It Won't Hurt Forever: Helping Children Move Through
Trauma, Stress and Loss
When young children and infants suffer a serious injury or are deeply frightened by an event, they can be traumatized, carrying inside them subtle residual symptoms that may stay with them for a lifetime.
While trauma is a fact of life and can occur to children at any age, the good news is that trauma doesn’t have to last a lifetime. It doesn’t have to hurt forever. A few minutes spent with a child in an appropriate way will not only minimize the chance of lasting effects but actually make the child more resilient to life’s stresses and extreme events.
It Won't Hurt Forever: Helping Children Move Through Trauma, Stress and Loss is an audio learning tool developed by Dr. Peter Levine and Maggie Kline, M.F.T. to help reduce traumatization effects in children. Forty years of research and observation have shown that humans have a built-in ability to heal and repair the psyche. As practitioners, you have the role of helping children access their own natural ability to recover.
What Causes Trauma in Children?
Some situations may overwhelm a child’s "elastic limit," causing them to remain distressed or traumatized in some way after an event. These children have less resilience than others. But there are certain kinds of events that would be overwhelming to almost any child, such as the exposure to violent situations.
Natural disasters, medical procedures, illnesses, or the sudden loss of a family member due to death or divorce can also traumatize a child. Other events that may seem rather ordinary to an adult are not for a child. Getting lost in a mall, for example, is extremely frightening for a young child. Even a seemingly minor physical injury, such as falling off a bicycle, can be misinterpreted by the child as punishment for something he or she has done.
Signs of Trauma in Children
There are some common reactions that children will display. Parents generally know their children well enough to recognize when an indication is outside the child’s normal range of behavior. After a stressful event, parents may notice withdrawal, fearfulness, irritability, excessive shyness, clinging, emotional outbursts, aggression toward other children, hurting animals or other forms of acting out.
Other indications include nightmares, bedwetting, thrashing in bed or difficulty falling asleep. Becoming too easily startled or regressive behaviors such as thumb sucking may also be observed. Physical symptoms are also common, and these include tummy and headaches, fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or constipation. Over time, the child may even develop avoidance behaviors. These include specific phobias, such as the fear of dogs if the child has been bitten, or general phobias, such as a phobia about going to school.
Healing The Traumatized Child
It Won’t Hurt Forever is an audio learning series developed for educators, hospital/medical personnel, mental health professionals and parents to help heal traumatization in children. It has been designed to gently guide both parents and professionals through the process of supporting a child in the aftermath of a traumatic event. It is based in Somatic Experiencing®, a body-awareness approach to trauma being taught throughout the world.
This approach functions as a support aid, much like a Band-Aid for a wound or a splint for a break. Rather than have a child "relive" a traumatic event, this method helps the child process the parts of an experience that are overwhelming and allows the child to gain mastery over those feelings and situations.
As members of the healing professions, you already know that emotional first aid for children includes touch, such as clapping hands or tapping knees. For kids of most ages, this is helpful in moving them through difficult sensations and feelings. Infants are held in specific ways after a fall or physical trauma.
Emotional trauma is relieved and resolved through the language of sensations. This program focuses on helping children to identify and express the sensations they are experiencing. Children are not typically able to talk directly about frightening or overwhelming experiences. They need help to begin to communicate some of their related feelings and thoughts. The key to doing this is indirectly, through bodily sensations and through story and play. These are the languages of a child’s experience.
Thus, through verse and image, the practitioner and parents can work closely with the child to coax out the identification of their sensations. These guided rhymes and images are simple, but empowering tools that really resonate with children. The animal rhymes and illustrations in particular provide children with the sense of power they need to transform trauma into a positive experience. Since animals are non-judgmental and instinctual, their images can be powerful resources to help children connect directly with their own innate healing process without getting distracted by the more human judgments of shame and blame.
For example, the Oscar Opossum verses show children that their behavior is not only normal but smart, that "playing possum" is actually a survival mechanism, just as Rapid T. Rabbit helps children understand their innate "flight" response.
The animal rhymes and illustrations in this program were created for use with children from 3-11 years of age but may appeal as well to youngsters slightly older or younger. The exercises also encourage and suggest where and when to pause while reading the rhymes and stories. Pausing allows children ample time to experience and process, through their bodies’ sensations, specific elements that relate to recovery.
A section entitled "Things That Can Scare You" consists of six couplets about common events that frighten children. It is important to monitor the child’s reaction and pause as each couplet is read. Or you can stop the program at any time and let the child talk and feel, draw pictures or play with clay, for example, if the child becomes agitated, restless or unusually silent.
Another section is a story centered on specific events. "A Girl Named Dory" is about a fall off a bicycle. By watching and listening, practitioners and parents can use these stories to determine whether a child might be "at risk." If so, you can help them make up stories or simple rhymes customized to his or her particular needs. Storytelling and story creation are effective tools that allow a child to sense and discharge any residual trauma energy and in some way complete what was incomplete.
There is no right or wrong way to use this program; It Won’t Hurt Forever can help you create a safe emotional environment for the trauma healing to begin.