When a little child falls from the swingset in the backyard or playground, it can be a traumatic experience. As parents, what’s our immediate response? We run to the child, pick him or her up, take the child into our arms, and either kiss the ‘boo-boo’ or just soothe that child with words and hugs. We are helping that child develop resilience and envelope them with love and safety. It is those responses which help prevent lasting fears of swings and enable that child to try again. These events can be perceived as traumas, but we help children perceive them as simple accidents along the way to skill building.
Depending on our responses to the experience, adults can help prevent a child from developing a long-lasting fear of swings. If bitten by a dog for the first time, depending on our response a child can either become fearful of dogs throughout their lives or learn to be cautious around dogs or some dogs. These are not to be confused with many of the traumas which may impact a child’s coping or normal attitudes and behaviors in home, life or school settings.
Being trauma-informed is important for educators, child welfare workers and even more important for parents. Complex trauma describes ongoing experiences through which stress becomes unnmanageable to the point of threatening our physical and psychological integrity. Extremely vulnerable children and youth often experience multiple trauma-inducing events throughout their lives, which affect their ability to develop appropriate coping skills.
Remember fight or flight response as a way to describe reactions to situations in which we feel threatened in some way. Among these two reactions is also the freeze response: ” Fight, flight or freeze!” During traumatic stress responses, the thought processing and verbal parts of the brain are overrun in favor of that fight, flight or freeze response. When a child feels threatened, their responses may be to cry and yell, run away, or hold their breath and stop moving completely. Can you tell which response is associatted with fight, flight, and freeze?
Because chronic stress and accumulated trauma cause long lasting consequences, it is important for parents and teachers to understand how a child’s experiences may affect their behaviors. His or her response depends on factors which include developmental age, their relationship to the perpetrator or victim and the challenges they face after the traumatic experience.
How do we support a child or youth affected by trauma? Children who’ve experienced trauma need to feel safe, and all parents want to provide this type of nurturing home for their child. Unfortunately, when parents or teachers do not understand the effects of trauma, they may misinterpret children’s behavior and feel frustrated. Attempts to manage troublesome behaviors may be ineffective and often harmful. By increasing your knowledge of trauma, you can support your child’s healing, recovery, your relationship and family as a whole.
Trauma may affect children’s( …) in the following ways:
• Inability to control physical responses to stress
• Chronic illness, even into adulthood (heart disease, obesity)
• Difficulty thinking, learning, and concentrating
• Impaired memory
• Difficulty switching from one thought or activity to another
• Low self-esteem
• Feeling unsafe
• Inability to regulate emotions
• Difficulty forming attachments to caregivers
• Trouble with friendships
• Trust issues
• Depression, anxiety
• Lack of impulse control
• Fighting, aggression, running away
• Substance abuse
Factors that determine the impact of traumatic events include :
- Age. Younger children are more vulnerable. Even infants and toddlers who are too young to talk about what happened retain lasting “sense memories” of traumatic events that can affect their well-being into adulthood
- Frequency. Experiencing the same type of traumatic event multiple times, or multiple types of traumatic events, is more harmful than a single event.
- Relationships. Children with positive relationships with healthy caregivers are more likely to recover.
- Coping skills. Intelligence, physical health, and self-esteem help children cope.
- Perception. How much danger the child thinks he or she is in, or the amount of fear the child feels at the time, is a significant factor.
- Sensitivity. Every child is different—some are naturally more sensitive than others.
The effects of trauma vary depending on the child and the type of traumatic events experienced. It is important that parents and educators and professionals who work with children understand trauma.The right kind of help and intervention can reduce or even eliminate many of the negative consequences.
Children are naturally resilient. Some stress in their lives help their brains grow and new skills to develop. However, trauma by definition occurs when a stressful experience, such as being abused, neglected or bullied, overwhelms a child’s ability to cope.These events cause that fight, flight or freeze response, resulting in chsnges in the body[faster heart rate, higher blood pressure]as well as changes in how the brain perceives and responds to the world.
In many cases the body and brain recovers very quickly with no lasting harm. For some children, however, trauma interferes with normal development and can have lasting effects.