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Presentation on theme: "CHILDREN WHO HAVE BEEN TRAUMATIZED CAN BE SUCCESSFUL IN SCHOOL"— Presentation transcript:

Mary Lou Edgar, MSS, LCSW Upper Bay Adoption and Counseling Services Wilmington, Delaware

2 TRAUMA Trauma is not an event in itself, but rather a response to an experience that is so stressful that it overwhelms an individual’s capacity to cope. When childhood trauma is unresolved, it forces children to carry relentless needs for survival and safety into environments where those needs are no longer appropriate.

3 TRAUMA Is exposure to substances (and/or alcohol) prenatally trauma?
Is moving from one home to another trauma? Is watching someone get hurt over and over a traumatic experience? Is separating from someone a person depends on a traumatic event?

4 STATISTICS According to the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families (ACYF) also known as The Feds: In 2009, there were 53,637 reports of child abuse and/or neglect in the state of Maryland. Of those referrals, 28,929 (53.9%) were accepted and 24,708 (46.1%) were not accepted. Of those referrals accepted, 5,687 were substantiated and 17,501 were unsubstantiated. 5,741 were indicated.

5 STATISTICS In the year 2009, there was a total of 2,000,488 allegations of child abuse in the United States. Education personnel reported 329,823 or 16.5% of those allegations. In the United States in 2009, 20.6/1000 children under age 1 were victimized, 11.9/1000 children age 1 to 2 were victimized, 11.3/1000 children age 2 to 3 were victimized, 10.6/1000 children age 3 to 4 were victimized.

6 STATISTICS 1/3 of all victims of child abuse in this country in were under the age of 4. Why is this important? Traumatic events that take place before children have language continue to impact them as they get older – they just are not able to verbalize what is motivating their behavior. Most kids who were victimized before they had language are triggered by smell, words, sounds, etc.


8 Widespread trauma Violence in families is so widespread, it can almost be considered an epidemic. Some children experience violence so horrific that it impacts them forever. However, we must never define our children only by their experiences…..never forget about resilience and always think about kids (and all people for that matter) from a strength-based perspective.

We know that children’s relationships and family environment influence development. Family violence has traumatizing effects that limit a child’s ability to acquire the competencies required to succeed in school. Early exposure to violence, or chronic stress, alters the structure and chemistry of a child’s brain in predictable ways.

Attachment relationships marred by violence and abuse threaten children’s safety and destroy their sense of trust and well being. Violence denies children the mediating presence of a caring adult who interprets their experiences for them and helps them acquire strategies for anticipating and responding to every day problems. We call that the ability to self regulate. Children who have been traumatized often lack that ability.

Because children who have been exposed to violence do not have the support necessary to learn to balance their own emotions, thy often fail to acquire the self-regulatory behaviors and social competencies necessary for academic success. Rather, they come into school unfocused, frightened, and out of control.

12 Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Self-actualization Self-esteem needs Belongingness / Love Safety / Security Physiological needs 12

13 PHYSIOLOGICAL NEEDS This is where most of the children I see are on a day to day basis. They are concerned about what they will eat, where they will sleep. Because they are concerned about basic needs – something most of us cannot imagine – it might not immediately be obvious to school personnel that this child has concerns about these things. These kids can be very clingy, hoard food, take food from others, etc.

14 SAFETY NEEDS Early exposure to violence organizes the brain in a way that makes it hyper alert to danger. Living with this type of intense arousal can become chronic and feel unbearable to a child. Anxiety and hyper vigilance make it difficult for children to concentrate and limit their ability to regulate their behavior and control their emotions.

15 SAFETY NEEDS When children are not cared for appropriately, they live in a constant state of fear, ready to defend and protect themselves against danger that can occur at any time. Some act out , some are aggressive, while others, overwhelmed with fear, withdraw and become unresponsive. Many children are misdiagnosed!

Children traumatized by family violence are put in the position of developing a trusting relationship with adults who threaten their physical safety as well as their psychological integrity. In order to make sense of this distorted world, some children construct explanations of the violence that make themselves responsible. They minimize the dangerousness of their caregiver’s response by assuming that these are “normal” reactions to their own misbehavior. This means kids can then direct their attention to controlling the parent’s behavior or correcting their own, rather than acknowledging he trauma they have experienced.

When children deny their experience, they push their feelings away – they go underground. Consequently they are unable to process their feelings and move on. They then have intense feelings that intrude into their consciousness, with no way to explain them. Because they can’t explain their feelings, they react in angry and aggressive ways that cause problems. These kids are locked in an internal, often unconscious struggle to resolve the past, rather than attending the current and future issues.

18 Trauma and self-definition
Trauma is sometimes camouflaged by other behavior problems. When children traumatized by violence are misdiagnosed, they do not receive the interventions they need. They continue to try to control the class and ignore the rules – we are quick to “diagnose” them and often miss the reason they are acting out. They begin to see themselves as “bad” and “hopeless.”

19 Child Development - Erickson
Development is like building a house…deficits in the foundation will impact the rest of the structure!

20 Erickson’s Psychosocial Stages
Infancy (0 to 18 months) Trust / Mistrust Early Childhood (18 months to 3 years) Autonomy / Shame & Doubt Preschool (3 years to 6 years) Initiative / Guilt School Age (6 to 12 years) Industry / Inferiority Adolescence (12 to 18 years) Identity / ID Confusion Early Adulthood (20 to 40 years) Intimacy / Isolation

21 “Normal” Development Each stage builds on the stage before it. Kids who are traumatized have a “burp” in their development. They get behind, they lose track, they become confused. They get angry! Our agency encourages families to allow three years for healing for each year a child lived in trauma. Do you understand how long that is?

22 WHAT DO WE DO????? You are here!!!!! We all know that enriching school experiences have a positive effect on at-risk children. Once we understand how violence affects children’s behavior, teachers can work proactively to accommodate to their needs.


24 How can we support children who have been traumatized?
RESPOND EMPATHICALLY TO CHILDREN’S NEEDS! Because children who have been traumatized are very anxious and vulnerable, they cannot risk being misunderstood. In school they rely on teachers to “read” and interpret their needs for safety, support, and self-regulation. The response teachers make to a child’s behavior has a powerful effect on the child’s ability to resolve a traumatic past.

Maintaining an empathic response to children who have been traumatized requires teachers to rethink common assumptions about the motivations underlying children’s behavior. Most behavior management systems are based on the assumption that children are able to adapt and tolerate frustration well enough to change their behaviors in compliance with classroom expectations. MAYBE?

Kids who have been traumatized are afraid! Fear drives their behaviors and limits their capacity to function. Triggers result in rapid changes in mood and activity level that are better managed through collaboration between the teacher and child than through authoritarian approaches. Child begins to control the symptoms of hyper arousal the body’s physiological and emotional response to danger. Teachers carefully observe behaviors and provide the support needed to help them remain relaxed and interested. Nurturing experiences pushes child to question internal beliefs – I am defective, destructive and unlovable.

27 MANAGING STRESS Fear makes for stress!!!!!
Combat stress with a safe, caring classroom environment where kids are accepted and respected for who they are. Developmentally appropriate (remember chronological age does not tell us where a child is developmentally). Patterned, repetitive sensory input (music, dance, deep breathing, drumming) induces relaxation and increases a child’s capacity to learn. Opportunities for choice making and self reflection. Movement

28 Cognitive issues Children traumatized by violence often fail to develop a framework for learning that helps them organize their thoughts and plan for their future. They lack a cognitive infrastructure that provided order and meaning. Consequently, they often lack a basic, conceptual understanding of the world, making it difficult for them to benefit from academic instruction. This lack of conceptual framework explains many things, such as inability to understand rules or explain the reasons behind emotional outbursts or acting out behaviors.

29 CONCEPT DEVELOPMENT Kids need to have an understanding of basic concepts in order to understand and apply what they learn in school. Children who are traumatized are often deprived of the experiences they need to acquire basic concepts such as cause and effect and sequencing.

30 WHAT TO DO? Provide kids with “if…..then” scripts and encourage them to anticipate possible outcomes. Help kids set a social or emotional goal each day. Ask kids to make predictions about stories or exercises. Help kids evaluate choices they have made in relation to the way they hoped things would go. Give choices about strategies to utilize to complete an assignment.

31 SEQUENCING The ability to learn things sequentially allows children to complete tasks in an efficient, logical manner – they are able to then make a coherent narrative. Children exposed to violence are often deprived of the care giving experience that nourishes the development of sequential memory. They may come from homes where rules and routines were subject to a parent’s immediate thought. They cannot organize and process making academics difficult.

32 What to do? Provide explicit instructions on a step-by-step approach to critical thinking. Teach self-talk as a strategy to strengthen the sequential process of critical thinking. Provide opportunities for kids to change the sequence of everyday activities and then talk about how that was for them. Reverse the order of events in familiar stories.

33 PROBLEM SOLVING Children who have been exposed to violence do not do well at problem solving. Unable to appreciate another point of view; Difficulty shifting attention; Cannot hold more than one perspective on a problem; Inflexible reasoning so difficulty compromising or negotiating; Low tolerance for frustration; Feeling of no control of own life; Judge things as too hard and give up easily.

34 What to Do? Have children develop work plans for projects.
Work with children to develop plans; anticipate the final product. When reading a story, stop at a certain point and ask for predictions about what is going to happen. Use brainstorming to help kids list various options for solving a problem. Record the options; Encourage children to select their preferred option. Write multiple endings for stories. Wrap up each day with a class meeting in which children review what happened that day.

35 WRAPPING UP! Children exposed to violence have difficulty forming satisfying relationships with caring adults! Damaged by the effects of insecure or disorganized patterns of attachment, these children develop behavioral coping mechanisms that trigger negative reactions from everyone! Teachers who reinforce safety and provide ongoing support give child the hope they need to survive!

36 VERY IMPORTANT!!!! Please realize how important you are – you never know when you are going to say or do something that impacts a child’s life forever. Please have a good sense of humor – laughing (not being sarcastic or mean) is good for the body and the soul. Children are resilient – given a nurturing environment, they can grow and change. Remember strengths! Please take care of yourselves and have a strong support system that helps you maintain your equilibrium.

37 THANK YOU!!!!

38 Contact Information: Mary Lou Edgar, MSS, LCSW Program Manager Upper Bay Adoption and Counseling Services 700 A River Road Wilmington, Delaware,


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