Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Tips for Recognizing Trauma, Helping Children Build Resilience

The statistics are both surprising and disturbing--as many as two of every three children age 16 and younger have been exposed to at least one traumatic event, with consequences that can affect their development, learning, and behavior.

Traumatic experiences can range from a one-time incident, such as the sudden death of a loved one or a natural disaster, to ongoing exposure to experiences like bullying or family violence. Studies have found that the effect on a child’s mental and social development can vary, from a diminished ability to focus and solve problems to long-term difficulties with academic performance, low self-esteem, and relationships with others.

Identifying that a child has experienced trauma is not always easy because emotional and behavioral responses to trauma vary depending on a child’s personality, the type and severity of the incident, the availability of adult support, and other factors. A child may suddenly lose control of his or her emotions, or show no outward changes at all. Because of their age, younger children may have even more difficulty talking about a traumatic event and what they are experiencing.

Still, there are behaviors that could be signs that a child is having difficulty dealing with a traumatic event, such as:
  • Separation anxiety or clinginess toward teachers or caregivers
  • Changes in appetite
  • Decreased interest in and/or withdrawal from friends or family and normal activities
  • Over- or under-reaction to physical contact, sudden movements, and sounds
  • Angry outbursts and/or aggression
  • More frequent complaints of headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue
  • Repeatedly recreating the event through comments, drawings, or activity
  • Emotional “numbing,” or expressing no feelings at all about the event
What can teachers, caregivers, and other adults do to help a child who has experienced trauma? The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) offers these suggestions:
  • Maintain usual routines
  • Make sure that the child is not being isolated
  • Provide a safe place where the child can talk about the incident
  • Be sensitive to potential environmental cues that may cause a reaction (e.g., an approaching storm or the anniversary of an event)
  • Warn the child in advance of a change in routine or other event that could be unsettling
  • Monitor what information the child shares with other children to prevent excessive curiosity from peers
  • Nurture the child’s positive self-view
With support, many children can recover quickly from the fear and anxiety caused by a traumatic experience. But others may need more help over a longer period of time, both to recover and to build resilience that can help them when they face challenges in the future.

To learn more about early childhood trauma and its effects on young children, contact Child Care Aware® of Central Missouri.  Information is also available online from SAMHSA’s website.

These resources provide more detailed information on the types of traumatic events that can affect children; how exposure to traumatic events may change a child’s academic, emotional, and mental development; strategies for helping a child deal with trauma; and additional resources regarding treatment and prevention.

With the support of caring adults, children can recover from traumatic events, reestablish a sense of well-being, and obtain treatment and other services if needed. The more you know about trauma and children, the more you can do to help them.

Posted with permission from SAMHSA.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Give Your Child Something That Will Last a Lifetime… Quality Child Care!

Quality child care can make a big difference in the future of your child, your community, and even the world.  By choosing quality care now, you give your child a head start on a strong mind, body, and spirit.  So take your time in choosing child care because it will be one of the most important decisions your family will make.  Compare your choices and ask plenty of questions. The more you know about your choices the easier it is going to be to make that decision.

There are five basic steps in choosing a quality child care program:

1. Look  Visit several child care facilities so you are able to compare each one.  On each visit, think about your first impression.  But do not stop there.  Ask yourself some questions:  Does the place look safe for your child?  Does the staff talk with each child at the child’s eye level?  Are there plenty of toys and learning materials within a child’s reach?  Always visit a potential program more than once and at after different times of day.  Continue your visits after you start using the child care.

2. Listen  Close your eyes and see what you hear when you walk into a potential program.  Do you hear children’s voices?  Do they sound happy?  How do the teacher’s voices sound?  A place that’s too quiet may mean not enough activity.  A place that’s too noisy may mean there is a lack of control.

3. Count  Count the number of children in the group.  Then count the number of staff members caring for them.  The fewer number of children for each adult, the more attention your child will get.  If it is a licensed facility, there are regulations around the ratio of children to teachers.

4. Ask  It’s very important that the adults who care for your children have the knowledge and experience to give them the attention they need.  Ask about the background, experience, and education of all staff, including the director.  Quality care providers will be happy to have you ask these questions.

5. Be informed  Find out more information about quality improvement projects in your area.  Ask if the potential provider is enrolled in these activities.  Ask the provider is accredited.  These programs undergo in-depth self-assessments, independent observation and approval by professional experts.

Utilizing these five steps is a great way to start to find a program that meets your family’s needs.  Child Care Aware® of Missouri can aid you in this search for child care if you call 1-866-892-3228.  They know a lot about local choices and can provide you with more resources to aid you in this search.  They can also save you time in searching for child care.  Finding convenient, affordable, high quality child care can take a lot of time, but it’s certainly time well spent.

Written by:  Joanne Nelson, Central Region Coordinator, Child Care Aware® of Central Missouri with information from the National Association of Child Care Resource Referral Association

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Making Divorce Less Traumatic for Kids

Parents can make divorce less traumatic for their kids by following a few tried and true tips.  Some parents have been able to reduce the negative effects of divorce on their children…and ended up raising kids who grew into really nice, responsible adults. Sadly, we’ve also seen the other side of the coin…parents who unnecessarily make things much tougher for their children and themselves. 
Listed below are some tips that up the odds those children of divorce will grow up well–adjusted, instead of angry, resentful, and irresponsible. 
Tip #1: Assure your kids that the divorce is not their fault.
Children, especially younger ones, have a strong tendency to blame themselves for the divorce. What a horrible burden of guilt to bear! From you and your former spouse, they need to hear the following message over and over:  Some kids blame themselves for their parents getting a divorce. It was not your fault. We love you.
Tip #2: Avoid bad mouthing your former spouse…even in subtle ways.
As we all know, small ears hear more than big ones!
Kids need to know that it’s okay to love both of you. Don’t place your child in a loyalty conflict by subtly suggesting that they should not love the other parent or have fun when they visit them. One father made this mistake in a very subtle yet damaging way.  Each time he picked up the kids at his ex–wife’s, he would greet them with a worried look and ask nervously, "Are you guys okay?   Did your visit go okay?"
It wasn’t long before the kids started to believe that they weren’t supposed to have an "okay" time at Mom’s house. Oftentimes, these more subtle jabs are the most powerfully damaging.
Tip #3: Don’t waste time and energy trying to "convert" your former spouse to your parenting style.
Some divorced parents waste precious time and energy fighting a never–ending control battle with their former spouse over how to parent the kids.
Children adjust to different parenting styles, as long as their parents aren’t manipulated into giving in or getting angry. When your kids say things like, "But Dad lets us," experiment with saying the following while not backing down:  You’re pretty lucky to have two parents who are different. Thanks for letting me know.
Tip #4: Don’t hesitate to seek qualified professional help.
Our children will never be healthier than we are. The trauma of divorce can result in major financial stress, lost friendships, depression, low self-esteem, anger, etc. A skilled therapist can help you and your kids move on to happier times, instead of getting bogged down in the pain.
While divorce is certainly very difficult for kids, utilizing these easy–to–learn techniques will help ease the stress during this adjustment period. Start building a happy future by getting started today.
Submitted by:  Joanne Nelson, Child Care Aware® of Central Missouri Regional Coordinator; (with information from

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Childhood Trauma in Early Care and Education Settings

Today is National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day.  Research shows that more traumatic experiences in childhood results in increased risk for serious health problems in adulthood. Learn more about childhood trauma's impact on health risks in adulthood, and pass it on to observe National Children's Mental Health Awareness Day.
Watching very young children at play, it’s natural to assume that their lives are as free of cares and worries, and simply about having fun. Yet many people may be surprised to learn that trauma and emotional distress are actually quite prevalent among pre-school children. In fact, research shows that when exposed to traumatic events, even children as young as 18 months can develop serious psychological problems later in childhood and in adulthood. As they grow, these children take with them the effects of traumatic events, and are more likely to experience problems with substance abuse, depression, and stress management as a result.

Young children also may be traumatized when they witness disturbing acts in their neighborhood or hear about them on TV. Even the childcare environment itself can be the setting for trauma when a child is repeatedly bullied by another.

What makes early childhood trauma particularly difficult to identify is the variability in the child’s response. Children who have been traumatized may be unable to control their emotions, act impulsively, overreact to loud or sudden noises, or withdraw excessively. Other times, the effects of trauma are physical—frequent headaches, stomachaches, or fatigue. An added complication is that very young children are often unable to verbalize a traumatic event and why they are distressed. They may show signs of stress for a short time then return to their seemingly “normal” selves.

Regardless of the reaction or how long it appears to last, trauma can seriously disrupt a young child’s social and emotional development. Chronic exposure to traumatic events can impair his or her ability to focus, organize and process information, and solve problems. There may also be negative effects on academic performance, self-confidence, and socialization as the child grow older.

The good news is that children who experience trauma can recover if they have the support of positive, caring adults who provide structure, comfort, and guidance. That is why it is important that caregivers be alert to the signs of trauma in pre-school children and know where to seek assistance from community resources such as Child Care Aware® of Central Missouri.

An early response may help the child receive the help necessary to cope and build resilience for the future. Caregivers also can assist in the resilience-building process by establishing a sense of safety in the childcare environment through the use of appropriate games or other activities, or by simply talking with the child in a caring and supportive way, caregivers can help restore a sense of emotional well-being.  Studies show that such collaborative strategies are highly successful.

To learn more about early childhood trauma and its effects on young children, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services .

Exposure to trauma may be difficult for very young children to deal with, but they can recover. You can help.

Posted with permission from