Helping a Child Navigate Trauma


by Melissa Sundwall/ April 5, 2021

There are a few guaranties in this life.  One of them happens to be pain. It’s not a subject we like to dwell on because pain is not something we look forward to.  We occasionally use the adage, “no pain no gain.”  When we recite those words we are implying there’s something good at the end of the pain. And while that’s true in some scenarios, how do we live with pain that seems to have no gain? When our world is shaken by disaster, or our life is forever changed by a traumatic occurrence, we desperately need the care and presence of our friends, family and a deep connection to our Savior. 

As leaders in the church, if you haven’t already walked with a child in the midst of pain, you will. Adults have a difficult time making sense of pain. Just imagine one of the children in your ministry living with the kind of pain he can’t make sense of. I would like for offer suggestions to help as you minister to kids in pain.

  1. When we help a child navigate a loss or trauma we need to be tuned in to the fact that they may come to some illogical conclusions.  For example, the child has experienced some sort of disaster. They may internalize, “I am unsafe.” In this example we need to do more than tell the child he is safe. He routinely needs the physical experience of safety.
  2. Listen for the “I” messages that indicate how they really feel and the conclusions they are coming to about themselves and the world they live in. Children naturally focus on the part they play in an event or story, which means they often over emphasize their role in traumatic events. For example, when a child goes through the divorce of their parents it is very common for them to believe that somehow it was their fault or their actions contributed to the divorce. These “I” statements could sound like, “it’s my fault” or “I’m bad”.
  3. Be present. Kids need to have an adult example that helps to make God real to them in the moment whether they’re sad, angry or frustrated, 1 John 4:11-12 (NLT). There are examples in the Bible of people expressing their feelings e.g. Martha—grief, John 11:20-27 (NLT), Jesus’—anger, Matthew 21:12-13 (NLT), David—confusion, Psalm 22 (NLT). God is not offended by our feelings. In fact, being honest with God is an important step in the healing process.

As we minister to children experiencing pain keep Jesus’ words in mind, “What is the price of two sparrows—one copper coin? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it” Matthew 10:29 (NLT). He is faithful to us in our times of need. As we walk with kids through times of sorrow, pain or trauma we can know that God will answer their call. He will be present with them. King David reminds us, “Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I’m not afraid when you walk at my side. Your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure” Psalm 23:4 (MSG).