Archive Secondary Trauma Definition for Parents
Faraz Daneshgari

Faraz Daneshgari

Understanding Secondary Trauma: The Risk for Parents

Faraz Daneshgari

Faraz Daneshgari

Table of contents:

    Secondary trauma is a concept that every parent should be familiar with. To put it simply, examples of secondary trauma happen when someone is exposed to traumatic experiences through someone else, without really experiencing them first-hand. The secondary trauma definition may remind you of the trauma associated with PTSD but without direct exposure to the trauma itself. Besides those such as social workers and police officers, who work in traumatic environments, parents with children affected by trauma are at the risk of experiencing secondary trauma. For parents, understanding this phenomenon is crucial because it can affect not only their sense of well-being but also their ability to effectively assist their children in coming through the traumatic experience.


    Understanding Secondary Trauma

    Compassion fatigue, also known as secondary trauma or vicarious trauma, and sometimes called secondary traumatic stress, especially plagues parents. The trauma of this kind comes when someone is greatly affected by another person’s suffering and their traumatic stories. This happens a lot to parents who witness their children’s traumatic situations or to those involved in the healthcare field, social work, or law enforcement who face trauma head-on every day. Secondary trauma develops in contrast to primary trauma by being acquired indirectly, mainly through one’s hearing of the recounting of traumatic experiences or witnessing the children being affected by horrific events.


    Vicarious Trauma vs. Secondary Trauma

    When we talk about vicarious traumatization, we are actually focusing on the process in which empathy with the trauma sufferer leads to changes in the inner experience of the person trying to work with them. The term “secondary trauma,” however, involves a range of reactions from parents that vicarious trauma may be a part of.


    Signs and Symptoms of Secondary Trauma in Parents

    Parents who have been exposed to their children’s trauma or who work in trauma-exposed professions should be aware of the following secondary trauma stress symptoms:

    • Emotional and Psychological Symptoms: They may show signs of trauma including nightmares or intrusive thoughts about their children’s trauma, chronic worry, rage, indifference, and sadness. There may also be feelings of powerlessness, increased isolation, and a shift in mood that leads to cynicism and confusion.
    • Physical Symptoms: People often experience symptoms of exhaustion, sleep problems, headaches, and stomach troubles. A weakened immune system resulting in recurrent infections might also be suggestive of secondary stress symptoms.
    • Behavioral Changes: As a result of trauma, parents may display hypervigilance or hyperarousal, particularly over their children’s safety, avoidance of situations or talks involving trauma, difficulties with focus, and decreased productivity. There may also be a reluctance to discuss their painful experiences with their children to minimize more trauma exposure.

    Recognizing these signs of trauma is a step towards parents’ well-being and increases their capacity to successfully assist their children. Managing symptoms of secondary traumatic stress requires awareness and suitable coping techniques.


    A visibly distressed father sitting on the couch, experiencing secondary trauma.


    Secondary Trauma in Families

    Trauma does not only affect the person who has experienced it; it reverberates through families. For instance, parents with children who have experienced traumatic events such as domestic violence and natural catastrophes are likely to develop secondary traumatic stress disorder. In other words, one person’s trauma may result in indirect traumas in other members of the family, therefore becoming a shared family experience. This significantly impacts the dynamics of a family, leading to more problems if it remains unaddressed.

    Unfortunately, trauma is often said to be “contagious” inside a family unit. When a kid goes through a terrible experience, it is normal for parents to experience secondary traumatic stress. This phenomenon has been shown in several studies, where post-traumatic symptoms experienced by people indirectly exposed to trauma, such as parents learning about their child’s traumatic experiences, have a substantial emotional and psychological influence on them. This shared trauma experience among families emphasizes the connection of emotional well-being among family members.


    The Impact on Parents’ Mental Health and Daily Life

    Secondary trauma may have a profound and diverse influence on the mental health of parents. This illness mimics the symptoms of PTSD and can have a significant impact on parents’ general well-being and capacity to operate daily. Secondary trauma adds another layer of mental anguish, including “mom guilt” or feelings of inadequacy and shame for not preventing the child’s trauma. Parents may have long-term trauma consequences such as anxiety, sadness, and emotional tiredness, which can interfere with their ability to care for and support their children.

    Parental PTSD is a clinically important result of secondary trauma for both the parent and the kid. It can impair parents’ overall performance, impacting crucial parenting aspects like emotional availability, responsiveness, and the overall parent-child bond. Long-term impacts of trauma include disruptions in emotional well-being, which can affect future generations. Parents with poor mental health and emotional dysregulation may modify their parenting habits, potentially leading to bad developmental consequences for their children. Thus, identifying and managing secondary trauma is critical not just for the parent’s immediate well-being but also for their children’s long-term health and development.


    Coping Strategies for Parents

    Secondary trauma management requires a diversified strategy for parents experiencing compassion fatigue. Among the key tactics are:

    • Defining Boundaries: Parents must set limits on their children’s exposure to depressing content and try to find a balance between their tasks as a parent and their responsibilities regarding their own health.
    • Promoting Physical and Mental Health: Parents’ general health depends on regular physical exercise, a balanced diet, and reasonable sleep. A healthier parent can indeed handle secondary trauma better.
    • Building a Strong Support System: Don’t forget that you always have your friends or family members as people you can trust to listen to what you have to say. These conversations help with your anxiety and stress and make you feel less lonely.
    • Self-Care Activities for Children: One way parents can help minimize the impact of trauma on the family is to encourage children in self-care activities. Provide opportunities for physical exercise, an appropriate diet, and a secure environment. Besides helping the kids get better, these activities can also relieve stress for parents.


    Seeking Support and Professional Help

    Seeking professional support is critical for parents who are facing secondary trauma. The following examples are important to note:

    • Creating a Support Network: This entails reaching out to family and friends for emotional support and understanding. Such networks can foster a sense of belonging and shared experience.
    • Professional Counseling: Another way for parents to seek support is by having sessions with therapists, especially those who utilize Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a very effective method in treating PTSD-like issues.
    • Making Use of Online Resources: Several organizations and websites provide resources for dealing with secondary trauma. The American Institute of Stress is one of these organizations and parents may find it interesting when it comes to dealing with secondary trauma.


    A happy family of four seeking therapy to avoid the secondary trauma getting out of hand.


    Safes: Keeping a Watchful Eye

    In an age when children can be exposed to horrific content via numerous digital channels, our parental control app, Safes, emerges as an ally for parents. Safes is intended to let parents monitor their children’s activities across all of their gadgets beyond what something like Windows parental controls may offer, alerting them to any indicators of trauma or distress. This proactive strategy allows parents to engage early, perhaps preventing difficulties from escalating and leading to secondary trauma. Parents receive a piece of mind by employing Safes, knowing they have a tool to help preserve their children’s emotional well-being, while indirectly helping their mental health in the face of secondary trauma. Safes is available for both iOS and Android.



    Recognizing and managing secondary trauma in parents is more than simply being aware; it is about taking a proactive role in one’s mental health. Parents must recognize the warning signals, seek professional assistance when necessary, and preserve their own well-being via self-care and support systems. Remember that taking care of yourself is not just healthy for you; it is also an important element of giving the greatest care for your child.

    Faraz Daneshgari

    Faraz Daneshgari

    At auctor lacus fusce enim id tempor etiam amet. Et consequat amet eu nulla nunc est massa dui consequat. Facilisi adipiscing nec condimentum sit laoreet non turpis aenean in. Aliquam cursus elementum mollis sed accumsan nisl ullamcorper in.

    Want to know more about digital parenting?

    Our newsletter is your go-to source for staying updated with the latest information on parenting and online child safety. Subscribe to our once a week must have tips, to simplify parenting in the digital age. Read the editor’s top pick of the week to ensure a safe online experience for your child.

    More from Our Blog

    a mother shocked after having learned how to listen to her child’s phone calls
    You might be thinking your child has a stalker or is in contact with a predator but doesn’t know it. Your child might also be getting bullied or harassed on the phone. These are all valid reasons to want to listen to your child’s phone calls, but you have to make sure you’re not taking away their privacy. Privacy and confidentiality between a parent and their child are extremely important and should be taken very seriously. The reason we say confidentiality is important is that if the trust between you and your child is lost, children will become better liars rather than better persons. There are different methods you can use to listen to your child’s phone calls. The most popular method that parents use is using parental control apps. These apps help you with not only listening to your child’s phone calls but also setting additional parental controls. 


    kids playing and socializing around a table
    In this blog post, we will provide a comprehensive guide to effective social skills training for children and discuss their benefits for kids of all ages.


    Alarming Psychological Effects of Watching Violent Movies on Children
    Violent scenes can have deep psychological effects on kids. Let’s take an in-depth look at the psychological effects of watching violent movies on children.


    mother and daughter brushing their teeth in front of the bathroom mirror
    Do you want to create a routine but don’t know where to start? Read on for a free printable chart and to learn how to make a toddler schedule chart.


    Get Weekly Parenting Must-Knows in Your Inbox

    Deepen your parenting knowledge with our tips and tricks. Receive our editor’s top picks in your inbox once a week—no spam guaranteed.

    Download Safes Kids for Chrombook

    1. Install the Safes Kids app on your Chromebook from Google Play. 
    2. Pair Safes Kids with parent app. Follow the instructions in the app to pair your child’s device with your parent device.  
    3. Add the Safe Kids Chrome extension. Open Chrome and go to the Chrome Web Store. 
    4. Navigate to the Manage extensions page. Click the three dots in the top right corner of Chrome and select “Extensions”>”Manage Extensions”>”Details”
    5. Turn on “Allow in incognito mode” This will allow the Safe Kids extension to work in incognito mode, which is important if your child uses incognito mode to try to bypass the parental controls.
    6. Select Safes extension and follow on-screen instruction

    Download Safes Kids for Android

    Download the Android Kid’s app directly to get the full features!

    Download Safes Kids App on Play Store

    Download Safes Kids App on

    Safe Kids is available on the Google Play Store, but if you download it directly from our website, you will get access to Call and SMS monitoring feature, You can monitor the phone calls of your child’s device, as well as the contacts and messages they have sent and received, including those containing inappropriate content.