The Role & Impact of Young Adult Mentors for Kids Facing Childhood Trauma

Several experiences can cause child traumatic stress, including someone close having a life-threatening illness, like a parent being diagnosed with cancer. Trauma can have long-lasting effects on a child's physical, emotional, and mental health. In addition, it can cause post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in some children.

It’s not unusual for kids with a parent diagnosed with cancer to face unique challenges. A parent’s cancer diagnosis can create emotional and psychological issues that increase a child’s stress and anxiety, mood changes, and self-esteem. As a result, children may find it difficult to share their feelings with other family members or friends. Or, they might keep their feelings to themselves. 

Fortunately, many children who have experienced trauma may benefit from the guidance and support of a mentor.

What Is Child Traumatic Stress?

Children who suffer from child traumatic stress have been exposed to one or more traumas and develop reactions that persist and affect their daily lives after the events have ended. Childhood trauma can significantly impact a child's development and well-being.

The ways traumatic stress manifests varies from child to child and depends on age and developmental level, but can include: 

  • Intense and ongoing emotional upset
  • Depressive symptoms or anxiety
  • Behavioral changes 
  • Difficulties with self-regulation
  • Problems relating to others or forming attachments
  • Attention and academic problems
  • Nightmares
  • Difficulties sleeping and eating
  • Physical symptoms, like aches and pains
  • Risky behavior, like substance abuse

How Young Adult Mentors Can Support Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

First and foremost, mentors can ensure that children dealing with a parent with cancer don’t feel alone. Regardless of their situation — dealing with a recently diagnosed parent, one undergoing treatment, a parent who’s a cancer survivor, or the pain of coping with the loss of a parent due to cancer — a mentor will provide support.

A supportive and non-judgemental relationship with a young adult mentor can help provide various benefits for kids (of any age) who have experienced childhood trauma. For example, mentors can:

  • Offer a sense of stability and support for children who have experienced trauma
  • Serve as positive role models and provide guidance on how to cope with the challenges that come with experiencing trauma
  • Help children build healthy relationships, increase their self-esteem, and improve their social skills
  • Listen and validate a child's feelings, helping the child feel heard and understood, which can be especially important for children who have experienced trauma
  • Encourage open communication to create a safe space for a child to talk about their feelings and experiences, and feel more comfortable discussing complex topics
  • Help develop a child’s coping skills to manage the challenges and stress that can come with experiencing trauma
  • Encourage positive self-esteem by encouraging a child to set and achieve goals and by helping them see their strengths and abilities
  • Foster a sense of belonging by building a positive and supportive relationship with them, which helps a child feel more connected and supported

The Kesem Student Leader Volunteer Network

Transformational mentorship is an integral part of the Kesem program model. Each year, more than 4,000 college student leaders across the country, from diverse identities and backgrounds, receive extensive interpersonal skill development and training to help kids manage the stress of a parent diagnosed with cancer at Camp Kesem and through dynamic year-round support services at their local Kesem chapters. These young leaders serve as empathetic, trusted, and positive role models for the children that they serve; with 80% reporting having been affected by cancer previously. The outcome: children connect, heal, and thrive in a safe and supportive community, and student leaders emerge as uniquely well-rounded young professionals; entering the world and workforce able to make critical decisions with compassion and empathy. 

Help Us Empower Children 

Kesem provides life-changing experiences for children facing a parent’s cancer. We offer year-round services, our Camp Kesem summer camp program, and family resources that help children cope with the situation, become resilient, and create new friendships. 

Your generosity allows us to offer Camp Kesem and all other year-round services free of charge, so any child dealing with a parent’s cancer can begin to heal, regardless of their economic situation. 

There are so many ways to give. Donations help Kesem change lives! You can help by participating in fundraising; donating through planned giving, donor-advised funds, or stock donations; attending or sponsoring an event; or shopping at our store. With your support, we can ensure that more children impacted by a parent’s cancer can feel joy, hope, and the magic that is Kesem.

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