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.  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 class 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.  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,  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 have 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.


The Story I Can’t Bear to Tell

When I spoke at a retreat recently, I shared my story of being a first/birth mother and later being so thankful to be found by my son. Each time I speak of him, a few people will come up afterward and ask, “How is your son, Nick, now?”

view whidbey deck

How can I tell them that six months after we lost Kalkidan in a tragic accident, Nick also very suddenly died?

If I can walk away without sharing that news, I won’t add to the weight of my story, which is already weighty enough.

It’s more remarkable than you can imagine.

Nick found me when none of us expected it.

He was a very smart, tech-savvy teen doing a little searching when he stumbled into me online. It was 1995 – long before online registries and forums or Facebook. His parents were opposed and it was very complicated.

The Healing Power of Wearing Love

Love is a powerful force for healing in our lives, both for our children and for us.


When one of our sons was young, he needed many reminders that Russ and I would be his parents forever. We would not leave him. We would not go away.

A very wise therapist advised us to take a picture with him, then print and laminate a few copies. One was hung next to his bed and another pinned inside the little tent he slept in at the time (a sensory processing tool).  A third hung on a piece of yarn he wore around his neck during the day, better yet, we should have put it on a stretchy bracelet or clipped it to his shirt for safety.

Anchors in the Day for Calmer Kids (and Mom)

Anchors in the day provide kids with predictable structure helping them feel calmer and able to trust their needs will be met and we will keep them safe.

sleeping W

Last week I wrote the post, High Structure Parenting for Anxious Kids. As I wrote, I recalled another significant key to creating calm days for our family.


Anchors are solid, predictable events that hold our day in place.

These anchors may not occur at exactly the same time each day (at least not for me), but they occur in the same order and same basic time period.

When the children were young and I homeschooled, those anchors were Breakfast, Quiet Hour, and Dinner.

The kids had routines flowing around these anchors. In the morning they got up and dressed, did chores, helped with little ones, and then we paused.

Anchor #1: Breakfast

Following breakfast there was schoolwork, little ones playing, diapers, morning naps for babies, more chores, more playing, more schoolwork, morning snack, laundry, chores, schoolwork, lunch – you get the picture. Then we paused again.

High Structure Parenting for Anxious Kids

Just what is High Nurture/High Structure Parenting and how does it help anxious kids?

Daddy Kalkidan reading

Last September I wrote a post explaining high nurture/high structure parenting and I was reminded of something from Kalkidan’s early days in our family.

Due to trauma, Kalkidan was extremely hypervigilant, she was always watching and listening, always in a state of fear. Even after being safe and loved for a long time, she remained hypervigilant.

She needed nurture and she was desperate for structure.

Our Two-Step Approach to Food Challenges

Kids and food issues can make dinner a challenge. Kids from “hard places” and food issues can make dinner a war zone.

After nearly thirty years of parenting, you would think we’ve tried every trick. What will they eat, how much will they eat, what will we require? Will we be strict or easy-going? Will we let food become a battle?

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For the most part we chose not to let food issues consume us and were fairly easy-going with our kids. Then we met our daughter who had such severe trauma surrounding food and hunger, the issue commanded our attention.

We worked with her therapist, tucked beef jerky in her pockets, had healthy snacks readily available, did EMDR therapy, and when she began to spin out of control, we always considered hunger as a possible trigger.