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Trauma-Proofing Your Kid

Trauma effects us all. Read a synopsis of one of the best books of all times about how to deal with trauma.

Book written by Peter Levine Ph.D. & Maggie Kline 2008

This book is a must for every parent, teacher, coach or anyone who works with kids. It has valuable information to help children reclaim their vitality, alleviate symptoms and develop resiliency to future upsets and adverse childhood experiences. It teaches them to unlock their innate resilience, release trauma, and return to calm.

“Trauma is the antithesis of empowerment.”

This book is an excellent resource for teachers to understand what trauma is and how to deal with it. Although pain can’t be avoided, trauma is a fact of life, but so is resilience, -the capacity to spring back. There are things teachers can do that are considered a recipe for resilience that increase a child’s tolerance to every day stress and become stronger, more peaceful, caring, joyful and compassionate human beings.

Trauma can come from more extreme things such as physical violence and molestation, as well as other events such as an accident, death, and divorce. There is also developmental trauma that comes from repeated maltreatment and neglect that can come from adults and peers. All of these can cause children to withdraw, lose confidence, or develop anxiety and phobias. The may have aggression, hyperactivity, and as they grow older, addictions.

Helping Kids Move Through Troubling Events: A resiliency philosophy

  • You must feel even if it feels bad.
  • Whatever feels bad is never the final step.
  • It is the movement from emotional fixity to flow that frees us from the grip of trauma as we become more resilient and self-aware.
  • When a child does get hurt, it is crucial that you let the child process that experience/pain.
  • The goal is to stay with the child and reassure him/her and help them release tears, fears and strange new feelings.
  • Children become more resilient as their body learns to come back to balance.
  • Sensory awareness is a very important part of childhood development. It promotes intelligence and self awareness and the foundational ingredients for resiliency.
  • It is very effective to develop a kid’s sensation vocabulary such as taste, sound, smell, touch, (i.e. tickly, cool, bitter, light, medium, heavy, salty, sweet, creamy, hard, slippery, cold, dry, relaxed, numb, loud, soft.)
  • When a child experiences trauma, the physiological chain of events only become traumatic because of an incomplete process in the body.
  • Remember that this process is naturally inclined to complete itself whenever possible. You must let your child naturally process emotions with support. The child needs to unwind the energy that was stirred up during the upset.
  • You must trust your child’s innate ability to heal.
  • A nervous system accustomed to experiencing and releasing stress is healthier than a nervous system burdened with an ongoing, if not accumulating, level of stress.
  • Children who are encouraged to attend to their instinctual responses are rewarded with a lifelong legacy of health and vigor.

What to do when your child (student) has a major trauma (and can be adapted to move through smaller traumas).

  1. Calm yourself first. Get curious. Ask yourself, “What can I do to help relieve and resolve the feelings of fear, betrayal and shame that may underlie this child’s puzzling behavior?”
  2. Assure safety and allow them to stay calm for a while.
  3. It is important that they have connected space to let their body begin the process. Do not try to fix it.
  4. After the child has begun to make eye contact with you (or has moved through the shock), guide and help them connect to their sensations with open questions like, “What are you feeling?” or “How do you feel in your _____(body location, i.e. stomach, leg, that was hurt)”.
  5. Be silent in-between questions to allow the body to naturally use its resource to come back to balance.
  6. Allow all emotion and sensations to move through until they stop it on their own.
  7. Say things like: “That’s OK.” “That’s alright.” “Just let the scary stuff shake right out of you”.
  8. When an injury is over, the child will begin to look around and start to orient themselves; this is a sign of resolution, (or if they begin to regulate themselves in other instances).
  9. Encourage the child to rest.
  10. Whatever feelings the child has afterwards, help them not feel weird or defective in some way. What ever the child is feeling, let him/her know by your actions that it is accepted by you and worthy of your time and attention.
  11. Have the child draw a picture or talk more about it if he/she needs to.
  12. There are activities that children can practice to help them move through (rebound from) trauma. You can use guided play, art activities and rhymes. (See book.)
  13. Children should not be forced to do more than they are willing and able to do.
  14. Slow down if you notice signs of fear.
  15. Wait quietly and patiently and assure the child you are on his/her side.
  16. The child’s eyes and breathing will tell you what to pay attention to.

Summary written by Kim Griffith MA, BCC

Reflections from Kim Griffith

Although parents that learn this have more time and space to do these things, we (at i.b.mee) have found with proper training, teachers can create trauma proof classrooms as well as help their students move through challenging behaviors using age appropriate resiliency activities, such as guided play, art, and others that build connected communication and relationships.

Teachers have been taught to say to students when something bad happens to shake it off, get over it, or you are ok without any process of feelings. They have been taught that when a student is misbehaving, to punish him/her. We now know that it is the opposite. It is important to get curious, set good boundaries, and then allow them to express. For the child to be acting that way, means something is bothering them and a need is aching to be met. We must allow emotion without being overly protective and be willing to not put too much attachment or emphasis on what they are experiencing, but be a calm confident guide to them.

It is worth buying the book to learn the activities Dr. Levine provides to adapt to the classroom as well as learn the science behind why your students are behaving the way they are. It is time to get curious instead of angry, frustrated and labeling them bad or problem kids. Emotions are the new normal. Creating a connected environment that supports kids to process their emotions is the key to building resiliency and success.