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Trauma And Kids

Author: Kathleen Nelson-Simley Posted: Thursday - June 25, 2020

The Best “Welcome Back” Gift You Can Give

Do kids experience trauma? Can the effects be long-lasting? Can trauma be treated? Can kids be happy again after experiencing trauma? The answer to all of these questions is, “Yes”!

Trauma is actually quite common among kids. In a groundbreaking research project called, The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACES), Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention studied over 17,000 participants in the San Deigo, CA, area. Participants were given a questionnaire asking if they had experienced any difficult childhood events, such as a death in the family, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, parent imprisonment or similar events. Surprisingly, this study found that over 50% of all kids experience at least one traumatic event before the age of 17! It’s important to note that the study was conducted on primarily white, middle-class participants. In areas where there are high amounts of crime, poverty, or drugs, the incidence of trauma in kids can be as high as 100%!

I have to wonder then…If we surveyed ALL elementary, middle school and high school aged students today, what percentage of them would report having already experienced a traumatic event in their life?

I think the percentage would be much higher than 50%. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was close to 100%.

Why wouldn’t this surprise me? Because we are ALL experiencing life with COVID-19.

A traumatic event can be defined as exposure to actual or threatened injury or death. COVID-19 is all of that – for all of us – even kids. COVID-19 has threatened our sense of security, safety and life.

Any experience can be traumatic when it triggers a stress response and is difficult to understand, process or cope with. The COVID-19 pandemic exasperated stressors already present in families, as well as created new stressors where none existed previously. Families have been struggling with so many uncertainties. Will I keep my job? Where will the next meal come from? Will we have enough money for the next rent or mortgage payment? How can I access and afford healthcare if I need it?

Sometimes we tend to think of trauma as a single event. However, for some kids, trauma can be recurring, such as being bullied day after day, witnessing frequent intense arguments, experiencing abuse in the home or seeing repeated violence in their neighborhood, the media or online. With families sheltering at home 24/7 for months, it has been almost impossible for some kids to escape the recurring traumatic events happening within their home.

Trauma And Kids

As you prepare to welcome kids back to your school or organization you should expect each of them to be in a different stage of recovery from the traumatic experience of living with COVID-19. All of us respond to trauma in different ways.

Many of us show resilience and won’t develop long-term emotional, mental or physical problems after experiencing a traumatic event. Some of your kids will not have succumbed to the traumatic experiences, risks or hardships of COVID-19.

There will be other kids whose traumatic experience with COVID-19 will diminish greatly the minute they walk through your doors and into an environment of familiarity, structure, safety and support. However, there will also be kids walking through the same doors who will bring traumatic experiences from COVID-19 with them.

Having a trauma-sensitive environment or community your kids walk into on the first day and every day thereafter is so important. A trauma-sensitive community helps kids overcome negative feelings of a traumatic experience and diminishes the severity of it long term.

Trauma can cause feelings of disconnection for kids and it can undermine their overall success. Creating a trauma-sensitive community in which all your kids feel safe, welcomed and supported is important and requires you to build it on the following principles:

  • Safety

  • Trustworthiness and transparency

  • Peer support and mutual self-help

  • Collaboration and mutuality

  • Empowerment, voice and choice

  • Consideration, recognition and provision for cultural, historical and gender issues

Creating this kind of a community doesn’t happen quickly or easily. It requires care, commitment, collaboration and consistency by everyone in your organization. It is critical that kids feel safe and connected in all parts of your organization and not just in one program or with one teacher or staff person.

What kind of a community will your kids walk into when they come through your doors again? Will they feel safe, welcomed and supported by everyone in your organization? Welcoming your kids back to a trauma-sensitive community is one of the best “welcome back” gifts you can give all of them. It’s also one of the best gifts your organization can invest in.

P.S. How Trauma-Informed Schools Help Every Student Succeed is a great article about what being a trauma-sensitive and informed school/organization means and requires. I encourage you to give it a read. Note in the article how integral restorative practices are to any trauma-sensitive approach. If you didn’t attend the webinar, Bringing Restorative Practices to Your Students, I hosted in April you will want to watch the replay of it. I would also recommend you reach out to the webinar presenter, Bill Michener, the national independent licensed trainer of restorative practices, to discuss how you can incorporate restorative practices into your trauma-sensitive community.