Nearly half of all children and adolescents have experienced some type of trauma.
See the diagram to the right. If you put together the green and purple pieces of the pie, you see a visual representation of just how common these adverse family experiences are.
Getting Help is Crucial
In the past, there was this idea that "Children are resilient. No matter what they experience, they can overcome." While there is truth to a child's resiliency there is also great danger in "sweeping it under the rug." Children who have had a traumatic experience or who have suffered a loss may appear as though everything is okay. They may tell you they are fine, and they may avoid any discussion of the topic. In reality, there is often a lot going on under the surface.
Here are just a few examples of the short-term effects:
Acting out in social situations
Anxiety or fearfulness
Chronic or recurrent physical complaints
Difficulty with focus
Nightmares and sleep issues
"Spaciness" or seeming to detach from reality
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES) is a longitudinal study, looking at the impact of traumatic stress. Results show a connection between adverse childhood experiences and the following long-term effects:
High-risk behaviors (ex. alcoholism, drug abuse, unprotected sex)
Chronic diseases (ex. cancer and heart disease)
The Younger the Child, The Greater the Impact
People often incorrectly assume that young children aren't as harmed by trauma and aren't as impacted by loss. In the past, professionals ignored the baby that was "sleeping" in another room while a domestic violence incident occurred in another room. Professionals also assumed that children who experienced something scary would simply "grow out of it."
However, the opposite is true. The brain research demonstrates that the younger a child is, the greater that child will be impacted by traumatic stress.
Fortunately, children do have the ability to adapt and heal. While we do not want to assume children will do this on their own, treatment builds upon their resiliency and can allow for healthy healing to occur.
Examples of ways I have helped children with grief and trauma:
Child learns calming techniques that are fun for him (breathing like a bumblebee and blowing out "birthday candles")
Child abuse survivor learns facts about child abuse by playing a fun, non-threatening game
Reading children's book about abuse with a child who was abused in order to "normalize" their experience and gives them a way to talk about their trauma in a way that feels safe.
Yoga moves, stretches, and body movements that can lower heart rate and promote healing.
Allowing a child to "reenact" some scary things she witnessed through imaginative play - this allows her to gain some control over her experience.
Preteen writes song about her deceased parent.
Child and adoptive parent create a "life story" scrapbook to help child make sense of the child's early life experiences.
Young child uses a pretend phone to learn how to dial "911" and rehearses what he will say if he ever needs help.
Using puppets to practice assertiveness and empowerment skills.
Help for Parents/Caregivers
You are the most important part of your child's healing. You want to do as much as you can to help, but it's tough to do it alone - you need your own support. Parent sessions along with parent-child sessions are offered so that you will have the opportunity to gain support and tools during this trying time.
"Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood." -Fred Rogers
*I am currently on maternity leave. Please check back in August 2017!*
Laura Christofferson, Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Registered Play Therapist LCS26576