“Calm down!” Sounds simple, but for many young children it is a foreign concept unless and until we show them how. Especially if they had known more overwhelm than calm.
Young children who experience overwhelming events such as neglect, severe stress, abuse, chronic illness, or sudden separation at a young age can be traumatized. The world around them no longer–maybe never–feels safe. They don’t know how to regulate, how to calm themselves, how to manage when they get upset. They act out, they hit, they don’t listen, they ‘misbehave.’ They have a hard time making good decisions, explaining their actions, or utilizing memory. They fall behind at school, socially, in their ability to learn new things, communicate, or play.
Trauma changes the brain and can interfere with development. It also creates a vicious cycle of hyper-vigilance and checking-out that costs children opportunities for learning, interaction, and connection.
Children need adult support to manage traumatic aftermath. They cannot be expected to find the way without help. Many of them may need psychotherapy, but even then they need support in non-therapeutic interactions in the day to day. Support that we can all learn to provide by understanding trauma. By knowing what trauma is and how it works, recognizing what it does, how it affects children, and learning what we can do to help reduce its effects so a child get traction in the now.
In an excellent opinion article in the NYTimes this week: Teaching Children To Calm Themselves, David Bornstein details one such system of support set in place, and how it already works to change the lives of the children as well as of the adults who care for them: teachers, caregivers, siblings, even the school-bus drivers. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/03/19/first-learn-how-to-calm-down/
Read it. Then share it with anyone who works with children. Or who has one.
Spread the word. Our children are worth it. Open the path to teaching calm.
For more information about the impact of trauma on communication, check The Language of Trauma, and other publications here.
For more information about how to help traumatized children at home and in the classroom, check the links to the ISSTD’s FAQ pages here.