Children Who Have “Behaviors” Most Likely Suffer From Trauma.
There is a lot of new research on the effects of Trauma on the brain development of young children, that is beyond important.
As an early childcare specialist, and licensing officer for child care programs, I cannot stress enough how integral it is to be educated in what trauma does to a child in the first years of life. If you are reading this through the lens of a parent, grandparent, teacher, child care provider or pregnant mother to be, I encourage you to research. I encourage you to educate yourself on these newest studies.
The moment a woman becomes pregnant, the clock starts ticking. From that moment, the next 1000 days are critical in determining how the baby will develop emotionally, socially, cognitively and physically.
As an early childcare staff or as a foster parent, it is necessary to learn more about how to help children to self soothe and self regulate.
If that baby is exposed to trauma within early childhood, it creates a ripple effect in the way the child learns coping skills and responses. I cannot stress this enough.
Trauma is defined as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience.
What this can look like in the beginning of a child’s life can be a result of a wide variety of reasons or situations:
> Think of the children that are sent to North America as refugees, just as an example. Those children have seen violence, fear, death, and chaos, in a time of their lives that they have not learned coping skills. They have no idea how to make a transition from one culture to the next.
I have seen situations where a child starts attending a daycare centre in Canada, after being born into a world where there are no toys, no clean water, no food, no home and no real bonding with his parents. He watched his father get shot and his sister was taken away from some monsters with guns. This child is only 3 years old, BUT those 3 years of his life have been hell.
The child gets taken to a daycare and is overwhelmed by his new environment. There are bins of toys everywhere, the other children look different, the child care staff are always trying to touch him and the food smells weird. The childcare staff, not fully understanding the hell that this child has endured, try to “force” the child to eat. They need him to nap with the others so that they can take their lunch breaks. When he cries and cries, because he in such a strange environment, the workers become frustrated with them, begging him to stop screaming and making attempts to grab him to cuddle. I cannot imagine what is happening in that little boy’s mind. Suddenly, he is traumatized once again, by people who are trying to “save” him.
To put this in adult terms, consider yourself in a situation like this. You wake up one morning, and you are dropped into a completely new environment. Maybe you have been living in the woods all your life, and someone wakes you in the middle of the night and drops you in the core of downtown New York. You have NO control over making any decisions. Everything around you is bright and scary, and the people around you are terrifying. You feel lost and anxious.
Studies have shown that this kind of trauma, will impact this child forever. It will make a mark in his brainstem, causing his amygdala (the small almond shaped inner core of his brain) to either swell or shrink. His responses may present in various ways:
> Behaviors- He may kick, bite, punch, or throw temper tantrums. He doesn’t have the skills to self regulate. He may harm himself or others, or he may throw toys that frustrate him. Often what will happen with this child is that the childcare staff will “give up” on him after a few bad days, and have him taken out of their program. They may tell his parents or social workers that they can no longer “handle” his behaviors, and they refuse to care for him.
In turn, the child is again traumatized, as the message to his brain is “I am not worthy of love”. “I can’t do anything right”. or “Why don’t they understand me?” Instead of learning by role modelling how to cope and self regulate, he is moved to another environment, and the cycle continues.
> Withdrawn- Another coping response is to become extremely quiet and disengaged with his environment. He may play alone, quietly in a corner and not make friends. He may not show any emotions, such as crying or laughing, because he is too scared. Perhaps he was neglected at home and crying never helped him. It could be that his family forced him to stay quiet so they wouldn’t be found before they escaped their war torn country. These children are typically labeled as “good kids” because they are less needy, demanding less attention. As early childcare professionals, it is beyond imperative to try and engage with these children and help them learn how to manage their internal trauma.
> Vices for Security- Children may drag around a dirty old blanket, have a soother, or have a special stuffed toy that makes them feel secure. Maybe it’s he last piece of their HOME that they have. They drag it to daycare and refuse to allow other children to touch it. Often, I will observe child care staff take the vice away from the child, making them cry or become angry. WHY?
Why would you take away the ONE item that helps this child to cope? Some childcare programs may have policies in place that doesn’t “allow” children to bring items from home-maybe it’s because of hygiene reasons, or maybe it’s because the items create conflict between the children. THIS policy is never about the children’s developmental needs. It’s strictly based on the control of the staff.
Put yourself in their shoes for a minute. You wake up every morning, pour yourself a coffee and reach for your phone. It is what you use to self regulate in the mornings, taking some quiet time to yourself. You pour a second cup of coffee into a to-go mug, or go through a drive thru to get your favorite latte. Your phone sits beside you in your handbag or on your passenger seat.
As soon as you walk into work, to happily start your day, your boss comes along and grabs your latte, your phone and your handbag from you and says, “You can have this after work! No phones or coffee allowed!” You become upset and they grab it from your tight grip and put your stuff out of reach. Now, you may or may not get angry and punch your boss. You may not cry, but you DEFINITELY feel emotions. Maybe you can self regulate and you don’t lash out. But you have developed that response. This child has not.
> Delayed Development- The child’s development may not be up to the same standards that a “typical” child may be at. If a child comes from a traumatic environment, or from a culture where potty training and weaning from bottles is not prioritized. They may not have been taught words or phrases of our world. They may have been neglected. Their nutrition may have been poor. You don’t know.
In childcare settings, children are most often put into groups based on their ages. Infants are in diapers, of course, and always require help in feeding. Toddlers are learning new eating and social skills and learning new words every day. They learn how to share, how to run, how to climb, sing, and endless other new abilities. Then the preschool aged children are taught to be self relient. They are potty trained and learn through playing, and are taught how to do everything for themselves. In a perfect world.
A healthy, developmentally “normal” child learns to self soothe. They learn coping strategies and they learn how to watch role models and mimic them. It refers to the serve and return response that healthy children are born with.
But, what if a 4 year old child comes to daycare with a bottle and in diapers, because her was never given these opportunities for development? Perhaps he was taken out of a terrifying home. Perhaps the culture he comes from speaks another language altogether and have different values. Or, maybe his family was so concerned about escaping from their world of hell, that they simply didn’t have time to work on these skills with the child.
Sadly, I have seen childcare programs reject these children. I have seen staff send these children back to toddler or infant groups because they “don’t do diapers”. What kind of supports are accessible for these children and how are they learning these skills if they are put back in with children who cannot model for them?
They may have been ripped out of the arms of the only people they have ever known. Maybe they are being harmed at home by siblings, relatives, friends, neighbours, or babysitters. Maybe they have suffered a loss of a family member, or perhaps they are not given proper nutrition. Maybe their parents have been abused or have suffered trauma and they don’t know how to raise a child, or self regulate on their own.
I cannot stress enough, that if you are involved with children in the early stages of life, in any way; parenting, care giving, fostering, or what have you, you NEED to understand what the first 1000 days of the child’s life will look like. You need to empathize and try and help the child to learn the skills of coping.
In schools, teachers become frustrated with children with “Behaviors”. The kids are given labels like OCD, or medicated to help control their coping mechanisms. They are sent home for their parents to “deal with”. They are shunned, talked about, or punished for not being able to handle tough situations.
We live in a world where parents are distracted, teachers are stressed and child care staff are underpaid and undervalued.
Imagine what our world would be like if we went back to the “Village” that raised the child, and we focused on those first 1000 days to help children develop the skills they need to become strong, resilient, healthy human beings.
Be informed and educated. Understand the needs of each individual child. Role model. Show compassion and understanding. Empathize and help to teach the child to self regulate and self soothe. If you are unable to help the child or meet his needs, then find supports that can work with you.
Please, don’t turn your back on a child who has not been given the skills to be at the standard you expect. Don’t give them labels and cause further trauma in their lives. Children who come from a life of trauma need help to live and learn. If you have chosen a career or life that involves children, do your research and due dilligence to make sure that the impact you make on their lives is a positive one. It only takes ONE person to make a child’s life a healthy one.
Make every effort to be that person