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By Jennifer Kurtz, LCSW – Feb. 4, 2020

Prior to working as a Youth First Social Worker I worked with the homeless for 7 years. I helped men, women, and children who were living in cars, hotels, shelters, or with family or friends in overcrowded homes. 

While this is not healthy for an adult, it can have an even bigger impact on a child. When I say childhood trauma you may think of emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. There are many other types of trauma that can occur, such as witnessing violence or going hungry.

Trauma can also be caused by a child’s separation from a loved adult due to alcohol or drug use, incarceration, or mental or physical illness. Even witnessing physical violence or devastation left by a natural disaster on television can cause trauma to a child. 

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 who are exposed to trauma may:

  • Have difficulty focusing or learning in school
  • Be unable to trust others or make friends
  • Show poor skill development
  • Lack self-confidence
  • Experience stomach aches or headaches. 

These difficulties in elementary school have the potential to effect children into their teen and adult years, repeating the cycle onto their own children.

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

  • Remain calm
  • Allow children to ask questions
  • Give them your full attention and listen well
  • Acknowledge how the child is feeling
  • Share information about what happened
  • Encourage children to be children (to play and take part in activities)
  • Understand that children may cope in different ways
  • Help children relax with breathing exercises
  • Watch for signs of trauma and know when to seek help
  • Take care of yourself

This website offers more in-depth tips to help children recover in a healthy way, and it gives advice for children in different age groups:  https://childmind.org/guide/helping-children-cope-traumatic-event/.

The National Survey of Children’s Health found that children who have family to 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.

The comfort and support of a parent or caregiver can help a child through a traumatic event, make them feel safe, and help them recover in a healthy way that will benefit them their entire life. A child can also get a lot of support and guidance from their school’s Youth First Social Worker or another mental health professional. Do not hesitate to ask for help if it’s needed.

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.

Youth-serving professionals will benefit from a series of trauma-informed trainings led by Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 

Dr. Ginsburg comes to Evansville January 23 and 24 at the invitation of Youth First, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening youth and families. 

“When children struggle to manage their emotions and behaviors, the root cause is often high levels of stress or trauma, what experts call Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs,” said Davi Stein-Kiley, Youth First’s Vice President of Social Work and Programs. “Dr. Ginsburg’s work focuses on fostering resilience and other strengths to help children overcome their problems.” 

Dr. Ginsburg will lead multiple sessions over a two-day period for medical and mental health professionals, educators, and youth workers. He will cover ACEs, strategies to engage hard-to-reach youth and resiliency, among other topics. 

The trainings were made possible through a community partnership between Youth First, the Evansville-Vanderburgh School Corporation, St. Vincent, Southwestern Behavioral Healthcare, Inc., and Deaconess Cross Point. 

The media is invited to attend a session for educators and school administrators Tuesday, Jan. 23, 8:00 – 10:00 am, at the Academy for Innovative Studies auditorium on Diamond Avenue. Dr. Ginsburg will address questions after the session.

About Youth First, Inc.:
Youth First’s mission is to strengthen youth and families through evidence-based programs that prevent substance abuse, promote healthy behaviors, and maximize student success. Youth First partners with 59 schools across 7 counties to provide 39 Master’s level social workers who assess needs, develop and implement prevention plans, and connect students and their families to community resources. Youth First also offers afterschool programs involving parents and caregivers to strengthen families. For more information about Youth First, please visit www.youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.