4 Ways to Offer Support Following a Traumatic Event

There was an explosion last week.

A student group was working on a project at the university when something went awry causing a powerful explosion. We heard it at our home more than two miles away.

Three of those injured were Russ’ students.

We’ve learned a lot about trauma in recent years.

Let me tell you what my professor-husband did right – I’m more than a little proud of him. Ā As life happens, you and I will have many opportunities to put this to use.

When a Traumatic Event Happens

1. Give People Permission to Seek Help From Professionals

Russ spoke to his class about trauma and the possibility they may have feelings or fears they need to talk about even if they were nowhere near the event.

A new traumatic event can trigger previous traumas for a person and come up in surprising ways. He gave his classĀ the phone number for the counseling center on campus.

He also invited them to talk to him, which several of them did in the following days.

2. Be Available

When class was over, he stayed to talk with students. Several of them were present when the explosion occurred and their friends were injured. As you can imagine, it was a chaotic, frightening scene for these young people.

3. Offer Support

After class, we went to the hospital to visit his students and their families. We only stayed briefly, but he wanted his students to know he cares about them.

He also wanted to assure the students their job right now is to focus on healing and not to worry about classes. Engineering students work very hard and right now, they need to rest.

4. Let Them Tell their Story

College students are generally resilient and quite likely most of them (the ones without significant injuries) will jump back into the semester and get it done. Ā Despite that, their brains and bodies won’t forget the force of the explosion. They will need to tell the story, probably many times, of what happened that night as their brains organize the memories and make sense of them.

Traumatic events are chaotic. When we tell the story over and over again, the sequence begins to make sense, the details fall into place, and our brains start to calm. I’m no scientist, but this makes sense to me.

Encourage them to write it down if they find it helpful. Young children may want to dictate the story as you write, Ā or draw pictures to tell the story.

As you know from my eleven years of blogging, the act of writing helps me make sense of my life.


Russ and I haveĀ learned the importance of simply being present with people in their “hard places,” which includes our own children. They come to us with their own explosions, perhaps not like this one which rocked our campus, but explosions that rocked their little worlds.

A parent may have left one day and never returned. Someone may have hurt them in ways we can hardly imagine. One of our children was put in a red car and taken to an orphanage – she never saw her home again.

Let them tell their stories again, and again, and again. Write them down. Draw pictures with them.

Let’s be teachers, friends, co-workers, caregivers, neighbors, and parents, who learn to listen and bring healing.

Lisa

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRIĀ® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

8 Comments

  1. DFNY
    April 20, 2017

    Good to be here again, Lisa. I’ve learned so much from you…like in this piece (and I missed hearing about your family). Thank you for reminding us that trauma can affect you years later, triggered by a new event. And we must be present and open to helping the person through it (even when they don’t know why they feel scared, etc.).

    Damaris

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 20, 2017

      So nice to hear from you, Damaris! I saw your name and my heart felt so happy! Yes, it’s so interesting the way a new trauma, even one we’re not particularly close to, can bring up an old one we thought was long resolved. I love that Russ’ students are talking to him and he “gets” it.

      Reply
  2. Rebecca
    April 20, 2017

    Thank you for sharing. I needed this spot of insight today as I work through parenting and the struggles my youngest child is going through right now.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 20, 2017

      I’m glad it came at the right time, Rebecca.

      Reply
  3. Rebecca
    April 20, 2017

    I love reading this. I hadn’t thought about how our skills can be used elsewhere, but I agree 100%. Traumatic events aren’t as rare as we would hope, and we are equipped with some very helpful knowledge and experience.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 21, 2017

      We really are. Traumatic events aren’t rare, as you said, and they aren’t always big traumas either. Sometimes they are small, but still frightening – a child being briefly lost in the store, an injury, driving a car that breaks down on a busy highway – those are all small traumas for the child or adult experiencing them. Our knowledge of the importance of letting them tell the story, and supporting them in getting help for bigger traumas is always a blessing to those around us. Thanks for the comment, Rebecca.

      Reply
  4. Katy
    April 21, 2017

    Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 21, 2017

      You’re welcome, Katy. Thanks for commenting!

      Reply

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