Is it normal for my child to need counseling AGAIN? A letter to parents of child survivors of trauma
Let's get straight to the answer: YES!
It's normal for someone who experienced trauma to benefit from counseling more than once in their life.
When a person has experienced trauma, we often find that they will benefit from counseling more than once in their life. It’s not that counseling didn't work the first time, it’s that as we grow and face new challenges, we develop new perspectives that change how we understand our past experiences and brings up new questions. So, here is a letter to give you a hand about recognizing when it may be time to come in again.
Here are six times in your child's life that you should consider counseling:
Major transitions like developmental milestones, moving, and the loss or gain of a family member (including pets) is a time to increase your own awareness of your child and offer them help.
Puberty. While this is also a developmental milestone, I think it deserves its own mention. For people who experienced trauma, puberty often comes early.
If your child is asking to return to counseling, go ahead and bring them. Children's brains are still growing, so they may not be able to verbally explain why they need to come back, just that they do. Your child's counselor can help you figure out the why.
The anniversary of the traumatic event. Sometimes we even call these "traumaversaries". It's normal for your child to be extra sensitive around this time. Keep an eye on them, and if their sensitivity seems to last more than a week or two, go ahead and bring them back. Remember that for kids, sensitivity often looks like aggressive behavior.
If your child goes through another traumatic situation (You know like, 2020)
If your child’s behavior is causing consistent trouble in school or is disrupting your family life, that’s an important time to get help! Remember to talk to your child’s School Counselor and make sure they’re aware of your child’s background – they will also be able to create a plan with your family if accommodations need to be made at school. As school’s become more trauma-informed they are better prepared to reduce triggers for all the children who go there.
Some Parents of children who have experienced trauma find it helpful to do an annual mental health checkup, and plan to see a counselor (preferably one who knows your child) every year, or every other year as part of a preventive healthcare plan.
Things to look out for that may mean your child is ready to come back to counseling:
Your child is isolating themselves from peers
Your child is behaving like someone younger than they are for an extended period of time
Your child is sad, worried, angry, or anxious for a long period of time, and it’s interfering with their ability to do things typical for kids their age
Your child is a danger to self or others
Your child is talking about death often, especially their own death (however, your child will likely have a lot of questions about death if someone in their community has recently died. That is normal, just check in to see if they’re feeling safe or if they would like to talk to someone else)
Your child has had concerning major behavioral changes
Your child has had unexplainable weight loss or gain (check with the medical doctor on this one)
Your child is abusing substances
Your child is showing low self-esteem and self-worth
Your child is engaging in sexual behavior which is excessive or unusual for their age. This can be confusing for a parent to know what's normal and what's not, so an option here is a consultation with a professional who can help you determine if counseling services are necessary or not.
If your child is ruminating on past traumatic experiences and seems unable to resolve their current questions. You might see this as reoccurring nightmares or intrusive memories in the form of visions, sensory experiences like sounds, or voices. They also may be repeatedly asking you the same questions.
If you decide not to get help right away, keep an eye on the problem and be ready to act if it doesn’t improve. Keep a journal or timeline of things that are concerning you. This is very helpful for the counselor.
This isn't an exhaustive list, it's just a guide to support you on your journey.
You can always call and ask for a consultation or an evaluation with a counselor if you’re feeling unsure! I wish you and your family the best. Remember to trust your parent-gut!
I recommend reading Dr. Dan Siegel and Dr. Tina Payne Bryson’s The Whole Brain Child (for kids up to age 12) and then Brainstorm (for teenagers) to help understand normal developmental and helpful parenting strategies.
Madison Short, LPC, RPT