Experiencing childhood trauma can leave a significant impact that can follow children into adulthood if not properly cared for. Whether it’s the separation of the family, the loss of a loved one, abuse, neglect, or another kind of traumatic experience, trauma creates a change in the minds—and brains—of those who experience it. The signs of trauma are usually invisible, but the results—disruptive behaviors, unhealthy coping skills and sometimes lifelong difficulties including serious illness—are plainly on display for others to witness. A single traumatic event has impact potentially for a lifetime.
Trauma can be caused from a one time event (acute trauma) or a continual experience (chronic trauma). When interacting with a child who has experienced any type of trauma, these best practices below can help you navigate how to best care for the child with trauma and help them recover in a healthy way.
1.) See the need. Ask yourself, “what does my child need?” when faced with challenging behaviors. Seeing the need means changing your frame of reference so you realize that these behaviors are survival strategies rather than disobedience. Visit child.tcu.edu for some great effective research-based ways to help children with histories of trauma, abuse and neglect from Dr. Karyn Purvis, one of the most respected child advocates in the nation.
2.) Make the child feel safe. Felt safety as defined by Dr. Purvis is, “when you arrange the environment and adjust your behavior so your children can feel in a profound and basic way that they are truly safe in their home with you. Until your child experiences safety for himself or herself, trust can’t develop, and healing and learning won’t progress” (p.48, The Connected Child). Check out this blog for some great tips on felt safety from Dr. Purvis.
3.) Share control. Offer lots of appropriate choices to help the child feel a sense of control over their lives.
4.) Educate yourself. Take the initiative to learn as much as you can about how to best care for your child. Visit a therapist together. Remember, “It is not you against this child. It is you and this child against this child’s history.” – Dr. Purvis.
5.) Acknowledge what your child is feeling. Respect their story and honor their brain’s ability to survive through extremely difficult circumstances. It has rewired for survival and deserves to be honored. When the child can feel fully safe and fully loved, that’s when the brain will be able to relax enough to heal.
6.) Help your child relax and have fun. Nutrition, appropriate exercise, playful interactions, breathing exercises and sensory experiences are all important in the brain’s healing from trauma.