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By Jennifer Kurtz, LCSW – Dec. 24, 2019

Prior to coming to Youth First as a school social worker, I worked with the homeless for 7 years.  Many of the men, women, and children I worked with were staying in a car or in an unfamiliar shelter, maybe living in a hotel, or staying with family or friends in an overcrowded home. 

While this is not healthy for an adult, it can have an even bigger impact on the mind of a young child. When I mention childhood trauma you may think of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse to a child. But there are other traumatic things children experience:  witnessing violence between adults, being separated from a loved adult due to alcohol or drug use, mental illness of a family member, incarceration of a parent, illness of a loved one that pulls family away, lack of food for the entire family, or witnessing a shooting or devastation left by a natural disaster (either in person or on television). 

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) National Child Traumatic Stress Initiative (NCSTI) reports that more than two thirds of children experience at least one traumatic event by the age of 16. 

The National Child Traumatic Stress Network reports that children between the ages of 3 to 6 exposed to trauma may have difficulty focusing or learning in school, may be unable to trust others or make friends, may show poor skill development, may lack self-confidence, and may experience stomach aches or headaches. These difficulties in elementary school have the potential to affect children into their teen and adult years, repeating the cycle onto their own children.

How can we help our children as parents and caregivers?  The Child Mind Institute encourages the following tips to help children after a traumatic event:

  1. Remain calm
  2. Allow children to ask questions
  3. Listen well
  4. Acknowledge how the child is feeling
  5. Share information about what happened
  6. Encourage children to be children (to play and do activities)
  7. Understand children may cope in different ways
  8. Help children relax in breathing exercises
  9. Watch for signs of trauma
  10. Know when to seek help 
  11. Take care of yourself

The National Survey of Children’s Health found that children who have family help them build resilience respond well to stress.  Resilience can be built through having caregivers who believe in a child’s future, teaching children to calm themselves and regulate their emotions, being involved in the community and having social connections.

There is a video on YouTube about a heartwarming IKEA ad in Spain entitled, “IKEA The Other Letter.”  The children are asked to write a letter to The Three Kings (the equivalent of Santa in Spain) asking for things they want for Christmas. Most ask for material items. They are then asked to write a letter to their parents. From their parents they ask for experiences such as eating dinner as a family, reading a story together, playing soccer together, playing cowboys together, and just spending quality time together in general. 

So often we want to give our children material items, thinking “things” will make them happy.  Although kids do want toys and materials items, quality time is even more valued and needed by them, especially when there has been a traumatic event. Spend time together this holiday season, and help your kids build resiliency that will see them through many of life’s disappointments and sorrows.

By Lori Powell, LCSW – September 25, 2018 –

Throughout my life I have had the opportunity to meet people who have experienced multiple traumatic challenges in their lives. Some have been able to successfully work through their complicated issues, but others seem to have more difficulty managing their thoughts and emotions related to any change or significant event.

The difference is that some people have not fully developed their ability to be resilient. According to the American Psychological Association, the ability to be resilient is actually ordinary, not extraordinary.

The American Heritage Medical Dictionary defines resiliency as “the ability to recover quickly from illness, change, or misfortune.”

The American Psychological Association reports that research shows people who exhibit resiliency have developed supportive and caring relationships with friends and family, make plans they are able to complete, are confident in their strengths and abilities, manage their intense emotions and reactions to extreme events, communicate effectively, and work toward solving their problems appropriately.

The American Psychological Association also identifies 10 techniques that can enhance one’s ability to become more resilient:

1. Develop truly trusting, caring, and supportive relationships with friends, co-workers and family members. These relationships can be developed by spending more time with the significant people in your life.
2. Identify small positive changes in emotional distress. For example, acknowledge “I feel happier today than I felt yesterday.” Journaling can help identify changes in emotional state on a day-to-day basis.
3. Change is a continuous process throughout our lives. A person might not be able to change a situation but can work toward solving smaller problems related to the situation.
4. Set smaller attainable goals to identify each success. An example might be, “I woke up this morning and ate my breakfast.” In some cases these are definitely achievements that can be celebrated.
5. Admit that the problem exists and work toward fixing the issue. When a person denies that he or she has experienced a difficult situation they are avoiding healing, which makes it more difficult to recover.
6. Identify self-growth by acknowledging successes and the goals that have been achieved. When an individual solves one problem they might feel more confident to solve others.
7. Realize that you are able to resolve problematic situations. This realization is created when each additional problem is solved.
8. Do not exaggerate problems associated with the incident. When a person views the problem realistically they are able to handle it more effectively.
9. Stay positive by focusing on a better and brighter future.
10.Identify your emotions and your needs, which includes being able to relax and participate in activities that are enjoyable, such as spending time with family and friends.

Please remember that everyone is able to develop their ability to become more resilient. With determination, confidence, support, and encouragement, any issue can be managed and resolved effectively.