“Maintaining an unflinching awareness of the prevalence of childhood trauma is the first step in learning how to respond in a trauma-sensitive manner. This allows teachers and administrators to approach challenging behaviors from a stance that is more interested in understanding what's happened to a child to cause his behavior, than judging it as willful or defiant.”
Yet, as we know, trauma is real. Our children and youth experience it in a myriad of ways. It ranges from low-level to high-level and everything in between. We may have no time for trauma, and the effects to come, but trauma doesn’t care. It comes and takes its toll.
As caregivers, shepherds, teachers, and leaders of people, we are called to bring peace, comfort, acceptance and love into the lives we touch. This requires an “unflinching awareness” of trauma as an active dynamic in the lives of those we serve. It calls for a sensitivity and awareness of the “new normal” many may be experiencing as they travel the journey after trauma.
What are the practical applications for us in embracing this “unflinching awareness?” Here are some ideas:
- Have margins – It is difficult, if not often impossible, for us to be aware of others’ needs when our own command undue attention. Creating spaces for balance, rest, and calming in the midst of our lives gives us space to take note of the people around us and their presenting behaviors. We are consequently more tuned in to ask important questions and zero in on the root causes of adverse behavior, particularly when it is trauma-based.
- Don’t be quick to blame – When children or youth act out in disruptive ways the default often goes to impugning them who have willfully and defiantly chosen to behave in this manner. While this could be true, the trauma-sensitive person will take the needed time to discover its accuracy and not impulsively fix the problem.
- Listen – Awareness mandates listening as the primary tool. Listening requires audible intake, visual observance, and the desire for discernment.
- Be patient – The process of “unflinching awareness” necessitates accepting the bigger picture. In Episode 10, Season 2 of the television series, “West Wing” a trauma psychiatrist spends time with one of the White House staff who has experienced a shooting. The show displays a process that is painfully slow in getting to the core of the staffer’s experience and treating the real wound. So it is with supposed “bad” behavior. Patience is a virtue.
- Recycle – Be prepared to do it all again. Steady mindfulness of trauma-based behavior is ongoing. We don’t finish one case and call it a day. More will come. Keep your margins, be slow to blame, listen and love, and be patient.
What other applications would you add? In your desire to take time for trauma, where do you feel strongest? Where do you feel weakest?
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* For more information on caring for children and youth after trauma, visit our youth ministry tools and training page.
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