Childhood trauma does not define a child.
We know more about childhood trauma and its effect on the developing child than we ever have before. The resiliency of the developing brain provides an opportunity for us to intervene and provide healthy, safe, and nurturing experiences that grow the brain and help heal. We all have the potential to be the person that provides that steady, healing relationship for a child. Here are a five things you can do today to support a child exposed to trauma:
- Recognize the impact of trauma. Consider what has happened to this child versus what is wrong with this child. Educate yourself about how trauma effects the developing child. Ask yourself: “Could trauma exposure be at the root of this situation?”
- Help children feel safe. Feeling safe helps children calm their overactive, stressed out systems and consequently manage their behavior and feelings more effectively. Recognize that your definition of safety will often be different than their definition. Ask: “What would help you feel safe here?”
- Be reliable. Build a relationship with a child or support the child’s existing relationships and family connections. A healthy relationship with one supportive adult is the number one predictor of resilience in children.
- Remind yourself that behavior always has a purpose. A child’s challenging behavior may be their best attempt to cope with emotions that stem from really scary past experiences. Our job as supportive adults is to help them find new, more adaptive, strategies for managing these overwhelming emotions.
- Let them know what is coming next and give choices. Structure and predictability help children feel safe. Offering choices gives them a sense of control, which can be a safe feeling.
This blog article was contributed by Heather Simonich, Operations Director for Nexus-PATH, an agency of Nexus Family Healing.
Nexus Family Healing is a national nonprofit mental health organization that restores hope for thousands of children and families who come to us for outpatient/community mental health services, foster care and adoption, and residential treatment. For over 45 years, our network of agencies has used innovative, personalized approaches to heal trauma, break cycles of harm, and reshape futures. We believe every child is worth it — and every family matters. Learn more at nexusfamilyhealing.org.