We now know that at this current time many of our Maui families, parents and children, are coping with recent and past trauma from a local training program that was offered to our keiki. This article is intended to give you some tools to move forward. It is intended for all parents and children, because trauma sometimes reaches us even when we do the best we can to protect and keep children safe. Life happens and it’s important we know how to support our children and ourselves in healing.
It’s important to recognize trauma in children so that we do not mistake it for behavioral or discipline problems. Some children become withdrawn, have a blank look on their faces, and become very quiet and do not speak. Other children may act out and become aggressive toward others, animals, themselves, or throw tantrums around given tasks.
You might see anxiety attacks, which have symptoms of a racing heart beat, heavy breathing and flushed skin. Signs of trauma can come and go. Your child may improve for many months and then have a regression with the concerning behaviors reoccurring. It’s important to understand how trauma works in the body and mind so that later on you don’t think that your child should be ‘over this by now.’
It is also important to be able to recognize when we are traumatized as parents by the occurrence, and protect our kids from any additional trauma of seeing us overly anxious and/or unable to cope with anxieties. It is important to seek help for your own coping at these times if you are struggling. Children need to feel that we are a stabilizing force – we know how to keep them safe and regulate our emotions, so that they can go through what they need to go through. It’s important to be human and allow yourself your feelings and that’s why having support systems; close friends to talk to and professionals to help you understand the experience are essential.
Simple ways to support trauma healing:
Provide new and corrective experiences. New experiences that are not re-traumatizing help trauma healing. For example, if your child is beginning to resist using the toilet after having been trained with force or with tactics that would be considered abusive, each time you take your child to the bathroom (without force) use a soft voice, perhaps relaxing music and reassuring words so you are correcting your child’s experience. If they are not successful with completion using the toilet at that time you reassure them that it’s okay and that one- day they’ll be ready very soon. Make the experience feel ordinary, although you’re doing things to make sure that the environment is soothing and calm. Compassion and patience is as close to a magic wand for healing as there can be. These corrective experiences allow them to feel safe and secure. When your children sees that you’re capable to provide that for them and that they are safe they will begin to be able to heal and acquire new skills in a healthy way.
Do not persist and talk about the trauma with children unless they bring it up to you. Sometimes I have seen parents talk about an experience with a child because they need to process it for themselves. Process with adults and professionals. If your child is not bringing it up to you, you do not need to bring the issue up again, allow them this time to heal.
Give your child coping skills and outlets for expression:
If your child brings up the incident, allow them to speak or express freely in the ways they can. Give them paper and crayons so that they can draw about the experience or dictate to you what they’d like to say about their drawings. Be nonjudgmental and very neutral. Act as a witness with compassion and understanding. Our kids need to know we can handle what they need to share with us. You can make a picture book of your child, doing all his or her favorite activities, and dictate the story in the picture, which would assist to improve the self-esteem that became impacted in the trauma. These are some simple tools being offered as you are with your child most of the time and things will come up . For intended therapeutic work, working with a professional for guidance is recommended.
Trauma isn’t always something we can identify easily. Trauma can occur from incidents that do not involve abuse. When we had to give my son’s dog away, that was traumatizing for him. Two years later he still draws about his dog and talks about his sadness around it. As a parent, I certainly felt a lot of guilt about my decision. Working toward self-forgiveness is certainly a big task sometimes, but when you begin that path you will energetically assist your child in their healing. You will be able to be more clear headed and centered for them which is what they need right now.
Seeking the advice and support of a mental health professional may really help. And keep your ohana close and be there for each other. Be reassured that children do recover when given the right environment for healing especially when they’re so young. As a parent remember the simple moments with new corrective experiences and outlets for expression are invaluable tools that are at your disposal anytime.
Image Credit: Catherine Velasquez