Risë VanFleet

Helping Children and Families Through Traumatic Events


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If you go to the Parents’ Page of this website, you’ll find a section on how parents and caregivers can help children through traumatic events.   I’ve also included there a list of signs to watch for that might indicate that a child has been traumatized.  Since many of us are involved in treating children who have been exposed to trauma, either directly (or indirectly through the news media), I thought it might be helpful to have a few resources at our fingertips.  The list below is far from exhaustive, but I’ve found these resources to be useful. 

Brave Bart by Caroline Sheppard (illustrated wonderfully by John Manikoff) is a wonderful children’s book about trauma and grief.  Bart is a cat who has been through a “very bad, sad, and scary thing.”  He has some post-trauma symptoms, which are explained in simple language in the book, and then he explains how he was able to overcome them.  I particularly like this book because it does not label what the bad, sad, scary thing was, so it can be used for children experiencing all kinds of trauma. Children have responded exceptionally well to this book, and it is probably my favorite children’s book about trauma.

When Something Terrible Happens by Marge Heegaard is a workbook for children (useful with adults, too) that helps them express their feelings about a traumatic event and helps them determine coping strategies.  It “walks them through” the process of grieving and recovery.  There is space for children to draw, color, or write in response to a question or cue on each page.  This book, also, does not specify the trauma and can be used for many different situations. 

Too Scared to Cry by Lenore Terr is an important resource book on how children respond to trauma.  Based upon her research with the child survivors of the Chowchilla bus kidnapping and many other trauma cases, the book provides a close look at the signs of trauma reactions and the devastating and lifelong impact trauma can have if unnoticed or untreated. This is one of my favorite books for professionals who work with children and trauma.

Play Therapy for Psychic Trauma in Children by Charles Schaefer (a chapter in the Handbook of Play Therapy, Vol. 2) provides excellent information about the impact of trauma on children and how play therapy can be used to treat it. 

Rubble, Disruption, and Tears:  Helping Young Survivors of Natural Disaster by Janine Shelby (a chapter in The Playing Cure) provides excellent information about the impact of natural disasters  on children and how play therapy can be used to treat it.  Much of the information is also applicable to man-made disasters and other traumatic events. Her focus on developmental aspects of trauma intervention is excellent.

Filial Therapy for Children Exposed to Traumatic Events by Risë VanFleet and Cynthia Sniscak (a chapter in the Casebook of Filial Therapy) discusses the value and application of filial therapy with children and families experiencing traumatic situations. It includes adaptations to the filial therapy process for this population.

Another source of information is the National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children, based in Michigan.

Most of the resources listed above are available from a variety of sources, but I know that the Self-Esteem Shop carries them, as well as other useful materials.  They can be reached at www.selfesteemshop.com or at 800-251-8336. 

Play therapy and filial therapy can be extremely helpful to traumatized children and families. They should be conducted only by professionals with appropriate training, supervision, and experience, however. The Family Enhancement & Play Therapy Center offers trainings and consultation/supervision on the use of these approaches for trauma. A new book, Play Therapy for Traumatic Events by Drs. Risë VanFleet and Heidi Kaduson, is in process.

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