Tag Archive for: Megan Shake

By Megan Shake, LSW – April 19, 2022

Childhood trauma is defined as adverse childhood experiences that are emotionally painful or distressful. Trauma can be caused by a multitude of things, including but not limited to, physical abuse or neglect, emotional abuse or neglect, sexual abuse, death of a loved one, separation from a family member, poverty, serious medical conditions, accidents, disasters, domestic violence, a parent with a mental illness, substance abuse within a family, and incarceration of a family member. Ultimately, there are an unlimited number of things that can be classified as traumatic.

What the definition of trauma does not tell you is that trauma actually changes the brain. It overwhelms your thoughts, emotions, and body. When you experience something that overwhelms you, it can rewire your brain and body.

According to a report from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, not only does trauma cause neurological changes, but it can also cause immune system and hormone level changes. Additionally, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that children between the ages of 3 to 6 who are exposed to trauma may have difficulty learning in school, be unable to trust others or make friends, show poor skill development, lack self-confidence, and may be more likely to experience stomach aches or headaches.

When looking at parts of the brain, studies have shown trauma effects the amygdala, which is the part of the brain that controls emotions. Trauma can cause the amygdala to be hyperactive. That means even when danger is not present, the amygdala still might activate a “fight or flight” response in a person. The result may be a panic attack, a flood of emotion, feelings of aggression, or constant stress.

Another part of the brain affected is the prefrontal cortex. This is the part of the brain responsible for regulating emotions. Trauma can weaken the prefrontal cortex, causing difficulty concentrating or zoning out. Lastly, trauma affects the hippocampus as well. The hippocampus helps store memories. For some people, the hippocampus can have difficulty preserving other memories while retaining the traumatic event as clear as day. For others, the hippocampus blocks out part of the traumatic memory, or all of it.

So what can we do to help children who have experienced trauma? One of the most helpful things is for the child to have a caring, supportive, stable caregiver who can help regulate these changes and help the child better cope with adversity as they grow up. Just one caring and supportive adult can greatly benefit and positively impact a child throughout their life.

It is also important to seek help from a trained professional when needed, whether that be through outpatient therapy or even your school’s Youth First Social Worker. Remember, despite what these kids have been through, one caring adult to provide support can make a world of difference.  

By Megan Shake, LSW- November 25, 2020-

They can happen anywhere – the grocery store, the doctor’s office, restaurants, school, or home. If your child is prone to meltdowns, you know they can strike at any time and any place!

The first step in helping children manage meltdowns is to understand why the meltdowns are happening. This can be difficult since these meltdowns can be triggered by a variety of reasons: fear, frustration, anger, anxiety, or sensory overload. Fortunately, children typically have meltdowns in very predictable situations, so you can learn to be more prepared to manage an outburst when it occurs.

Meltdowns are often symptoms of distress that your child is struggling to manage. As a result, children attempt to do whatever it takes to get what they want, even if it means crying, yelling, kicking, name calling, or throwing things. This can result in outbursts becoming learned behaviors if the child achieves the outcome they desire from the meltdown.

Understanding meltdowns means knowing what triggers them. According to Dr. Vasco Lopes, a clinical psychologist, a common trigger for many kids is when they are asked to do something they don’t want to do or when they cannot continue doing something they enjoy. This can be especially true for kids with ADHD as some tasks can be less stimulating and require them to control physical activity.

Once triggers can be pinpointed, try to modify the trigger. This could mean giving more warning that a task is about to start or end, especially for those kids who struggle with transitions, or this could mean restructuring problematic activities. For example, if homework time leads to tantrums, you can modify it by offering frequent breaks, support the child in areas that are particularly difficult, organize the work, and break down particularly large or intimating tasks into smaller ones.

Setting clear expectations can also help prevent tantrums from happening. Instead of telling the child that he needs to be good today, be specific and concise in your communication. Tell him that he needs to stay seated during mealtime, keep his hands to himself, and say only nice things as these are very concrete expectations. Also make sure expectations are developmentally appropriate and match the child’s ability.

Furthermore, parents’ or caregivers’ response to tantrums plays a role in preventing future ones. It is helpful to respond to meltdowns consistently. For outbursts that are not dangerous, the goal is to ignore the behavior and withhold attention from negative behaviors we want to discourage. Give attention and praise when your child exhibits positive behaviors. Try to reason with your child during an outburst because his or her ability to reason is diminished.

We all know meltdowns are not easy to get through, and may even cause embarrassment to parents when in public. Know you’re not alone in trying to help your child manage their emotions and remember your child’s meltdowns are not a reflection of your parenting skills. Remind yourself that you are doing great, even on the days when it does not feel like it!