Prevention, the best way to treat secondary trauma

If you’re a foster, adoptive or kinship parent then you have probably noticed how trauma impacts children and teens' development and daily lives. Have you thought about how this parenting experience may be impacting you? Parents of kids who have experienced abuse and neglect can sometimes feel isolated, as if no one else understands what you are going through. This can put a strain on your relationship with your child as well as your relationship with other family members, including your spouse or partner. If you have your own trauma history that is not fully healed, learning about what a child has experienced may even trigger you. This type of trauma - being affected by someone else’s traumatic experience - is sometimes called secondary trauma.

What are some of the signs of secondary trauma?

  • Physical symptoms: Headaches, stomach problems, sleep problems, weight gain or loss, lack of energy
  • Behavioral symptoms: Increased drinking or smoking, procrastination, feeling overly critical, avoiding other people
  • Emotional symptoms: Anxiety, frequent crying, irritability, loneliness, depression
  • Cognitive symptoms: Inability to concentrate, forgetfulness, loss of human or sense of fun, inability to make decisions

The best cure for secondary trauma is prevention. In order to take good care of your child, you must take good care of yourself. Here are some things you can do:

Be honest about your expectations for your child and your relationship. Having realistic expectations about parenting a child with a history of trauma increases the chances for a healthy relationship.

Celebrate small victories. Take note of the improvements your child has made.

Don’t take your child’s difficulties personally. Your child’s struggles are a result of the trauma he or she experienced; they are not a sign of your failure as a parent.

Take care of yourself. Make time for things you enjoy doing that support your physical, emotional and spiritual health.

Focus on your own healing. If you have experienced trauma, it will be important for you to pursue your own healing, separate from your child.

Seek support. Your circle of support may include friends, family and professionals you knew before you began raising kids who are or have been in foster care, and your network has likely grown through that parenting journey. Don’t be afraid to ask the county or child placement agency for help. Many of them have post-adoption support groups and many counties and CPAs will allow parents from other organizations to join their support groups.  

Source: Child Welfare Information Gateway, Parenting a Child Who Has Experienced Trauma

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