Signs and Symptoms of Traumatized Children in School

The first step is to understand the effects of toxic stress on the developing child is to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma. 

Children and youth may not always verbalize that they are going through a traumatic event. It is up to the adults, in their lives to recognize the warning signs and know how to help. If you know what to look for, the child’s behavior will be speaking “loud and clear!” 

Young children, ages 0-5 can demonstrate activity levels that are much higher or lower than peers. They can startle very easily and be difficult to calm. Their play may reveal traumatic events over and over again or come up in little snippets of conversations. Clinginess, extreme irritability, reluctance to explore the world and long, frequent tantrums are also possible signs of trauma. 

In elementary school children, they may complain about frequent headaches or stomachaches with no apparent cause. They can regress to earlier developmental stages with thumb sucking or bed wetting. It can be difficult to transition them from one activity or another. Emotionally, they can verbalize scary feelings and ideas, burst into tears over little things and/or be extremely withdrawn and quiet. There might be reports of eating and sleeping problems. They might get into trouble more than usual at home and at school. And, they could have poor attention, distractibility and be unable to follow directions. 

All of this results in low school performance… 

Older children may talk constantly about their traumatic situation or deny that anything is wrong. Behaviorally, they can refuse to follow rules, be oppositional and defiant, disrupt classrooms, and act anxious or depressed. It is also possible that they are tired all the time, have physical complaints without any medical reasons, fall asleep in class, or engage in risky behaviors, like alcohol, drugs, and physical fights. 

Understanding these signs of trauma will empower educators to be more sensitive and resourceful in helping children in the classroom. 

You can learn more about toxic stress and trauma, in children, by taking FREE classes at http://TraumaToolbox.com

Many of the principles and techniques used to interact with students with trauma are broadly applicable to conversations with all students. 

However, it is important for educators to realize that the emotional and social needs of students with trauma are different. 

Clear, assertive, comfortable communication can establish trust and provide structure. 

Students should be made aware, in a clear, specific fashion, what their teachers and staff expect of them. 

School discipline policies should be communicated at the beginning of the year to all students, faculty, and staff, and should be consistently described. 

Allowing students an opportunity to inquire about, and even challenge, rules, will increase their sense of procedural justice. 

If students perceive the procedures as basically transparent and fair, they are more likely to go along with an individual decision or policy they do not agree with. 

Safe, Structured, and Sensitive Schools: 

Provide consistent rules and structure

Enforce those rules consistently and transparently

Explain why the rules exist

Remain open to criticism and conversation.

Having a class meeting where students can vote on rules, or discuss policies, can help increase their sense of justice and safety. 

Many students with trauma histories have not been given much agency or structure. 

It can be comforting & affirming for students to see that school or classroom policies have a basis behind them, and can be revised if circumstances change. 

Discussion & debate of class or school rules should be limited to certain pre-determined times in the year. 

After the rules have been set, they should be consistently applied. 

This way, the students learn that rules are open to revision, but that they do provide structure once they are in place. 

Reminders of expectations should come on a regular basis. 

Can take the form of…

Posters or signs,

Social media posts,

Morning announcements,

and Monthly or weekly “check-in” meetings.

Newly enrolled students should be briefed upon entry into the school; consider having your class help teach the policies to the new student. 

Take a FREE ecourse today on parenting, anxiety, trauma, and more at http://FamilyHealer.tv

Family Healer School

Ron Huxley’s FamilyHealerSchool.com provides families with FREE help on parenting, anxiety, trauma, child behavior, spirituality and more. You can find healing for you and your family with multimedia content, downloadable resources, quizzes, and inspirational meditations. Our vision is to see families healed and living in complete abundance.

Get more information now: Click here!

40% of Students Exposed to Traumatic Stress

According to a recent article by Greater Good Magazine “Data suggests that, on average, every classroom has at least one student affected by trauma. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, close to 40 percent of students in the U.S. has been exposed to some form of traumatic stressor in their lives, with sexual assault, physical assault, and witnessing domestic violence being the three most prevalent.”

Fortunately, we can use trauma-informed learning tools to help! Visit our online course for more information for your child and your school: http://TraumaToolbox.com 

This is a free course and open to all stakeholders in your community. We are developing new courses in fall 2018. Take online quizzes, get downloadable reports, watch multimedia lessons and much more. Go now!

Healing the Special Needs Child

Many foster and adoptive parents have children with special needs who require specialized care and skills. According to Wikipedia, the term special needs “is a term used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to describe individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological.”

In the United States, more than 150,000 children with special needs are waiting for permanent homes. Traditionally, children with special needs have been considered harder to place for adoption than other children, but experience has shown that many children with special needs can be placed successfully with families who want them.

This can put more of a strain on families than they realize. Just loving a child really hard is not enough to manage the requirements of a special needs child. It takes special knowledge and a support system from other parents of special needs children and professionals who “get it!”

Being unprepared is one of the reasons foster and adoptive families disrupt. Disruption is a term that refers to the ending of a foster placement prior to the finalization of an adoption. The rate of disruption has traditionally been10-20% nationally. Post-Adoption services and education can decrease this rate dramatically!

Perhaps the most challenging special needs issue, for parents and professionals, is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This is defined as a “continuum of permanent birth defects caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. It refers to a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Problems may include an abnormal appearance, short height, low body weight, small head size, poor coordination, low intelligence, behavior problems, and problems with hearing or seeing.” (Wikipedia)

Fetal alcohol syndrome

In addition to the physical symptoms of FASD, there are several corresponding mental health problems, such as attentional deficits, clinical depression, anxiety, or other mental illness. As you can imagine, many of the problems show up in the child’s school experience. Suspensions or expulsion from school occurs in 90% of children in the united states. For teenagers, this can result in dropping of out of school, experienced by 60% of the subjects (age 12 and older).

Other problems, such as legal issues, can occur for FASD children. Being charged or convicted of a crime is experienced by 60% of the children ages 12 and older. (Wikipedia)

One of the ways to help children with special needs heal is to work on executive functioning skills. Executive Functioning: “are a set of cognitive processes – including attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, as well as reasoning, problem-solving and planning – that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals.”

Elevating executive functioning skills will help children with special needs make better choices, control their behavior and manage their thoughts and emotions. The simplest way to elevate them is through play.

play1

It’s been said that play is the “beginning of knowledge.” The play is a child’s natural language and how they interact with the world and learn new skills and the shortest route to helping special needs children.

Babies and young children can benefit from games of peekaboo, pat-a-cake, hiding games, simple songs, and music, copying games, and fingerplays. Example of young child games include Eensy Weensy Spider, Where is Thumbkin, Open, Shut Them. Repetition and allowance for failure is key to helping children’s brain develop normally.

School-age children benefit from reading books, music, and movement, simple imitation games like follow the leader, conversations, manipulation of objects like blocks and Legos. Allow children to set the course of play allowing them to start and stop the rhythm of play.

It would seem that play with special needs children is the same as with any other child and it is…except that the intention and purpose of the play are to build brain skills that need reinforcement. The ability to stay focus and tolerate interactions need to be increased over time. If a child can only sit and play for 5 minutes, we want to increase that time to 6 minutes, then 7, etc. Start where the child is and allow them to increase tolerance and focus.

Take into consideration that each time the nervous system starts and then stops, it learns how to persist past impulses and distractions. Each time it achieves a difficult goal, it discovers the pleasure of success and wants to repeat this experience. This provides an internal locus of control that doesn’t require an adult to always supervise the play.

Play also develops social skills, an area that can be drastically missing in children with special needs. As children get older, teamwork becomes more important and necessary both at home and school. Children become more active and like to engage in dance, sports, playing catch, and various competition games. Competition can become a way to alienate others as special needs children have tantrums/meltdowns when they don’t win. This is due to a need to compensate for low self-esteem feeling like a failure at tasks and games.

Let the play be about the process and not the end result. Be happy for others who when and concentrating on celebrating team efforts will enhance executive functioning and overall relational success.

Is this still exhausting work? Yes! But the effort will be worth it in the long run. Use storytelling and imaginary play to make the connections that are missing in social/emotional development. Role-playing and creative art can also be a powerful tool for parents and professionals. Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, clapping rhythms, guessing games, I Spy, and Brain Teasers are also useful brain tools.

Teenagers with special needs can benefit from practicing real-time daytimers, calendars, whiteboards, mind mapping and more to develop organizational, goal setting, planning, and monitoring and studying skills.

None of these activities should be done in isolation from caring, patient adults. Attachment and brain researchers operate under the maxim that “brains that fire together, wire together.” Just giving a toy to a child or tell them to do a task will not enhance the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where executive functioning is centered. Optimal development occurs when do people interact. Adults can guide the conversation and play to specifically target the individualized needs of the child. The child’s ability to push passed frustrations and manage moods will need the adult to help them through it.

calm

Finally, children of all ages can benefit from the mental organization power of mindfulness. Executive functioning is more than academic ability. This might be the focus on many of the adults in the child’s life but life smarts are important aspects of book smarts.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Learning to be mindful of one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations calm the nervous system so thinking skills can increase. Teaching children the importance of experiencing their breath, mindful eating, yoga, and how to ground themselves are crucial skills at all ages.

Get more powerful tools for managing special needs and trauma for your organization with Trauma-Informed Training by contacting Ron Huxley now…click here!

Healing Strategies for Hurt Children (and adults)

The four-fold strategy for healing hurt children includes:

  1. Calm Down The Body/Brain
  2. Elevate Executive Functioning Skills
  3. Rewrite Our Narratives
  4. Deepen Our Inner/Outer Connections. 

This is a holistic approach that is “Bottom Up / Top Down /and Spiritual Surround”

Calming down the body and brain is necessary for the thinking brain to come online. When the nervous system is in a “fight or flight” response to stress, either real or perceived, the body will work to protect itself from harm. This is important if you step into the line of traffic and a car is speeding toward you. You don’t have time to pull out your phone and do a web search on “best ways to avoid being hit by a car.” Your body/brain system will do this for you without conscious thought. We have an amazing brain that can operate under very difficult situations that would be too overwhelming or painful to process all at once. This skill doesn’t serve us well, however, when it trauma is continually triggered at work, school, or home. In those situations, the emotional brain hijacks the thinking brain and dysregulation occurs.

Elevating the executive functioning skills is a misunderstood problem when working with a hurt child. Executive skills are centered in the prefrontal area of the brain (behind the forehead and eyes) and perform emotional regulation, self-control, planning and organization, working memory, and moral reasoning. These are areas that are naturally underdeveloped in children. In traumatized children, there is a dramatic delay that decreases brain size and disconnects signals needed to use these skills. Healing strategies will “practice” these skills in a playful format.

Re-writing life narratives is the third healing strategies. Trauma wants to interpret our identity and produce negativity in our hearts and homes. A hurting child will re-act out hurt on others and the world around them because this is how they see themselves. A new, more positive and accurate worldview is needed. Adults are the co-authors who modeling heightened awareness of thoughts and emotions and call out the child’s true identity.

Deepening inner and outer connections are not just the final goal of healing strategies. It is also where we start. The support of loving parents and professionals is needed because the work cannot be done in isolation. Negativity can be controlled in the “atmosphere” of the home even when it cannot be managed in the child. When the home is too cold or hot, the temperature can be adjusted to improve the general mood. Deep expression of compassion for self and others open the heart for healing. Additionally, spiritual practices, such as forgiveness, release the pain that blocks intimacy in our relationships.

Get more information on keynote addresses and trauma-informed training on “Healing Strategies for Hurt Children” by contacting Ron Huxley at 805-709-2023 or rehuxley@gmail.com.

Riding the Wave of Change Together: Foster Parent Conference

ridingthewaybanner

It is my honor to present at the 41st Annual State-Wide Foster Parent Conference in Garden Grove, CA. on October 12th, 2017. The conference is entitled: “Riding the Wave of Change Together.

I will be teaching a 4-hour seminar on  The Trauma Toolbox – NeuroResilience: How to Trauma Proof Your Nervous System and Healing Strategies for the Hurt Family. 

Descriptions of the seminar are as follows:

You have a beautifully designed brain and nervous system, but what happens when it is exposed to toxic stress and trauma?  Learn the basic components of NeuroResilience to calm the brain and body with easy-to-use nervous system hacks.

How do power-full families live in close relationships with one another?  Learn how to decrease power struggles and teach children to be responsible and fun to be around.  Use practical, power-full parenting tools with interactive activities to help your family heal.

This seminar will be fun, informal, and always functional. Hope to see you there!

Conference Presentation Slides: Click here!