Recently, the Chicago Tribune posted an article online (November 3rd, 2010) entitled, “Safe from the Start Seeks to Help Kids Exposed to Violence: Program Provides Counseling to Children, Caregivers.” Pillars, a local social service agency, developed this program to provide therapeutic treatment to address the psychological damage to children who have been exposed to violence. The article talks about the different ways in which children can be exposed to violence and lists some behavioral indicators to watch for that suggest a child may be traumatized. Some of these indicators include: sudden changes in sleep patterns; crying, clingy behavior; unusual fear; easily startled; disruptive behavior; tantrums; regression in developmental skills; and lack of interest in previously enjoyable activities. Maintaining routines, providing reassurances of safety, and talking, responding, and listening to the child are a few of the ways to begin to help the child work through a traumatic experience.
As a child therapist, having worked with numerous traumatized children, I can attest to the significant impact traumatic experiences can have on a child's psychological well being and development. Children depend on their caregivers to provide a safe, secure, consistent environment in which to grow and thrive. Trauma disrupts this environment and can leave children feeling emotionally overwhelmed and unable to manage their feelings. These feelings can then erupt as behavior problems.
It is important, though, to also be mindful of the children that do not exhibit obvious behavioral problems after trauma. These children sometimes get overlooked because they are not acting out but they still may be suffering; they are just internalizing those feelings instead of acting them out. This is just as harmful to the psyche. Whenever children experience trauma, and no matter what their external reaction, it is important to re-establish a sense of security and provide them with a safe space to work through their experiences.
Articles like this one in the Chicago Tribune help shed light on the importance of being mindful of children’s experiences, paying attention to their behaviors and providing a safe, consistent environment for them to heal.