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Responding to a young person who has grief, loss or intergenerational trauma

A child’s or young person’s own coping style and mental wellbeing can have a big influence on how well they recover from a traumatic event.

It is also important to be aware of your own coping style and mental wellbeing when working with young people who have experienced grief, loss or intergenerational trauma. Look after yourself and seek help as early as possible if you are finding it hard to cope.

If you find that a young person you are working with is having problems as a result of grief, loss, intergenerational trauma or a specific traumatic event, it may be good to seek professional support for them.

Phoenix Australia is Australia’s National Centre of excellence in posttraumatic mental health. They offer the following guidance for helping children and teenagers who are exhibiting behaviour such as challenging or withdrawn, that reflect past trauma:

It is normal to find [their behaviour] frustrating, but expressing anger or blaming the young person for this behaviour might make things worse. Instead, try the following strategies.

  • Reassure the young person that they are safe and cared for.
  • Listen and talk to the young person about the trauma. Like adults, young people often find what they don’t know to be more frightening than the reality.
  • Encourage the young person to express their emotions—this is part of the healing process, and can happen through a variety of creative ways, like painting or music. Art and music have been an integral part of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures.
  • Encourage the young person to participate in activities with their family and/or community.
  • Keep family roles clear. Don’t expect young people to take on too much responsibility, but don’t become overprotective either. Try to be understanding of where they are in their journey of recovery.

Using cultural identity development to overcome emotional and psychological pain

Providing the young person with positive role models and cultural information from community elders or cultural practice advisors. Allow young people to develop a spiritual connection to country and culture through the development of a cultural support plan that is structured in partnership with cultural practice advisors, family members and/or an independent person. This can assist them in forming a positive cultural identity as a source of strength.


"Being Aboriginal is not the colour of your skin or how broad your nose is. It is a spiritual feeling, an identity you know in your heart… It is a unique feeling that is difficult for a non-Aboriginal to fully understand." (Linda Burney, cited in SNAIC, 2008, p. 5.)

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