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Parenting or working with children can be rewarding, yet difficult. One of the reasons adults experience difficulties with children is we sometimes forget that children are not mini adults. Children are a work in progress. The brain is still under construction until the mid-twenties.
During a child’s developmental period they are fostering relationships, navigating their environment, and gaining independence. They often push boundaries to find out what the limits are. They may question everything to gain clarity and knowledge. They may be mad, sad, and glad within a five-minute time period.
Adults need to lay the foundation for self-regulation, conflict resolution, empathy, and compassion and emotion identification for children. This is especially important when a child has experienced a traumatic event, otherwise known as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE). Through their traumatic experience, they may have determined the world is not always safe, that an adult in their life is not trustworthy, or that they have no control over their life or their world. Their fight or flight response may be on high alert so we typically notice their behavior before we notice them.
Learning to create an environment to support children who have experienced traumatic events is more about a shift of perspective than a curriculum or blueprint. The most important component is to have an understanding of the different types of trauma. For example, trauma may be a one-time experience that taxes the well-being of the child such as an accident or death of a loved one. It may also be a chronic experience such as domestic violence or having a parent who suffers from mental illness or substance abuse.
Once we have a better understanding of trauma, we need to do everything within our control not to re-traumatize the child. Our body language, the words we use, and how we offer support can either help a child heal or cause them more harm.