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After a traumatic event

This information aims to help parents, carers and significant others to feel more prepared to support their child through what may be a very difficult time following a traumatic incident. It helps to explain some of the reactions that might happen and gives some practical advice on how to cope with the effects of trauma and how to get more support.

What is a trauma?

A trauma is a sudden, unexpected event where the person experiences extreme stress. This may include the person fearing for their life, suffering an injury or risk of physical harm or they may have seen a stressful event.

Examples include:

  • fires
  • accidents
  • domestic violence and assaults
  • big disaster events

Straight after the traumatic event, most children will feel upset, worried, and confused. This is normal and most children do not carry on having trauma symptoms. However, up to one-third of children and young people do continue to feel upset, jumpy, or worried or might show other symptoms connected to the trauma. These children may have what we call post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and might need additional support from a professional.

What is post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)?

PTSD is diagnosed if traumatic stress symptoms persist for at least 1 month.

Your child or teenager may experience some or most of the following symptoms following trauma. They have been grouped into 3 categories: re-experiencing, increased arousal, and avoidance, and emotional numbing.

Re-experiencing of the traumatic event

  • Intrusive thoughts and images
  • Nightmares
  • Reminders will trigger a flashback (you feel as though the event is happening again)

Increased arousal

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Irritability or outbursts of anger or difficulties at school
  • Difficulties concentrating
  • Extreme alertness
  • Being easily startled or jumpy

Avoidance and emotional numbing

  • Keeping busy
  • Avoiding situations that are reminders of the trauma
  • Being unable to recall some aspects of the trauma
  • Feeling detached, cut off and emotionally numb
  • Loss of interest

Things you can do to help your child or teenager after a traumatic event


Remind your child that whatever happened is over, that they are now safe. This will help the child to re-orientate and slowly feel safe again. You might have to repeat this a number of times, especially when the child experiences flashbacks or nightmares.

Give space to process

Allow your child to talk about the event if they want to but don’t pressure them. It might help them feel less anxious and distressed and they can start to make sense of what has happened.

Remember everybody will be different in how they deal with trauma.

Parents can feel they need to protect their children from what happened by not talking about the event. If your child wants to talk about it or asks you questions try to answer them as best as you can. Your child may be able to develop a truthful story about what happened and this may help them make sense of things. Some children may be able to do this through drawing or play, however, it may not be the right time for a child.

Return to familiar routines

Try to go back to your daily routines as much as you can. This will give your child the feeling of things going back to normal and safe. This might be difficult if you or your child is in a hospital setting, but telling the child when you are around and what is happening might help with that. Caution is indicated if your child is particularly frightened of any hospital procedures, in this case, it may be helpful not to let your child know too long in advance about procedures.

When you and your child are back home after a traumatic event, help your child to get enough sleep, eat regularly, go back to school and see friends as much as is possible. Understandably in the first few days, you may wish to keep your child off school if they are still very distressed, but it is good for them to go back to their usual routines as soon as is possible.

Be together more

Increasing the time you spend together as a family may help to overcome the traumatic event. This also helps your child feel less vulnerable and alone.

Include everyone

Don’t forget that if siblings or other family members are around, they might be equally as affected by what has happened and will also need support.

Self care

Take time for yourself. Looking after yourself is important, you need strength to be able to support your child through this difficult time.

Things you can do for yourself

Don’t feel you have to be superhuman. Just do what is necessary and pass on as much as is possible.


Find some space (physically and mentally) where you can let go of everything, even for just 5 minutes. Sit or lie down and focus on your breathing. Quiet and soothing music can help with that. Notice the tension in your body and see if you can let go of that.


During the initial days at home after a traumatic event or if your child or another family member is on the Children’s Hospital ward, sleep is often very disrupted. Try and get regular sleep if you can. Perhaps a family member or friend could come over to help with practical things so you can rest. Or, if your child is on the hospital ward, go home for the night or ask about booking a room in Treetops.

Support each other

Try and share the work with someone such as your partner, friend, or other family members. Give each other space to deal with the stress in their own way as each person is different. Some people want to talk, whereas others want to be left alone.

Talk and listen

It is important if you or someone else who has been affected by the trauma wants to talk about it not to stop them. However, maybe it is easier to do so with someone who is not connected with you such as a health professional.

Support networks

Receiving support in times of distress is very important. That can be practical support like helping out with child care and shopping or through more emotional support in the form of listening. Support might come from family, friends, neighbours, or hospital staff. Don’t feel you can’t ask for help. Most people are more than happy to help in times of great distress.

If you continue to feel worried about your child, or if any of their symptoms continue, you should visit your GP, who can make an assessment of the situation and can refer you or your child to an appropriate service.

Useful contacts


Victim Support
69 Division St
S1 4GE
0114 2758411

They provide support and information for all victims of crime

Lawton Tonge House
57 Wolsenholm Road
S7 1LE
0114 2584489

Mind provides a range of information on psychological difficulties such as anxiety and PTSD

The Samaritans
26 Rockingham Lane
S1 4FW
0114 2767277

The helpline is available 24 hours a day. The centre is available for people to call in 10am to 10pm


Cruse Bereavement Care
10 Carver Street
S1 4FS
0114 2493328

Counselling and support to those who have suffered bereavement

Winston’s Wish

General enquiries: 01242 515157
Helpline: 0845 2030405

A charity that helps meet the needs of bereaved children, young people and their families

South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue and Road Traffic Collision Trauma Support Group

Command HQ
Wellington Street
S1 3FG
0114 2532445

HOPE offers a meeting and support structure for people that have lost someone through a fire or RTC (road traffic collision)


Sheffield Rape and Sexual Abuse Counselling Service

PO Box 34
S1 1UD
0114 244 7936

Face to face and telephone counselling to women and girls aged over 13. They can also accompany people to court hearings, solicitors, or certain medical check-ups.

Changing Faces

102 Junction Mews
W2 1PN
0171 7064232

Support, information, advice and self-help for people with facial disfigurement

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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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