The Amanda Quick Show

Navigating Trauma: A Parent's Path to Understanding and Supporting Children's Healings

October 07, 2023 Amanda Quick
The Amanda Quick Show
Navigating Trauma: A Parent's Path to Understanding and Supporting Children's Healings
The Amanda Quick Show
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Navigating the stormy seas of parenthood, I've discovered that trauma leaves a unique mark on every child. As a mother, I've often found myself in the eye of the storm as I grappled with the myriad trauma responses from my children. From refusing to leave their safe haven of a bed to retreating into a fantasy world, their reactions provide a rare glimpse into how trauma shapes young minds. 

Trauma rears its head in unexpected situations. I recall when my middle son's simple school assignment turned into a harrowing ordeal. A seemingly innocuous task of jotting down ten life events opened a floodgate of emotions. This narrative uncovers the necessity of educators being sensitive to the diverse life experiences children bring to the classroom. Hear about my endeavor to advocate for my child, ensuring he completed his assignment without re-living his trauma. 

The key to raising well-adjusted children lies in creating an environment of psychological safety. Hear about my dedicated efforts to foster such an atmosphere—one that respects my children's emotional boundaries and encourages them to voice their emotions without fear. Learn how recognizing triggers and giving children the space they need is instrumental in their healing process. Through discussing the trials and triumphs of advocating for my children, I hope to give you the tools to help your children stand up for themselves. Together, let's navigate this challenging terrain and find a way to help our children bloom despite the thorns of trauma.

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Speaker 1:

Hello everyone, welcome back to the Amanda Quick Show. I'm your host, amanda Quick. Today's episode. I want to talk about more of the after effects of trauma, especially on children, because at least I haven't seen this conversation happening in the mainstream about what it's like to work with kids who have experienced levels of childhood abuse or trauma, and I really wish this conversation was more prevalent. And so, as part of that, I want to share some stories of things that have happened in the last couple of years that have really highlighted this for me and perhaps give you all some insight of things going on either with your children or yourselves, as we've all been processing our own versions of traumatic experiences. And so, as you may remember, if you listened to the first episode of this show or you've read my book or anything of the sort, my children were very young when all of the chaos started. My youngest was 15 months old and the other two were four and almost six when their father was arrested for human trafficking. They really don't remember a whole lot before that. At this point, they don't remember life before the chaos began, and they even don't, at this point, remember a ton of the back and forth anymore, because so much time has passed, and while on one hand that's a positive thing, on the other, their body does remember and their mind knows there's a gap in understanding, and so, as we've moved through the years and the months and gone to different schools and in different environments, this has shown up in a variety of different ways. That I think is really worth talking about, because I personally didn't understand what a trauma response in a child looked like, because I only have my own lived experience. I knew that I was going to have to do work with all three of my children, especially my middle child, but I didn't know in what capacity, and so I was just allowing the experiences to unfold.

Speaker 1:

A couple of years ago, my older two got a paper route. They were very excited about this. They were delivering newspapers in the neighborhood, and they were doing so in a neighborhood we had just moved to, and the neighborhood had a high school very close to it, and so they would deliver newspapers. They both had different routes, but they both essentially met up around the same place, and most of the time they didn't interact with any any other children or any sort. But one day my middle son was approached by some high school kids and they saw a kid with a paper route and assumed maybe he had money on him and they hassled him and tried to see if they could get money off of him, you know, and the kid is 10 at this point and so he's kind of scared of these older kids, but he doesn't say anything to me, he comes home and moves on, but the next week, as he was supposed to go out on his paper route, he refuses to get out of bed. Now, I'm not super hyper stringent on bedtimes, but they both really all three of them mostly go to bed about eight or nine o'clock and so for it to be 10, 11 o'clock in the kid not a week, was was alarming. Was he sick, was he not feeling good? And went to check on him and he just said he didn't feel good, he didn't want to do his paper route. And okay, well, you know we have a commitment to make and this is kind of a job, so to speak, and maybe your brother will help you he wouldn't get out of bed. He wouldn't get out of bed all day. And the next day and eventually his older brother did go do his paper route and he started to feel better and I just assumed he had a stomach bug or something. And the next week, when the paper route day came along, the same thing happened. And at this point I said I don't know what's going on, but you were fine yesterday. You need to go. You made a commitment, you need to go do your paper route. Why, why won't you do that? What's going on? And again, he hasn't shared any of what had happened previously with me. And so he eventually got out of bed and got dressed and took off.

Speaker 1:

Now I don't know if you've ever had a kid run away, but this was the first time this happened to me. I came downstairs and the child was nowhere to be found. His bike was gone and I panicked, I freaked out. He didn't take the newspapers, he just took off. And I freaked out and I got in the car and I went searching for him and thankfully he didn't go very far. He only went a couple blocks down the road to a coffee shop and finally I got out of my car and talked to him. What is going on? Why is this so scary? He didn't want to tell me. It's like you're gonna need to tell me, because this is not okay, the running away is not okay, but if you really don't want to do your paper route, you just need to give me a reason. And that's when he finally broke down and told me what had happened a couple weeks before, and he told me about the bullies that had tried to basically ruffle him up At least that's how he perceived it and how scared he was to go out into the neighborhood again. And I just went wow, okay, I first of all not going to force you to go, do that, I'm all. I'm going to go talk to the high school administrators because they need to know this is going on around their campus. But I also want to applaud you for sharing with me and to know that you don't have to put yourself in a position that you don't feel safe. And so we took care of all of that and had a great conversation with the administrators and eventually he came down and talked to them as well and felt better.

Speaker 1:

But what I realized through that experience is that his refusal to get up and basically sleep all day was his nervous systems response to trauma, and I had never seen this response in him before. This was a new thing, but what I was seeing was the over stimulation and the crash in his body Because it didn't happen again. For another, I want to say six or nine months. And six or nine months later he had another experience like this, where he wouldn't get out of bed and he wouldn't tell me why. But at this time I saw the pattern and so this time I asked why didn't he want to go at this point to school? Because that's what was in the way at this point and at first. Again, he wouldn't tell me, but because we had established a level of trust and safety, he was faster to open up.

Speaker 1:

And this time what I learned is that at school he was being asked to share at lunchtime and he felt like he was going to be put on the spot. And he was asked to share about his life. And so, because he wasn't comfortable talking about his past and his history, he had asked can I write him a note and not have to do that? And of course I needed more information. But no, he doesn't have to share if he's not comfortable and I will go talk to his teacher. So I sent an email to his teacher saying you know, he was not comfortable being put on the spot. He didn't want to have to share this part of his life and that this was a really big trigger for him. Could he please, you know, not do that, or is there another way to participate? And the response I got back was oh no, we're just trying to help them learn how to be confident and be public speakers.

Speaker 1:

And it was interesting to me that the teacher refused to hear that I was sharing, that my kid had experienced deeper levels of trauma and that this was a triggering experience for him, and instead she just wanted to go on and on about how amazing this opportunity was. And so I responded back again and I said this triggered his trauma so deeply that he slept for two days. I need you to not push and force him, to put himself in a position that he's not comfortable in, and eventually she stopped pushing and let it go. But what this highlighted for me was not only did my my kid have a pattern where, when his trauma responses were triggered, he would have the hyperadrenaline and then he would crash to a point where he would sleep for a few days, but really what he needed for me was an advocate. He needed me to recognize that this is what was going on and create safety for him in whatever that environment and situation was. And so thankfully we haven't had that version of experience again, because After a couple of times of this he's able to share a talk with me in a different way and we're able to kind of come up with an action plan and a conversation that I can have with the teacher or whoever that needs to know what's going on.

Speaker 1:

But what I wasn't then expecting was for something like this to happen with my oldest, and my oldest is a very, very different child. He's much more in his head, he's not nearly as emotionally sensitive, and while he actually has the most memory of his father, he also is the most logical and the most unwilling to talk about it. And so this is even more recently, this recent school year, this new school year that they're starting. He's now in eighth grade and all of the children are back in public school for the first time this year, for a variety of reasons, but the public school that they're in. I'm actually honestly very impressed with the school district because there's nothing like public school that I used to go to. They're much more open, they're much more talking about the child and you know they're learning at this point, and so everything they're doing is new and fresh and they're not worried about grades. In the same way, they're really worried about meeting the kid where they're at, which is fantastic. And so I wasn't entirely surprised to get a call from the English teacher, but I wasn't really prepared for what he wanted to talk about.

Speaker 1:

So the first conversation was about his dress code. My oldest has decided that he must wear a hoodie sweatshirt to school every day, and he wants to keep the hood up, and we talked about that this may not be allowed in school and all of the reasons why, and yet he's still insisted. And so what the teacher was first calling about was an incident that had happened the week prior, where he had asked him to take off the hood. He did so and then immediately put it back on and ignored the teacher. And when the teacher asked him to leave the classroom so that he could not be continuing to disrupt the class, he later went out to go speak to him how emotional he was about the hood, and so honestly good on the teacher for seeing that he wasn't trying to just be a defiant teenager, because it could certainly be interpreted that way, but that there was actually something deeper going on, because I don't think anybody is used to a 13 year old breaking down in the middle of the hallway about a hood, and my son actually was able to say that he feels safer with it on and that he was overwhelmed in class and that it made him feel better to keep it on.

Speaker 1:

And the teacher started to recognize that this was about psychological safety for him and that he needed some level of control in this way, and he let it go. And so he was kind of calling to first talk to me about what had happened, his plan for how he was going to proceed in his class forward, and to really see if he could get a little more understanding of what was going on. And so first I explained that you know, since COVID they had been either homeschooled or in a Waldorf program and that this was their first time back in public school. And so he got that's a big change that they had never been in public middle school where they had been going into different classes every period, and that was all very new and so there's some level of readjustment. I explained that he's on the spectrum and has trouble with social interactions at times and he gets overwhelmed, and that's part of it. And the teacher kind of understood and then kind of said OK, the trouble is, if I let one kid do it, I have to let the other kids do it. And I said I totally understand. If this is a boundary you need to have in your classroom, I will have a conversation with him. But he stopped me and said I really want him to feel safe in class, I really want him to be able to participate and do well, and so I'm going to let it go for now. It's amazing.

Speaker 1:

And then he wanted to talk about one of the assignments, the newest assignments that they had, because the assignment they have is to write down a list of 10 life events, and the 10 life events are then going to turn into some type of autobiography. And, as you might imagine, this would be challenging for any of my children, but especially my older ones, who have some memory, in a different way, of things that have happened. And so he was saying that my son kept saying I don't remember anything that happened, I can't talk about it, and he didn't quite get why that might be, and that they were trying to come up with a different type of solution, because he really wanted to talk about 10 fantasy things which wasn't really connected to the assignment, and it was interesting because he doesn't usually bring up really none of my kids bring up a ton of what happens in their day to day with me but this was something he did talk about, that they were working on another way to approach this problem and thinking about maybe it was future things he wanted to do or things like that, and so the teacher had basically come up with the idea that he could write 10 things that he had wished happened, perhaps, but that didn't directly happened, if he really did struggle. And so then the teacher really wasn't prepared for what I was about to say next, but I said I want to give you a little bit more context here, because not only is this the first public school that they've been back to since the pandemic in the last three years, but that in 2016, their father was arrested for human trafficking, and the four years that followed were really really stressful, chaotic and traumatic, and I don't think he was prepared for what I was about to say there, because he went oh, oh, my gosh, I'm so sorry, and I felt like he got for the first time in perhaps his whole career why a child might be challenged to write about themselves, and this is something that I really wish teachers understood that it's not the kids are necessarily intentionally defiant or don't like the assignment.

Speaker 1:

Sometimes that's true, yes, of course, but sometimes things like an assignment to write an autobiography, an assignment to talk about your life, is massively triggering to children. If the kids have experienced this level of trauma and so he got, he got that that may be an inappropriate assignment for a child like mine and that if that was going to be what the class was going to be doing, then he needed to come up with alternatives if the kids were resistant, especially for valid reasons, but that even asking the children to come up with those valid reasons was going to be triggering and putting kids in the position to have to defend why they are uncomfortable doesn't help anybody. And so, thankfully, he reached out to me and we were able to have this open conversation, because I really think that this teacher will rethink some of these assignments going forward, and not that autobiographies are bad, but recognizing that kids have different levels of lived experiences and that highlighting some of those lived experiences does force the kids sometimes to really have those things when they're not prepared to do so. And so he settled on again that my son is allowed to do this assignment slightly differently, as long as he keeps it based in this reality and not complete fantasy. He's allowed to make up a version of what he wish his life would have been like, and that that's OK. And so I'm really, really grateful that this teacher reacted very differently than my middle son's previous teacher, and he was much more open and willing to create safety in his classroom and enable my kid both of them, because it's actually the English teacher for both, but both of them to be able to potentially start to process different things that have happened in the way that feels safe for them. And so my point of sharing these stories, my point of talking about the way the trauma responses show up differently in children, is that I really, really want to highlight that not every child has this beautiful, magical two-parent household with loving parents and trips to Disney World and trips to Grandma and Grandpa's house and wherever else Like. That's not the reality for actually the majority of people out there. The reality is that kids are exposed to all kinds of stuff and no, hopefully not all of them have nearly the version that my children do, but that when we ask kids to defend themselves and to relive these lived experiences, it can be re-traumatizing, it can cause their nervous systems to trigger and fire, it can cause them to retreat and hide and it can cause them to not feel safe in their bodies again and likely as children they don't have language or understanding to why that is to even ask for help in those moments. And I believe it's at least our job as parents to recognize those things and to have the conversations and to figure out how we can help create safety in whatever way that is.

Speaker 1:

You know, I know my oldest. His trauma response is more to retreat, to hide, to wear the hoodie so nobody can see his face. He does not feel comfortable with his emotions. That's really really hard for him and when they come to the surface they're massively overwhelming Because he hasn't yet learned how to process them and experiencing, experience them in a way that feels safe for him. And that's something we will have to continue to work on. But that when I see him retreating and hiding, it's likely because he is overwhelmed and he doesn't know how to handle it and his preference is to disassociate, to go into fantasy, to go into his books, go into the video games, whatever it is, because it feels safer there than it does in this reality, and that, while it's okay to disassociate for a minute, we still have to learn how to process in the moment in a way that is safe. And so that's my job as his mom to work on what that looks like and to work on creating that safety as the things come up.

Speaker 1:

And sometimes that means no, you don't have to go to the thing we're going to go do. And sometimes it means let's push through this one, because I can see that it's a little bit hard, but it feels safe, because it's with this family, that's okay. And sometimes it means advocating for the teacher and saying this is an assignment that I need you to make an exception for, and this is why and I can be the advocate for why that is and I can give the teacher the information they need so that my child doesn't have to. And for my middle son, when I notice his sleeping patterns change and I notice the emotions are heightened, that's my sign and trigger for him that something else is going on and he may not want to talk about it. He may not entirely even know what it is yet, but it's my sign to pay a little more attention to what is happening and potentially need to step in, and when I do so, all that does is further create safety for us to be able to have those conversations and to make some type of action plan and to work through where he's at in that moment.

Speaker 1:

Now my youngest is a different kid and he was the youngest when everything started, and he's also the most, in a lot of ways less, traumatized, because he was younger and he wasn't the direct target. And his process for showing me he's not doing good is much louder, much more physical, because he is who he is, and usually when he's not doing good, he makes sure the whole neighborhood is aware of it because he's screaming bloody murder or he's causing a scene. And for him the response is also very, very different, because it's a recognition that your emotions are so big that everybody else is experiencing them too, and so for him, the process to work through is, yes, identifying, but he needs the movement and the moving through the things and let's go for a bike ride, let's go outside, let's go punch a beanbag chair if we need to and coming up with a plan for him to experience and process the emotions whatever they are and then come back to some type of connection, because that's his deepest need is to feel connected to me or my husband, his stepdad and his safe people are our two of us, versus my older two that are still most deeply connected to me and they don't quite yet, at least, have that relationship with my husband in the same way, and likely that's just because of the fact that they were so much older and so much more aware of what was happening before. And so all of this, all of this to me, is examples of what I would love to see change about the school system, change about people who are responsible for interacting with kids and really realistically, it's not just children, because every single human out there has some version of lived experience, trauma, and we're not always aware that the things we might do or say may be triggering to somebody else, and that's not a wrongness. I don't think it's possible to be hyper aware of every possible trigger out there. I think that's unrealistic.

Speaker 1:

I think it is, however, possible to recognize when somebody is triggered, that maybe there's a reason and maybe it doesn't even matter if you know what the reason is, perhaps just allowing people to be where they are and experience where they are and trusting that it's going to be okay whatever it is and that if they need something they can ask for it, but that our goal as humans in connection whether we are creating lesson plans or activities for children or we're simply trying to connect with a colleague of some kind is actually to create safety in that connection psychological safety, mental, emotional, spiritual safety but also to allow for that bridge of connection to be of open possibility for that other person. I don't know if my kids will ever get to the point where they feel safe communicating with other adults about what has happened in their past. That's their journey, not mine. I can do my darn desk to be that safe person, to find other people that they might want to talk to, to open up doors, but I can't force them, nor do I want to force them to bridge that in other ways. What I can do instead is focus on creating and deepening the level of safety they have with me and making sure that that safety includes the advocacy for the things that they don't yet know how to ask for themselves and to eventually get to the point where they can advocate for themselves, even if it's without all of the disclosure, even if it's just simply saying there's a lot of things that I'm not comfortable sharing with this class and so I'm gonna do this assignment differently. Or how? Maybe can we work together so I can do this assignment differently, so I don't have to talk about the things that are uncomfortable. Now we're a long ways from that point, absolutely, but one day I won't be the parent that the teacher calls and instead it's gonna be them out in the big wide world. And so my goal is to enable them, empower them and help advocate for them until there's to the point where they can do so themselves, and to make sure that that safety, that level of safety, is eventually coming from within their own selves.

Speaker 1:

Because I think that what people don't realize is is children, their safety has to come from outside of self. They cannot feed and clothe themselves when they're infants. It's not supposed to work that way. They're supposed to be attached to a parent who provides this level of safety and helps teach them what that looks like in the world, and eventually that shifts developmentally appropriately. So about some time in teenagerhood where they start to push away from the parent. But when they push away from the parent, I feel that's the time that they really need to learn how to build safety within themselves, and they do so by looking at the model the parent has provided. And so the more that we can be that bridge, the more we can help our kids find safety within themselves and to know that it's okay to ask for help from other safe people, and it's okay to sometimes not know what that looks like yet, but to have conversations and connections in a way that does feel appropriate and safe.

Speaker 1:

And so, all of this to be said, I really hope that one day, one day, all of the major systems, the legal system, the school system, all of them have a level of trauma, informed in all of their teaching, all of the assignment work, all of the how we operate, all of the awarenesses. There's been so much growth in these systems, so much new awarenesses. There are people talking about social, emotional learning, there are people talking about biases and inclusion and equity practices in the school system, and I think all of that is wonderful, but I also think that we have a long way to go, and I think that the more that we talk about why that is, and the more we open the door to create these psychological safe environments and the more we allow ourselves to recognize that everybody has a different level of experience and you may just not know the details of why this is so troubling for this kid and that maybe you don't need to know. Maybe you can just recognize the signs that this is triggering them in some way. And so how do we work to create safety and still participate in whatever the activity is? And perhaps those type of teachings, those type of thought processes in all of these systems that work with children, that work with adults in every facet of the system, will, to me, enable everybody to start to process this trauma, to feel safe with themselves in a new way and to come out the other side, so that we can stop repeating the patterns of the past. It is my goal to bring enough awareness to all of these various things so that the patterns can really truly change the way we have allowed ourselves to finally, finally freaking heal.

Speaker 1:

I hope you enjoyed this episode. If you have any questions or you want to reach out, I would love to hear from you. Amanda, at AmandaQuickHealingcom is my direct email. There will be more of this type of conversation in the future. Lots of love for now.

Effects of Childhood Trauma on Children
Trauma-Informed Approaches to Assignments
Understanding and Supporting Children's Trauma Responses
Creating Psychological Safety and Empowering Others
Future Conversations and Contact Information