Have you noticed your children or students having more trouble concentrating lately? Do they have difficulty following through with directions? Are they more scattered and disorganized?
Are the children you live or work with often irritable? Do they have a shorter fuse or lower frustration tolerance? Are they inclined to argue or snap at others? Do they struggle with transitions – moving from one activity to another, quickly and cooperatively?
Have you noticed your kids being more withdrawn into themselves? Do they tend to avoid or put off things they need to do? Do they worry or fret about what’s going to happen next? Seek reassurance? Do they have more difficulty falling asleep or sleeping soundly?
Do you notice them over-reacting to small, daily hassles? Are their minds preoccupied with themes of threat, danger, and personal safety? Do they get down on themselves to the point of feeling useless or helpless? Do they seem overwhelmed and exhausted?
And how about you?
We are all under enormous stress these days, facing great uncertainty about our physical and psychological health, as well as our social and economic stability. The combination of coronavirus pandemic, social injustices, economic downturn, and environmental catastrophes are overwhelming our basic sense of safety and security. Compounding this distress is a deep, dark divide in our civil and political discourse.
On top of this current chaos, fully one-half of our children have personally experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) such as child abuse or neglect and family violence, mental illness, or substance abuse.
Numerous studies of ACES have shown the toxic effects of these conditions. Traumatic stress, when left untreated, leads to a host of physical and mental health problems throughout childhood and well into adulthood.
Studies show significant increases in anxiety and depression, anger and aggression, family and peer relationship problems. Youth who have experienced trauma have more attention, memory, and learning problems. They are more likely to show extreme emotional reactions and behavioral disruptions. They have more physical complaints, including headaches, stomaches, and sleep difficulties. They are at higher risk for chronic gastro-intestinal, auto-immune, and heart disease. They are also at higher risk for future domestic violence, substance abuse, and criminal arrests.
Why is this? Because when we experience traumatic events – when we feel under threat of immediate danger – our nervous system automatically kicks into survival mode. We literally jump into high gear with “Fight, Flight, or Freeze” stress reactions.
If we experience chronic or severe enough stressors, our brains get stuck in this hyper-vigilant, hyper-reactive state. We become prone to seeing things as more dangerous than they actually are. We become more likely to react with aggression or withdrawal to protect ourselves.
We – our children – can get caught in a vicious cycle of traumatic stress that actually impairs brain development. When the “Fight or Flight” brain circuits are lit up repeatedly, they get bigger, stronger, and faster. This leads to children (and adults) being prone to more impulsive and emotional reactions, which often begets more trouble adjusting to home, school, and life.
To avoid this downward spiral, we need now more than ever to provide Trauma-Informed Care to our children.
What is trauma-informed care?
Trauma-informed care is an approach to raising and teaching our children that recognizes these toxic effects of traumatic stress on our children’s developing brains. With a more informed understanding of why children may have trouble paying attention, regulating their emotions, or controlling their behaviors, we can more empathically and effectively respond them.
When we are more responsive to our children’s needs, rather than reactive ourselves, then they will learn how to regulate their emotions better.
With trauma-informed care, we can create a virtuous cycle, or upward spiral, that teaches our children how to be resilient in the face of stress. We can serve as emotional coaches to our children. We can teach them how to respond thoughtfully (“tend and befriend”), rather than react emotionally (“fight or flight”). We can teach them self-awareness and self-control, rather than getting into so many behavioral control battles with them.
How do we do this? We remain clear, calm, and kind. We provide traumatized youth with safe, predictable structures that promote a sense of security. We provide safe, empowering opportunities for choices and collaboration. We make sure our children are sufficiently SEEN, SOOTHED, and STRENGTHENED.
In this way, we can move forward from perpetuating post-traumatic stress to promoting post-traumatic growth. We can help heal our children and our communities.
Upcoming Special Event!
Interested in learning how YOU can make a difference in the lives of your children and students?
Join us on September 9th at 7:00 pm for September’s FREE “Wellness Wednesday” Webinar:
Why Trauma-Informed Care Matters
– Now More Than Ever
To participate in this LIVE webinar, just make sure you’re registered as a Subscribing Member of our Mindful Village. If you’re not already subscribing to our weekly email updates, you can sign up here, now.
Then you’ll receive a reminder email with the link for this free community presentation on the morning of the program.
Hope to see you there!