Talking to Children about Violence

This article is a reprint on how to talk to children about violence. Unfortunately, the information is still timely as shootings continue to occur around the globe negatively impacting children and their development. Regardless of the specific incident, this blog will help parent understand the process for safely communicating with children.

Violence in society is a major issue for families today. It’s everywhere we look, it seems, and as a parent it disturbs me deeply. Part of the job of parenting is to protect our children from the ills, if not the evils of the world, but what do you do when it comes looking for you. Recent sniper attacks, school suicide-killings and the outbreak of fighting around the world, makes talking to our children about violence a necessary responsibility.

It would be easy to wait until our children bring up the issue and not take a lead role in discussing violence with them. Unfortunately, too many children take in the information, attempt to process it with their limited experience and understanding, and never say a word to an adult. Just because they don’t initiate, doesn’t mean that parents shouldn’t. For these children, talking about the violence may relieve feelings of anxiety and insecurity they were bottling up inside. Children get their sense of safety from the attitudes and behaviors of adults, primarily parents. How we act and talk will have a direct impact of the emotional well being of children.

The first step to talking to children about violence is to acknowledge their thoughts and feelings about the violence. The best way is the simplest: Ask them what they think or feel. This will give parents a barometer about where the child is at and what concerns need to be addressed. Demonstrate that you are willing to hear it and give your child full attention without judgement. Too many parents are quick to jump into a child’s comments and make them seem invalid. A parent might dismiss their child’s fears as unnecessary: “You shouldn’t feel that way” or “You don’t need to worry about that.” A parent might even reply that the child is being silly, stupid, or overreacting for what they are thinking and feeling. This is a sure method to get a child to shut down emotionally and not communicate with a parent, now and in the future. Get on a child’s level by sitting or kneeling down when talking to them. And get rid of any distractions (i.e., turn off the television or radio). Make the conversation about them not you.

The second step is to clarify and/or reflect back a child’s comments. For example, a parent might say, “Tell me more about your fears of someone killing you” or “What do you mean you think the world is going to end.” This also communicates to a child that what they have to say is important and not trivial. It makes parents more aware of the underlying issues. If a child’s comments are clear then repeat back to the child what you heard them say. Don’t be a parrot; just summarize it, so that you and the child are on the same ground mentally.

The third step is to share your feelings and value about the violence. This means you must be aware of what they are before you ask your child to share. How do you feel about the violence? What is your value-system about killing, death, and violence? Is it a social, moral, or relational issue for you or does it encompass all three. Once you are aware of where you stand, you can communicate this with your child. Share in a direct, simple, and honest manner. How you say something may be more important than what you say. But be sure to say it in a matter of fact way.

What you say will vary depending on your values and the age of your child. Young children have difficulty separating reality from fantasy and it may be important to describe the difference. For example, a parent of a young child might state: “I know that the cartoons you watch sometimes have characters who shoot one another but that is not real. In real life, when someone gets shot they get hurt and they might even die.” Avoid in-depth explanations for younger children. They will lose attention and not be able to process long descriptions. One to two sentences are more than enough. Additionally, parents can use drawings and children’s book about fighting, violence, etc. Always follow up with reassurances that you love them, will do your best to care and protect them, and that they are safe.

Older children may be able to verbalize their thoughts and feelings more distinctly but don’t let that be an excuse not to talk about it. Use the same principles as with younger children but feel free to talk more deeply about the violence. Watch the news report together or read the newspaper article out loud, pausing to discussing thoughts and feelings. Ask them if they know of anyone who has been the victim of violence. The older they are the more likely they will know or have heard of someone. Talk about violence that has occurred towards them or in their daily life, such as school. Guide the older child toward your values without forcing them on them or telling them how they should believe. And look at ways to get involved in your community or through national relief efforts to help victims of violence. Being proactive will give a child a sense of power versus powerlessness.

What we say to children is important and we must say something. Sticking our heads in the sand will not improve the situation. Actually, ignoring or dismissing the topic of violence will increase a child’s anxiety and fears. But even more importantly, how we talk about violence will have profound impact on our child’s sense of self, their understanding of right from wrong, and their relationship with the parent.

How does trauma impact the family?

A fact sheet from the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

All families experience trauma differently. Some factors such as the children’s age or the family’s culture or ethnicity may influence how the family copes and recovers. After traumatic experiences, family members often show signs of resilience. For some families, however, the stress and burden cause them to feel alone, overwhelmed, and less able to maintain vital family functions. Research demonstrates that trauma impacts all levels of the family:

■ Families that “come together” after traumatic experiences can strengthen bonds and hasten recovery. Families dealing with high stress, limited resources, and multiple trauma exposures often find their coping resources depleted. Their efforts to plan or problem solve are not effective, resulting in ongoing crises and discord.

■ Children, adolescents, and adult family members can experience mild, moderate, or severe posttraumatic stress symptoms. After traumatic exposure, some people grow stronger and develop a new appreciation for life. Others may struggle with continuing trauma-related problems that disrupt functioning in many areas of their lives.

■ Extended family relationships can offer sustaining resources in the form of family rituals and traditions, emotional support, and care giving. Some families who have had significant trauma across generations may experience current problems in functioning, and they risk transmitting the effects of trauma to the next generation.

■ Parent-child relationships have a central role in parents’ and children’s adjustment after trauma exposure. Protective, nurturing, and effective parental responses are positively associated with reduced symptoms in children. At the same time, parental stress, isolation, and burden can make parents less emotionally available to their children and less able to help them recover from trauma.

■ Adult intimate relationships can be a source of strength in coping with a traumatic experience. However, many intimate partners struggle with communication and have difficulty expressing emotion or maintaining intimacy, which make them less available to each other and increases the risk of separation, conflict, or interpersonal violence.

■ Sibling relationships that are close and supportive can offer a buffer against the negative effect of trauma, but siblings who feel disconnected or unprotected can have high conflict. Siblings not directly exposed to trauma can suffer secondary or vicarious traumatic stress; these symptoms mirror posttraumatic stress and interfere with functioning at home or school.

Download the complete fact sheet at http://TraumaToolbox.com and learn more practical tools on how to have a trauma-informed home. Contact Ron Huxley today to set up a therapy session or organize a seminar for your agency or event at rehuxley@gmail.com / 805-709-2023. You can click on the schedule a session link now on the home page if you live in the San Luis Obispo, Ca. or Santa Barbara, Ca. area.

Are You Mentally Tough?

How quickly can you bounce back from difficult situations? 

Do you feel like you thrive from day to day or is it challenging to just survive each day? 

Resiliency is a popular term in today’s world of positive psychology. The goal is to discover what works and how to use that quality, skill, or mental strategy to feel more effective and capable. 

> Watch Ron Huxley’s video on “The Road to Resilience” here.

Unfortunately, when we experience trauma, we develop protective programs, layered deep in our nervous system, that want to avoid situations that might put us in danger or extreme stress/threat. We want to emphasize that this is a protective program and not a negative one, but that it can continue to play out in our lives and relationships, that is no longer needed in our lives. Being aware we have these program helps us address them which opens a door to learning how to adapt. 

This process of being aware, addressing difficult issues, and learning to adapt is just one way we can increase our mental toughness. 

Mental toughness is about courage, not perfection. 

Facing difficulties, after going through traumatic experiences takes courage. Fighting against our own inner protective programs is hard. Taking risks to trust again is tough. Learning to believe in a hope-filled future seems impossible. This isn’t perfection. It is about the process requiring a change of heart. In faith-based terms, we call this transformation. 

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2

This verse describes that mental toughness or resilience is an inside job. It doesn’t come from outer performance. It comes from an inner transformation of beliefs about ourselves and the world. It can’t be sustained by an external force. True, lasting toughness comes from a conversation of our will. 

> Watch Ron Huxley’s video on “Faith-Based Trauma Therapy” here.

Kelly McGonical, in her book, The Upside of Stress, doesn’t view stressful events as good or bad. She claims that true resiliency comes from finding the good in the stressful situation and learning new ways to deal with challenges. It isn’t that you have to go through trials in order to learn how to deal with them. We all go through tough times. It is how you react to what you can’t control that helps us be mentally tough. 

Viktor Frankl, Psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor stated: “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of his human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. To choose one’s way (1959).”

Our ability to choose – what we call our will – is the key to bouncing back and moving forward. It is where we find our true freedom. In my own Christian walk, I have found that it is the “truth that sets us free (John 8:32). Trauma not only overwhelms the nervous system, programs protective emotional programs deep within us, it also redefines our identity. 

> Learn more about how trauma affects a child’s brain and development here.

John O’Donohue, contemporary priest, poet, and philosopher, encourages us with the words: “Your identity is not equivalent to your biography. There is a place in you where you have never been wounded, where there’s a seamlessness in you, and where there is a confidence and tranquility. Your life becomes the shape of the days you inhabit.”

Another step to mental toughness is to express daily gratitudes. A lot of scientific studies have been done on gratitude and it has become an foundational tool for shifting our negative attitude in psychology and spirituality. 

> Invite Ron Huxley to speak to your organization or at your next event on Trauma and Trauma-formed Care here.

Try using the Center for Healing Minds exercise called the 5-3-1 Gratitude Practice:

5… Meditate 5 minutes a day focusing on the breath or taking a break from your to-do list to de-stress and calm the mind. You can use various online videos and apps to help with this process. 

3… Write done 3 good things that happened today. Research suggests a positive relationship between gratitude and higher levels of resilience. 

1… Do 1 act of kindness per day. Hold the door open for the person coming into a store behind you, pay someone a compliment, be generous in your tipping.  

Gratitude blesses others and transforms the inner life of the giver. 

Mental toughness is the ability to bounce back, move forward, and shifts negative perspectives. It is how we resist, manage, and overcome difficult moments in our lives. We need it to feel renewed hope following trials and traumas that have impacted our inner self. 

> Take free online courses on Trauma-Informed Care, Parenting, and Anxiety at http://FamilyHealer.tv

The Problem with Labeling Trauma

There is a common problem in social work and mental health today in trying to label people who have experience trauma. The reason for this is that trauma can impact the brain and the body in a way that produces a wide-range of symptoms that can be confusing to understand.

Most professionals are not “trauma-informed” meaning they haven’t received training on how trauma affects every area of human functioning or how to treat the whole person. Trauma, particularly the adverse experiences endured in early childhood, that can result in coping mechanisms that mimic criteria of various clinical diagnoses.

What are some of the labels you have heard placed on traumatized children or adults?

  • Manipulative
  • Oppositional
  • Defiant
  • Hyperactive
  • Temperamental
  • Trouble makers
  • Bipolar
  • Narcissistic
  • Borderline
  • No conscience
  • Destructive
  • Stressed Out
  • and many more…

In addition to a lack of trauma awareness, we are all “meaning-seeking creatures” that want to label everything so that we can feel better about ourselves and our world. Unfortunately, it can do a lot of damage to the people we are labeling. If we label incorrectly, we will treat them incorrectly. This is might also be why so many survivors appear to “sabotage” their success. It isn’t a real desire to ruin their life. They need sensitive professionals and parents who understand how to deal with the root, trauma issues.

Fortunately, there is a national movement to train parents and professionals, who work with traumatized children, to become more “Trauma-Informed.” This movement is reaching out to homes, school, and organizations and explaining “What is trauma?”, “Impact of Trauma on the Brain, Behavior and Health”, “Adverse Childhood Experiences”, “Power of Resilience”, “Regulation Skills”, “Dissociation”, “Mindfulness and Compassion”, “Recognizing Signs and Symptoms of Trauma in Children”, “Attachment Disorders”, “Post-traumatic stress and Post-trauma Growth”, “Trauma in the Community”, “Avoiding Re-traumatization in Survivors”, “Trauma-Sensitive Schools”, “Faith-Based Approaches to Trauma” and more.

The focus of these training efforts is shifting the primary question inherent in treatment plans, screenings, programs and polices from asking “what is wrong with you” to “what has happened to you”. 

This paradigm shift starts the dialogue with survivors, humanizes our practices and helps traumatized children and adults on how to find true healing.

If you would like Ron to train your organization on Trauma-Informed Care, contact him today at 805-709-2023 or email at rehuxley@gmail.com.

The Road to Resilience

June 2019 is PTSD Awareness Month and we are honoring all the victims of war and trauma with one of our TraumaToolbox videos on resilience and the history of PTSD. Get more at http://TraumaToolbox.com

The other side of toxic stress and trauma is resiliency. We can build resiliency skills in our homes, schools, and the community-at-large. Trauma-informed care asks us to make a paradigm shift in our approaches from asking survivors “what’s wrong with you?” to “what happened to you?”. The latter creates safety and respect in our programs and procedures with traumatized children, women, and men.

Learn the six key principles of SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration): Safety, Trustworthiness, Peer Support, Collaboration, Empowerment, and Cultural Awareness.

Individual strengths of the survivor should be build on, expanded, and celebrated. Together the individual, organization, and community can heal together.

We must move beyond cultural stereotypes and biases and recognize and addresses historical trauma.

These principles lead to the development of the 4 R’s: Realize the impact of trauma, Recognize the signs of trauma, Respond in policies, practices and procedures, and ultimately, to Resist retraumatization.

What does this look like in your organization or business? Get helpful quizzes, handouts, checklists more at TraumaToolbox.com

June Is PTSD Awareness Month – Take the Pledge

https://content.govdelivery.com/landing_pages/10180/9839c2bc4840115d408f04cc183a0400

PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder) is a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault.

It’s normal to have upsetting memories, feel on edge, or have trouble sleeping after a traumatic event. At first, it may be hard to do normal daily activities, like go to work, go to school, or spend time with people you care about. But most people start to feel better after a few weeks or months.

If it’s been longer than a few months and you’re still having symptoms, you may have PTSD. For some people, PTSD symptoms may start later on, or they may come and go over time.

Who Develops PTSD?

Anyone can develop PTSD at any age. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will have PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control. For example, having a very intense or long-lasting traumatic event or getting injured during the event can make it more likely that a person will develop PTSD. PTSD is also more common after certain types of trauma, like combat and sexual assault.

Personal factors, like previous traumatic exposure, age, and gender, can affect whether or not a person will develop PTSD. What happens after the traumatic event is also important. Stress can make PTSD more likely, while social support can make it less likely.

Although there are a core set of PTSD symptoms that are required for the diagnosis, PTSD does not look the same in everyone. In addition symptoms may come and go and may change over time from childhood to later adulthood.

  • Avoidance
    Avoidance is a common reaction to trauma. It is natural to want to avoid thinking about or feeling emotions about a stressful event. But when avoidance is extreme, or when it’s the main way you cope, it can interfere with your emotional recovery and healing.
  • Trauma Reminders: Anniversaries
    On the anniversary of a traumatic event, some survivors have an increase in distress. These “anniversary reactions” can range from feeling mildly upset for a day or two to a more extreme reaction with more severe mental health or medical symptoms.
  • Trauma Reminders: Triggers
    People respond to traumatic events in a number of ways, such as feelings of concern, anger, fear, or helplessness. Research shows that people who have been through trauma, loss, or hardship in the past may be even more likely than others to be affected by new, potentially traumatic events.
  • Aging Veterans and Posttraumatic Stress Symptoms
    For many Veterans, memories of their wartime experiences can still be upsetting long after they served in combat. Even if they served many years ago, military experience can still affect the lives of Veterans today.
  • Very Young Trauma Survivors
    Trauma and abuse can have grave impact on the very young. The attachment or bond between a child and parent matters as a young child grows. This bond can make a difference in how a child responds to trauma.
  • PTSD in Children and Teens
    Trauma affects school-aged children and teenagers differently than adults. If diagnosed with PTSD, the symptoms in children and teens can also look different. For many children, PTSD symptoms go away on their own after a few months. Yet some children show symptoms for years if they do not get treatment. There are many treatment options available including talk and play therapy.
  • History of PTSD in Veterans: Civil War to DSM-5
    PTSD became a diagnosis with influence from a number of social movements, such as Veteran, feminist, and Holocaust survivor advocacy groups. Research about Veterans returning from combat was a critical piece to the creation of the diagnosis. So, the history of what is now known as PTSD often references combat history. * Source:

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

Dealing with the Soul and Emotions

Everyone struggles with how to deal with their emotions. This is especially challenging for children whose neurological development has not matured to the point that they can use more rational thinking to deal with their emotions. It becomes even more problematic if our children have suffered a traumatic event or experienced toxic stress. 

Trauma and toxic stress impair all areas of development for children causing them to act and think below their chronological age. We call this gap “Age vs. Stage” to reference how a 16-year-old can act socially and emotionally like a 6-year-old. Often, the age that the child experienced the trauma is the emotional age they get stuck at even while the rest of them advance in years. This can open the eyes for many caregivers who are puzzled by the age vs stage problem. 

Adults don’t always have good solutions to this problem, however. We may not really know how to manage our own emotions. Perhaps we have had our own trauma that shuts us down when overwhelmed by stress or we haven’t had many examples of what healthy, responsible adults do with their intense feelings and so, we limp along with our own developmental journey. 

What most adults do is stuff their feelings. They might do this by dissociating from their bodily reactions and disconnect from extreme feelings of intimacy or closeness. They might push the feelings down until the boil over in a fit of rage, with everyone around the just waiting for the next volcanic explosion. They might try to be super reasonable and lecture their family and be perfectionistic with expectations no one can live up to. 

The healthier answer is not to try and live from our emotions at all! The secret is that you can change your emotions by changing what you believe. When you wake up in the morning, don’t ask yourself “How do I feel today?” Ask yourself, instead “What do I believe today?”

Families who are faith-based believe many things they don’t always practice. For example, we believe that God will take care of all our needs but we spend hours being worried. Our beliefs must go deeper into our subconscious minds where habits exist. You don’t think about how to do certain things in life, like driving your car or make dinner, because those thought structures are set in our subconscious mind so that we can spend more energy on other conscious thoughts and actions. Practicing what we preach has to become a natural reaction to life’s challenges as well. 

Faith-based families have a strange distrust of their own souls as well. Our souls comprise our body, mind, and will. Perhaps we distrust them because we haven’t changed our subconscious habits yet. This will be an on-going process, for sure, and one we can start modeling for our children as well. We also have to live healthy lifestyles, eating good food, engaging in playful activities, and getting rest and exercise. 

Our beliefs allow us to overcome shame from our past. This is what causes traumatized children (and adults) from believing they deserve a good life because they are unworthy of love, unwanted by biological parents, and damaged in some way – maybe many ways. This negative belief results in the sabotage of success, self-injurious behavior, suicidal ideations, depression, anxiety, and fear. This list could go on…

God’s mercies are supposed to be “new every morning” and the same level of grace should be extended to ourselves as well as to other. We need to offer this to our traumatized children, as well. Whatever happened yesterday must be forgiven and our thought life must be taken captive. 

A powerful tool for ourselves and for our families is to make biblical declarations – out loud! Life or death is on the tongue and what we say can steer the direction of our lives (Proverbs 18:21; James 3). Speaking out our new beliefs is an act of faith because we may not feel that what we are saying is true but we are not letting our emotions guide our beliefs, we are letting our beliefs direct our emotions. 

Renewing the mind is how we are to live our faith governed lives and it is a continual process of maturity for our children and will help to close the age vs. stage gap (Romans 12:1-1). 

Start your declarations with the words “I believe” and see what happens to your own mindset as well as to your child’s attitude and behaviors.

“I believe” that I have all the grace I need to face any challenge or problem that comes up for me today.

“I believe” that I am worthy of love and the love of God, who is love, overflows from me to everyone I encounter today.

“I believe” that I am trustworthy, kind, and tenderhearted. I am able to forgive other people who have hurt by and not live in bitterness or seek revenge. 

  • “I believe” that my prayers are powerful.
  • “I believe” I am great at relationships and making friends.
  • “I believe”  that my family is blessed and I am a blessing to everyone around me.
  • “I believe” God is on my side and doesn’t hate me or punish me. 
  • “I believe” I can think right thoughts and make good decisions.
  • “I believe” that I am successful and have the ability to think and act creatively today.
  • “I believe” today is a new day, full of new mercies, and I can be happy and rejoice in it. 
  • “I believe” that the joy of the Lord is my strength. 
  • “I believe” I do not have a spirit of fear and God gives me power, love, and a sound mind. 
  • “I believe” that I can control what I say and everything from my lips speak love, live, and encouragement. 
  • “I believe” that I can remember everything I am studying and will accomplish everything that needs to get down today. 
  • “I believe” that believing the truth sets me free of fear and depression. 

Don’t worry if you don’t always feel what you say is true. Don’t be concerned or deterred if your children don’t agree with your declarations, at first. I believe that if you practice these declarations and start to create your own personal list that you will see incredible changes in your own heart and the heart of your family, today and over time!

Take a free online course to help your family heal at FamilyHealer.tv