How Can I Help My Child if He or She Has Early-Life Trauma?
Oftentimes, life can knock us down physically and emotionally in many ways. One of the highest priority goals that I have as a parent is to help my children cope through life. Isn’t that supposed to be in our nature of being a parent? We usually want to teach our children various skills that will help them get through anything! Easier said than done, huh? This task will require much more dedication from someone parenting a child who has experienced early-life trauma.
Trauma is any negative event, whether single or reoccurring, that a child has experienced. These experiences can often overwhelm that child’s ability to cope. Sadly, there are so many different ways a child could have experienced trauma in their early years. Many children may have been exposed to alcohol or drugs. Many children experience physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental abuse, or verbal abuse at a very young age. Many children are neglected in many different forms and severities. Some children have experienced the loss of their parents or other loved ones and have been forced to endure grief at a very young age. Even in the womb, a child could experience trauma before being born. Babies are born every day with fetal alcohol syndrome and drug dependencies. There are studies that show trauma can change structures of the brain starting as early as conception!
In this article, Shannon Hicks provides additional information regarding trauma and brain development. There many different serious effects of early childhood trauma. A child may adapt to a heightened stress response. This adaptation can further lead to issues with sleeping, emotional instability, lower immune functions, and physical illnesses later on in adulthood. Stress can be so bad for our bodies! Early childhood traumatic events can also lead to sensory issues in a person. A child with sensory issues may feel completely unsafe while observing terrifying material or experiencing loud or violent noises. This is just a brief overview of trauma that children may have experienced in their early years. Many other studies have been conducted regarding how early-life trauma can affect the development in a brain which affects the way a person is able to properly function as an adult. Unfortunately, trauma can take years, decades, or even a lifetime to overcome, depending on the situation. This is why you are so important to your child because you can make a drastic difference in the quality of their life. Do not give up!
Accepting the trauma that your child experienced is the first step to positively impacting your child’s healing. You cannot help your child if you don’t acknowledge the trauma that has occurred. There’s nothing anyone can do to change what has happened. However, accepting the fact that the trauma occurred will allow you to better help your child cope. You don’t want to ignore that the trauma happened or sweep it under the rug as if everyone can and should just forget about it. If a child’s support system is living in shock or denial about the trauma, the child will most likely not be able to move forward and work through his or her own feelings. Acknowledge that there was trauma that occurred, and then work through its effects as necessary. Accepting the trauma does not mean that you have to live in the trauma, it means that you have to acknowledge its effects in order to help your child.
You can never provide your child with too much affection. Hugs, hugs, and more hugs. I believe it may be a fact that there is no such thing as too many hugs! You should show your child gentle gestures of love like this. This will usually make your child feel safe, secure, and comfortable in your presence. Also, there have been many studies that suggest hugs can physically benefit an individual and help with stressful feelings. A child who may have experienced any form of physical abuse may benefit greatly from safe physical affection throughout a long period of time.
You are going to need help in order to fully help your child who has experienced early-life trauma. You can’t do this alone, and it definitely will be more amazing with a support system for you and your child. Seek professional help! A professional will be able to listen to the history of early trauma and provide feedback. A professional can give you loads of information about what your child is experiencing, as well as information regarding how to help him or her. Do not be afraid to speak with professionals for help! Professionals who have experience working with children who have endured trauma can help you in ways you never thought possible. They can provide a listening ear, therapy agendas, and great advice for helping your child. Befriend other parents who can relate to your situation. In doing this, you may find your journey less difficult because you know that you are not alone. Sharing your story and listening to others could help you and others in this situation.
If a child has experienced early-life trauma, he or she may require or persist on receiving extra attention. Your child may actually cry out for attention—literally or indirectly. Your child may want to be around you constantly and prefer never to be alone. Your child may actually prefer to be alone. Pay attention to your child and give your child extra attention if needed. Make sure that you are providing the undivided attention every child needs.
It is important to provide your child with a healthy lifestyle so that he or she can flourish. Making sure your child has a healthy diet with plenty of vitamins and nutrients can greatly affect his or her overall health and further healing from any early childhood trauma. A healthy diet can prevent additional health or medical concerns, which just overall helps your children’s quality of life.
A child who has experienced early-life trauma needs a stable home environment. This means that the parents and the home environment need to be extremely emotionally stable to help the child. The reason for this is because stability, consistency, and care provided to a child will help in any given circumstance. If the foundation of a child’s life is not stable, it will most likely further stress the child instead of providing a healing environment.
Regardless of the struggles that your child and your family face, keep hope alive for the situation. No matter how bad the trauma was or how difficult the journey to overcome the trauma is, you should always keep hope alive for growth. You can get through this! We can get through this! Our family can get through this! This, too, shall pass, and we will overcome this! Sometimes just providing a positive outlook for your child will help them have hope that things will get better and that they can overcome the obstacles being worked through.
Providing your child with different stress-relieving techniques at an early age can help them develop healthy habits for a lifetime. These healthy habits that you introduce to your child can continue to help your child throughout life when dealing with stressful situations. Some of these techniques may include learning how to focus on breathing, yoga, and different exercises. Rather than picking up bad habits for stress relief, focus on healthy stress-relieving activities and practice them with your child so that your child can benefit from adopting these healthy techniques.
Opening avenues of communication between you and your child are very important. Create the ability to openly communicate with your child about the trauma that has occurred, the effects it has on your child, and the treatment options available. Find opportunities to open up these ways of communication. Make your child feel comfortable coming to talk to you about anything. In return, make talking to your child about anything comfortable for him or her. Talk with your children, engage with your children, and build the trust needed for open communication. This will help as your child grows to feel comfortable coming to you to talk about anything, so that that you can help him or her.
Shannon Hicks wrote an informed article titled, “What I Wish I’d Known About How Early Trauma Affects Adopted Children.” She specifically writes about adoptees and how “toxic stress can impact developing brains in profound ways.” She details how stress from early trauma can change the structure of the brain. She also provides examples of long-term effects parents may see in adoptees due to the early-life trauma. Please stay informed regarding early life trauma. Through professional help and many other resources available, stay on top of your child’s healing plan. Throughout your child’s healing journey, you may come across additional techniques, ideas, or advice that you may want to try and incorporate into your child’s healing plan. Remember that you are not alone on your journey. There are so many others who are going through similar experiences as yours. So, please don’t close yourself off and not reach out to others for help. After reading a poem titled, “A Lonely Traveler,” written by a counselor, I came to the realization that no matter how horrible the circumstances are, there is someone with an open heart and hand willing to help:
I wonder why, you choose to travel, solely on your own, ignoring help, that’s yours to have, by picking up the phone.
Depriving you and those you love, of comfort and support, maintaining independence, far more fiercely than you ought.
Whilst those that love you, hearts in pain, just look on in despair, You travel down your lonely path, as if they were not there.
Yet who is forcing you to choose, this isolated path, that leaves behind the ones you love, strew in the aftermath.
That builds a wall so thick and cold, around your inner you, that hides your feelings, keeps your soul, so sadly out of view.
What’s driving you, to dis-erect relationships held dear, to push away the ones you love, whenever they get near.
What childhood script, or view of life, is guiding you this way, So shackled with a heavy heard, that’s causing you dismay.
And all along the way you speak, your metaphors profound, expose the view you have of you, your self esteem unsound.
It seems you need to hold a view, you’ve lodged inside your soul, of you unworthy, undeserved, unlovable and cold.
And yet I know, that deep inside, where no-one else can see, There lives a child, that’s crying out, just begging to be free.
She longs to feel the joys of life, to laugh and sing again, to reach out to the ones she loves, completely free of pain.
She longs for stroking, light and love, for spiritual release, to free her own creative self and live in perfect peace.
If you would only smash that wall, you built around yourself, you’d see a crowd of loving folks, just waiting there to help.
You’d find that every one of them, without a “string” in sight, would love to lend a loving hand, to help you with your fight.
You’re blessed with very caring friends, for whom your welfare’s theirs, whose loving hearts would love to help, to supplement their prayers.
For goodness sake, just take a look outside your wall and pause, to feel the loving and support that’s yours and yours and yours.
You might then throw away that script, that’s driving you right now, might tear it up and burn it too, it’s useless anyhow.
And when you do, your life will change, your struggling will cease, and you’ll discover lasting love and tranquil inner peace.
Heather courageously became a birth mother in 2014. She is inspired to personally share how open adoption has incredibly impacted her life. She shatters the common misconceptions about birth mothers and desires to provide a beautiful and unique point of view. Heather enjoys her grind as an administrative specialist for a millwork company in Wisconsin. While dedicated to her profession, Heather believes her most important job in life is motherhood. Her three children keep her busy, yet extremely overjoyed and purposeful. Her free time is spent reading, writing, or admiring the view of Lake Michigan, which can be seen from her front porch.