I am getting interviewed by a psychotherapist on the subject of trauma, so I thought I would listen to her radio show and get an idea of what I am in for.
I was listening to her guest Colin Stroud of Cambridge, England where he runs a trauma program. He said some very interesting things about children’s processing of trauma, which I ‘generally’ agree with.
disclaimer: All situations are different and require an individual treatment solution, what follows is a discussion not specifically applicable to your child, get a professional to assess them.
Children under the age of 7-8 normally have a different functionality to their brain than adults. They basically do not have as many connections inside their brain to think or process in a way adults do. This can be very difficult for an adult to understand and be patient with.
Children from the ages of 8 to 16-ish, have a “normally” connected brain, like everyone else, BUT they just got the ‘fully functional model’ and they don’t necessarily know how to run all the options.
There is more to the age of a person and how the brain functions but for this article that’s enough.
So, a young person say 5, gets exposed to an emotional stimulus. Their new favorite balloon pops and they flip out. Yell, scream, roll around. If you can let them go, be present, be available and hang in there, which can be very hard, you will likely see in a matter of seconds to minutes it’s over. I mean OVER. You ask them about the balloon and they say what balloon? You wonder what just happened, how do they go from a full meltdown to fine?
It’s called processing emotions.
You see, emotions are chemicals in your body, once you use them up that emotion can be gone, the experience can be gone. This gets a lot more complicated depending on what the stimulus is but in general terms it works.
Now lets say, you stop your child from having their “little hissy fit” that chemical of the emotion is going to get stuck somewhere. Also how they currently process emotions will get interrupted and they may not progress to the next level of processing, or the next, or the next. Which would be a bad thing.
I spent 8 years working in a health retreat,where people went to live who are generally very ill.
In the first few years I would often ask my teacher, why the patients would not ‘come clean’ with what really happened to them. My teacher would say they lacked the ability to deal with the enormity of the issue, to process their situation. The lacked coping skills.
It takes a lot of time to get the skills to handle watching someone die, or having your heart broken by a lover, losing a job, or your family pet. It starts with the broken balloon.
Listen to the interview here, I thought it had some great moments, obviously each situation is complicated and requires care and attention.
I can tell you from my 22 years in this business, emotions and feelings are likely the cause of 45% of all the people that come to my office.
The amount of research coming out about how our lack of close friends is crippling our ability to emotionally disclose properly, it concerns me greatly. As well we are all so busy, it can be hard to take the time to let our kids “work it out”. We (I) tell them to be quiet, don’t make a fuss, quit acting that way.
What if that is how they are processing what is happening to them? If we shut that down, how will they graduate to a more refined method of dealing with it?
Of course all of us have been told to be quiet at one point in our childhood. Take some time to think about how you process stress/trauma/celebration/success/failure… and then think about some other coping skills you can work on, you’ll be glad you did (and so will those around you).
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