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Dealing with childhood trauma | Dr Kaylene Henderson


Childhood trauma is a really broad term, there
are lots of different adverse experiences that children can perceive as traumatic
so for some kids, they might have had the unfortunate experience of, say, a sudden overwhelming
or frightening event things like an earthquake or a car accident
or a house fire can certainly be perceived as traumatic for some children
for others the adverse situation might be more prolonged, so spanning a longer period
of their development so we might see this for example in children
who’ve come from refugee families or perhaps for children who’ve had really
life-threatening illnesses and required a long period of hospitalisation
most commonly though the term childhood trauma really refers to children’s experience of
relational trauma and by that I mean the experience of a care-giving
relationship that’s either frightening, abusive or unresponsive
and sadly many children experience this kind of relationship, they experience abuse, neglect,
and family violence sometimes further complicated by parents mental
illness or substance use and in these situations young children are
doubly affected, not only by the traumatic incidents that they’ve experienced
but also by the lack of healthy, supportive relationships during that really critical,
early stage of their development To know how best to help it’s important that
we first understand the impact that trauma has on children
and unfortunately there’s no clear formula for predicting this
we can’t say “this type of abuse leads to this particular problem” because the reality
is always much more complicated than that instead we consider the complex interplay
between many factors, we need to consider the nature, the severity,
the duration of the trauma – for example – the temperament of the child
and also the level of support and quality of other relationships in the child’s life
there are also lots of other factors that can co-occur in these situations
so for example we consider whether the child was exposed to toxins, say like drugs and
alcohol while in the womb or they may have experienced physical injuries
or nutritional deficiencies or the families financial hardship, these
can all play a role on influencing children’s outcomes
age matters too of course, during that first year of life in particular, important brain
pathways develop making that first twelve months a particularly
critical period when infants experience trauma during this
period the impact can certainly be much greater, given the disruption to their early brain
development naturally, since there are a broad range of
factors that influence the effects of trauma those that care for or work with these children
may notice a broad range of resulting difficulties they may notice troubles relating to a child’s
overall development, or their ability to concentrate, their learning, cognitive capacity, or their
social skills children who’ve experienced trauma may have
difficulty problem solving, or have trouble controlling their impulses
they’ll often find it hard to calm down from big feeling states and may rely on physical
strategies, such as rocking or head-banging it helps to understand too that children who
have been maltreated usually never reach a totally calm state
and may instead always be on the lookout for danger
because they’re often on edge they can find transitions particularly hard to deal with
and may over-react to seemingly minor changes in their routine or environment
these kids may also struggle to read other’s facial expressions and intentions, and often
demonstrate really challenging behaviours for educators
children who’ve experienced early trauma also develop what we call a “negative internal
working model” and that means, they may have learned to see
themselves as unworthy, or unloveable they will have come to see others as rejecting
or unavailable, and the world as unsafe and these differences in how they see themselves,
others, and the world, will naturally influence how they interpret various situations and
choose to respond of the earlier we get in to help the better,
it’s important that we ensure children’s safety and make sure they get access to the professional
help they and their carers might need to recover that said, there’s a lot that educators and
others can do to help too this is one of the topics that I cover in
much more detail in my webinar series that your educators are very welcome to access
but essentially, the key to helping children heal from this type of early childhood trauma
is to build a strong positive relationship with them
this really is THE most healing thing you can do, once we have this foundation we can
then start to address any of the important developmental tasks or
skills that a child may not have gained but they really need to feel safe with us
in order to learn these there are three important elements that you’ll
need to consider when helping children in this way
firstly, you need to reduce uncertainty, and to increase children’s sense of safety
these kids need consistency, they need to feel like they’re in a safe predictable place
with you so that their physiological systems can gradually
relax try to preempt any transitions and make sure
you provide enough warning and support consider how you can provide that consistency
and predictability in your physical environment, in your room,
in your mealtime, staffing, even in how you smell
even little things like wearing the same scent or perfume each day can be reassuring to a
child and can really add to their sense of safety
and certainty when they’re with you secondly, focus on building trust and to help
children feel understood and accepted in their relationship with you
be honest and trustworthy, do what you say you’ll do
if you tell a child that you’ll play a certain game with them after lunch then make sure
you do remember small things about these kids and
let them know that you’ve remembered help them to feel valued and special
model self-control in your own words and actions it’s helpful too with these kids to use non-blaming
language when responding to their behaviour and to try to always avoid showing anger,
both on your face and in your voice, since this will often be perceived by these
children as dangerous you can see that just by focusing on these
two areas: so reducing uncertainty, and helping children feel understood and valued
you’re helping to positively influence their internal working models that we spoke about
before over time with your help they can begin to
shift from seeing themselves, their relationships in the world, in a negative light
to starting to see themselves as loveable, others as reliable, and the world as mostly
safe and that’s an incredibly healing shift
finally, once you’ve established this foundation, you’ll be in a wonderful position to teach
these kids any of the skills and strategies that they’re
yet to master so for example teaching them how to problem
solve, or to read different facial expressions, how to manage various social challenges,
or perhaps to teach them how to calm down this will become and important part of your
role when you’re working with children who’ve experienced this kind of trauma
it’ll help to think creatively about how you might teach these skills, you might consider
using role plays, or storybooks, or structured play activities for example
of course many children will still need professional therapeutic support,
but ultimately the goal should be for carers, educators, and, therapists to all work together so that they can each contribute to the child’s recovery educators are in a particularly powerful position
to help through their ongoing daily interactions by understanding the ways in which trauma
can impact on children’s development, we can really start to see the best ways to help
to those of you watching, I hope you never underestimate the importance of your role
and the truly lasting impact that you all have on children’s lives

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