Understanding Childhood Trauma
We are back again with another great episode of “One Day You’ll Thank Me”. Our special guest on episode 2 was Amanda Crowder, LCSW, Trauma Specialist based in Charlotte, NC. We talked to Amanda about understanding childhood trauma. We wanted to share this information with clinicians and parents alike, so we can all learn a little bit more about this topic because it is such a public health issue right now.
To share a definition, trauma is a subjective experience to an objective event, Amanda Crowder says. It is how someone interrupts things. It's not what you think someone should be feeling or how they should be handling it. It is more about what is going on for them.
Oftentimes, people can look at their kids and say, “oh they have good grades and a good friend group”, they couldn’t be going through any type of trauma, but that doesn’t really mean that they aren’t.
An example Amanda gives is how a family with three kids can all experience a divorce between their parents completely differently, maybe the older ones feel some relief from all the stress in the house and only the younger one experiences trauma from it because they internalized it more than the other two. It’s really subjective to each person.
Some examples of traumatic events:
Bullying, Divorce, Sexual Assault, Rape, Sexual Molestation, Absentee Parents
Typical symptoms to look for and be aware of: a change in eating patterns, nightmares, if they wake up in the night can’t fall back to sleep, irrational anxiety or paranoia.
For kids it is all in the behaviors. If your kid was happy go lucky and loved going to school and now they are getting suspended for punching people, clearly something is going on. Children tell us through their behavior.
I reflected and shared a personal anecdote about how I had been living in a chronic state of stress without even being aware. I had good grades and friends, I didn’t have any behaviors. It wasn’t until a counselor at grad school told me that I had PTSD after I shared my personal life situation and told her about my mother that was mentally ill. It was then when I realized that I had internalized it after living in that state for so long. I realized that I had been doing everything I could (reading, listening to music) anything to avoid my own thoughts. Without that counselor pointing that out to me and the tools that she had given me, I am not sure where I would have been today.
It is important to point out that it isn’t always about one event in life that causes the trauma, every traumatic event is seen as an equal pebble. It’s hard to create a list of what happened, it really is about the person’s experience. It can be something you do not realize or something that is more gradual.
What is the impact later on in life for kids that have experienced trauma and what as parents should we be aware of?
Amanda says that it is human nature to Internalize things when bad things happen to us, “what did i do wrong” “what could I have done differently“ “how can i not let this happen again”? It’s important to check in to see how someone is internalizing a traumatic event. Paying attention to the language they are using. Things like, “ I never do anything right!” after you just asked them to do the dishes is a type of reaction to pay attention to.
Again, it is paying attention not only to what they are saying, but recognizing behaviors of staying up all night, not coming to the dinner table, not hanging out with the same group of kids they had been, and being sneaky about things.
When you are seeing these types of behaviors occurring you want to be sure to not start grilling them. You want to provide a space, not an interrogation, and show them you are going to be there for them and not judge them. Sometimes it is sitting in discomfort with them and listening. Amanda feels one of the best things you can give your child is to be empathetic to them and their feelings.
She says you need to know yourself as a parent. One of her favorite quotes is “There is no perfect parent, but be a real parent.” Be a good role model, own up if you didn’t react in how they needed you to or when you are stressing about something. Owning your stuff is being a good parent. It’s good role modeling.
I find in my work, that kids often have trouble communicating with their parents about something that is upsetting to them because they don’t want the parents to be upset and have their own grief. So they may keep things in not wanting to hurt you and then the kid is not getting the support they need. This is where a professional can be helpful in allowing the kid to share their feelings freely without worrying about their emotional reactions.
How can you be supportive as a parent:
Listening is vital- It is so important not to listen to respond, but listen to hear! Do not expect them to tell you anything. They may not and it is unfair to have expectations.
Be present, as a parent you have to just create the space for when they are ready. You may say, “What do you need from me right now, I want to hear you and I want to be here for you.”
Showing empathy, but not sharing about your own experiences necessarily.
Don’t internalize it yourself as the parent. “I shouldn't have let them go that night”,” if I would have known or trusted my gut”. We can’t change what happened. It is best not to internalize it. You cannot parent from a place of emotion or from a place of worry or fear.
Yes, we want our kids to be healthy, happy, successful. What we do need to allow is for them to make mistakes, but keeping the space for them is so important.
We all have reactions to events in our lives that may be characterized as a trauma, but knowing signs to look for in your kids and knowing that there are specialized trained people out there for you or your child is so vital. Be sure to take advantage of the resources available because things will go so much more smoother with the tools and support in place.
Trauma therapy might sound like such an awful daunting thing, but it does not have to be if you find the right therapist and get the right support.
To check out Amanda's book, CBT Toolbox for Children & Adolescents, go HERE
To learn more about Amanda and her work, you can visit her website www.commonwaterscounselingservices.com
Learn more about Dr. Tara Egan's therapy services RIGHT HERE.
Learn more about Dr. Tara Egan's books, webinars, public speaking opportunities, and coaching/consultation services RIGHT HERE.
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