, perhaps you know that your child experienced trauma, but he or she acts like nothing has happened, which alarms you even more than outbursts. Regardless of the ways in which your child is reacting and behaving, you may feel helpless, hopeless and unsure of how to best support your child.

Many Children Experience Traumatic Events

Unfortunately, no matter how hard you try to protect them, kids can still be exposed to all kinds of frightening or upsetting things. They can witness natural disasters, events in the community or the home, bullying at school and more. You cannot protect your child from everything without also limiting his or her ability to experience all of the good things in the world.

71 percent of children between the ages of two and 17 have been exposed to one or more traumatic incidents. 14.5 percent of these children develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and even more develop at least a few PTSD symptoms. When adults do not realize a trauma has occurred, these symptoms often seem to mimic those of other disorders, such as childhood anxiety and ADHD, which can lead to confusion and frustration. If you have just found that your child experienced a severe trauma, you may be reeling with hurt and guilt. However, exposure to traumatic events is extremely common, and you and your child are not alone.

If a trauma has occurred, symptoms such as anxiety, outbursts, and withdrawal are perfectly normal responses in the immediate aftermath. Finding support is important ­immediately after the traumatic event and even more so if the symptoms become deeply entrenched over time. One of largest indicators of positive good outcomes for kids is having good, supportive adults in their lives. Your child’s experience is not your fault and by showing you care you can help him or her move forward and heal. With the right help, your child can access the natural path of healing and recover.

Childhood Trauma Therapy Can Help Your Child Feel Safe and Happy Again

Research has shown that childhood trauma therapy can be very effective in helping children who have experienced an upsetting event. No matter what your child has gone through, he or she can live a healthy, peaceful life. Childhood trauma therapy is one of my primary areas of specialty, and I use different approaches depending on the age of your child. Sometimes when children go through a really bad experience, they come out believing the world is a scary place. Talking about those things and challenging those beliefs can help your child learn to feel safe in the world again.

With young children, I will use Parent Child Interactive Therapy (PCIT), in which I will coach you in positive parenting skills and consistent consequences so that your child becomes able to predict what life will give him or her. Traumatic events can be deeply destabilizing, and PCIT can help your child feel safe again while helping both you and your child build self-esteem. Studies have shown that young children who witnessed domestic violence improved greatly from PCIT.

For older children, I use an evidence based treatment, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT). I can teach your child about trauma so that he or she realizes that he or she is not alone. I can also help your child develop coping sills so that he or she is prepared to face the fears implanted by the trauma, make sense of the experience, and feel a sense of purpose moving forward.

Whether or not you are aware of any traumatic events experienced by your child, it is always a good idea to have him or her evaluated if you have seen sudden worrisome behavioral or emotional changes. I can determine whether or not you child is healthily managing his or her memories or trying to push them away. Avoidance blocks the natural path to recovery and will not help your child achieve long-term healing. In childhood trauma therapy, I can offer your child a safe, supportive space to discuss his or her feeling and fears. With support and guidance from you and me, your child can recover from the effects of trauma. Even if your child has experienced years of trauma, I can help him or her overcome painful, frightening feelings and have a normal, productive life. Trauma does not have to define your child’s identity or future.

You may believe that childhood trauma therapy can help your son or daughter heal, but still have questions or concerns… 

I’m afraid I’ll be judged for not recognizing the signs.

I never judge a parent for not immediately realizing that his or her child experienced trauma. This is not your fault. For various reasons, children often hide the facts about their traumatic experiences from parents. The fact that you are seeking help now reveals how much your care about your child. I can help you feel confident in supporting your child and work through your feelings of guilt and worry. You can help your child recover.

My child is required to spend time with his or her abuser because of a custody arrangement. Can child trauma therapy still help?

Even if you are unable to prevent your child from spending time in potentially harmful situations, therapy can help. The coping skills that your child develops can help him or her manage difficult situations and feel supported and loved. While I specialize in helping children heal and am not a trained custody evaluator, I can refer you to resources that may be able to help.

My child won’t talk to me about this. Why would he or she talk to a stranger?

I have years of experience working with kids and know how to help them open up. I am trained to listen and pick up on things that your child may not be stating outright. In addition, you will be an integral part of your child’s therapy and healing. I can work with you, too, so that your child can easily talk to you about his or her worries and fears. By the end of our time together, the goal is for you to take over as your child’s “therapist” and source of support.

Your child can heal from trauma. I invite you to call (808) 747-3445 for a free 15-20 minute phone consultation to ask any questions you have about childhood trauma therapy and my practice.

Other Information:

National Child Traumatic Stress Network:  Parents and Caregivers

Help your Keiki: Trauma

National Institute of Mental Health: Helping Children and Adolescents Cope with Violence and Disasters: What Parents Can Do

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry:  Domestic Violence and Children