Are you noticing a child having trouble with how they speak (the words they use or the way they say them) or with being able to talk about things that may be bothering them?
Speech and language are the ways that we let others know what’s going on in our lives. It may be very difficult for a child to tell someone who can help that something is really bothering them. It might be difficult because they don’t know what to say or how to say it.
Learn some of the more common language reactions to trauma below:
Changes in Speech
Have you noticed that a child around you is talking more rapidly or perhaps a lot slower than usual? Are teachers/counselors telling them that they’re speaking too loud, or asking them to repeat things because it’s hard to hear what they are saying?
This is not about the normal changes in voice tone that all teens go through during puberty. In the weeks or months following a traumatic experience, it could happen that a child’s ability to communicate verbally has changed. Not only the volume of their voice (too loud or too soft) but also the way they say words can be affected.
Have there been times when they start to say something and stutter or stammer?
There are many people who have stuttered all their life, and they have learned to adjust and accommodate. It’s not uncommon to begin to stutter, at least at certain times, following a traumatic experience, and feel embarrassed and distressed. The stuttering or stammering comes from trying to talk too fast or feeling nervous about what is being said. Unhappily, the stuttering itself can cause someone to be even more nervous, which then makes the stuttering worse. If you notice a child upset because of stuttering, try telling them to:
Slow down while talking
Take a deep breath before starting to talk
Stop talking. Wait for a few seconds, then start talking again
Unwilling to talk about your experience
‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
‘I try to not even think about it.’
Do these phrases sound familiar after you talked to a child you believe is suffering from a past traumatic experience? Tell them the following:
You are not alone. It’s not uncommon to want to forget about something bad that happened, and lots of times it’s helpful to be able to move ahead with a positive attitude. It can be different, however, if your unwillingness to talk about a past traumatic experience is because it makes you uncomfortable or nervous especially if a long time has gone by. What’s important is to have the chance to talk to an adult who will listen to what you have to say, not make any judgments about what happened and would not ask you to simply forget about what happened. You can then learn ways to help yourself feel less distressed. No one can ever really know what you are feeling inside or what you are thinking about unless you tell them.
Speech difficulties can include talking too slowly or too quickly, using a too loud or too soft tone, mispronouncing familiar words or using words from our childhood. Stuttering or stammering may interfere with our ability to express ourselves.
Language concerns might cause us to be frustrated by not knowing the words we need to describe how we feel. Telling and re-telling our story or not wanting to talk at all about what happened may be causing us distress.
Pictured above is a piece of artwork designed to help you or those around you dealing with language changes from trauma