Trauma can impact almost every single aspect of a child's development. But there are things parents can do to buffer that impact. We talk with Brett Loftis, CEO of Crossnore Communities for Children and Dr. Dawn O'Malley, Crossnore's Senior Director of Clinical Services.
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Welcome, everyone to Creating a Family talk about adoption and foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport. I'm both the host of this show as well as the director of creating a family.org. Today we're going to be talking about the impact or how trauma impacts a child's development. We're going to start off by talking about the impact on relationships. And we're gonna move into talking about physical development, impacts on brain development, how it affects a child's emotional development, behavior, obviously, and their learning abilities, as well as long term physical health consequences as well. So stick around we are going to cover a lot about the whole idea of trauma and how it's impacting our kids. Today, we're going to be talking with two experts from Crossnore Communities for Children. Crossnore is a 100 year old 100 plus year old child welfare organization and as a recognized leader in helping children who've experienced abuse or other trauma. Brett Loftis has been cross Norris CEO since 2013. He is an attorney and has spent his entire career working in child advocacy. We'll also be talking with Dr. Dawn O'Malley. She is a licensed psychologist and Crossnore's Senior Director of Clinical Services. Welcome, Brett and Dawn to Creating a Family. We are so happy to have you. Thank you for having us. Thank you. It's good to be here. Well, we're gonna kind of be covering the waterfront of of the impacts of trauma. And you know, what's so interesting is that trauma impacts almost every part of a child's development. Brett, would you agree with that statement? Or is that an overstatement? No, it's definitely not an overstatement. It trauma impacts every part of your life. And when you think about a developing child, and all the vulnerabilities that come from a brain science standpoint, with that development, it's even more impactful on young children. It is and you know, the does it matter, do you think that the impact is greater than the younger the child is? Who experiences are is that, again, an oversimplification, because so many other factors are involved. We know for a fact, science has shown us that trauma during the first five years of life has a tremendous impact on again, as Brett said, all aspects of development. And that's because that's the time when our brains are developing most rapidly, and they are going to grow and form in a way that's consistent with the kinds of experiences that we have. So that young child's brain, if they're in a particularly traumatic situation, or experiencing a lot of trauma is going to form around, it's going to make decisions, lifelong decisions about what it looks like an X like and and what it does for this child during those first five years of life. Yeah, and so many of the children that we're working with, have experienced trauma, and quite frankly, so many more have experienced prenatal trauma, in other words, exposure to alcohol and drugs or during their mother's pregnancy. Alright, so let's start with talking about how trauma can impact attachment and relationships. I think we would all agree that the heart of emotional development and emotional health is attachments in early formed relationships that we make us as children. So Brett, how does trauma is? This is an awfully general question. So feel free, feel free to go down any rabbit hole you want on this? But how does trauma affect a child's ability to form attachment and inability to form relationships? Yeah, that's such an important question, Don. And one of the things that makes it so difficult is that it depends on the child. And that is one thing that we should always keep in mind is that every child's different, every child's resilience profile is different. But we know through both research and experience, that trauma does impact a child's ability to attach. And that comes from a number of reasons. One is that attachment is a lot about connection and safety. And trauma really disrupts our ability to connect with people because our sense of safety has been violated at its core, that is even made more difficult when the trauma is at the hands of the primary attachment figures. So if you think of parents, as those people who biologically are there to help you find enough safety to develop and to, to nurture you and all those pieces, if those are the very people that the trauma is that comes from, it becomes very disorganized in a child's brain because that is also where attachment and love and care come from. And so it's very difficult to separate those pieces because your brain is really made to be nurtured and to develop in the context of those caring relationships. It's such a good point and thank you for raising the point that oftentimes when we do talk, we talk in generalities and children, it's humans, humans cannot be generalized. And we, as you said, our resilience profile whether or not there
A strong, loving other adult in the child's life, that the child can attach to how often the trauma happens, just a whole number of things that will impact I'm so glad you brought that up, because it is so important. So Don, let's talk about just some ways that we could see describe some ways, I'm going to break it into different ages that we might see how trauma would impact a child's relationships in childhood. And then I'm going to ask you about adolescence and adulthood. And again, I'm going back to talking in generalities. So make note that in fact, this not all children are impacted the same. Yeah, I want to start if that's okay, what sort of just a little bit of a framework from what that those responses are to traumatic events? So perfect. Do you think? Yeah, if you think about the fear response, right, it's a it's a, in a extremely important system that we have in our, in our bodies, I'd like to give the example of, you know, what might happen if we didn't have a fear response, a really great way of understanding our fear response is to imagine taking a walk in the woods, and you come around a bend, and you look ahead, and oh, my goodness, there's a huge brown grizzly bear. And what would happen in our body suite, our fear response would go into, you know, red alarm, right? We'll get multiple tents up, will sweat all kinds of things when we're having some extreme anxiety? Well, then I asked you to imagine if you did the same thing, go down, take it a walk of the woods covered on the path, and you didn't have that response. Right. What might happen? Well, what might happen is we think, Oh, let me get close to this bear, take a picture. And, you know, we just may not be around right, to share that picture afterwards, if we don't have that fear response. So that is what's being activated when we have experienced trauma. And what a way to understand that it's just like a smoke alarm, sometimes in a house sort of starts ringing and going off when it shouldn't, our fear response, or human fear response can be doing that as well. So that's kind of what's what's happening for all people who have had traumatic experience or have having some long term effects from that. So we can think about the ways in which that kind of thing where your alarm systems going off all the time, what that looks like in a small child and an adolescent and an adult, and small kid that looks like a lot of crying, a lot of irritability, a lot of difficulty being soothed. And so we try to put that in the context of a relationship and how, what a complicated dynamic that can become between, you know, a young child and a caretaker, if the child's is like having a difficult temperament child where you can, as the adult, maybe sometimes think that it's your fault, or that you're, you know, you're not able to sue this child, you know, that it impacts like the that that dance that caretakers and babies, the students kids are not as rewarding in ways from from an adult standpoint, and that does impact how we respond to them. Exactly. Exactly. Before you move to adolescence. Let me ask your question, is it true that also, an impact of trauma may not be fear, we may not be nosey may not be expressing his fear, but expressing his anger, it may be the root cause is fear, but that what we see is a child who is angry or belligerent are obstinate or something along those lines. Absolutely. Right. So So we're talking about the fear response. And it really is a continuum. It's like a ladder, right? We kind of start at this awake, alert, low level of arousal phase, hopefully, most of us spend most of our day in that, that that phase, that that place on that continuum, but we go all the way up to the end, where you have a terror response. And the behaviors that match that along the way are just like you described. So you may be alert, if you have a low level of anxiety or fear, your brains work pretty well, you can learn stuff, as you go up that continuum, things start to happen so can look distracted and look. So it can look a little like tension problems. If you continue to go up that arousal continuum, it looks like hostility and defiance. And then as we get pushed even towards the end that, you know, can become aggressive. And, you know, as terror sets in, become quite aggressive, even sort of forget what we're doing. So you're absolutely right about that. And I think that's a great way to think about sort of what that looks like at each developmental phase. So what an adolescent
they're tough, right? Because they don't, you know, they're not always the most warm and fuzzy of the people to start as they you know, wake up in the morning, but, but you'll have the same thing as their anxiety goes up, you know, you see increased hostility, you can increase agitation, and again, those that impacts relationships, teenagers may also happen to young children too, but teenagers may also become quite avoidant, they if they don't see people and relationships as as rewarding either or, you know, as a source of comfort, then they could come become quite avoidant. And you know, the dangers with that all along the life span Are you gonna miss out on really important opportunities, developmental opportunities, right, we need those relational experiences to to learn how to get along with others and to you
Maybe find somebody we want to spend a portion of our life with. So not being able to do that well or being avoidant of it can impact all their parts. Yeah. Lots of other parts of our development and life experience. Yeah.
And then into adulthood, people who have experienced trauma and have struggled with attachment in relationships as children or adolescents, how does that carry on into their adult life? Yeah, unfortunately, what we what we know to be the case is that often, if we're not getting rewarding and good feelings out of having relationships with other people, we might tend to look other places for them, our brain actually really wants to feel good. It's sort of it's programmed to seek out things that feel good. And unfortunately, if relationships are doing that for us, we may seek out other things like drugs of abuse, self injury, potentially, you know, and other things that that make it difficult for us to be part of a rewarding community.
Okay, excellent, are incredibly sad, but excellent.
Have you enjoyed what you've heard so far? Today, we are so excited to offer you more expert based content, just like today's podcast, we can do this. Thanks to our partner, the jockey being Family Foundation. When you go to the website, that link slash JBf support, you can find several free online courses on creating a family.org online Parent Training Center. There's a great variety of topics to choose from, like disciplining while maintaining attachment. That's a great one. And that dovetails really nicely with what we're talking about today. Each course is free when you use the coupon code JBf. Strong at checkout. Again, the website is Bitly slash JBf. support that is bi T dot L y slash JB F support. Brett, you had mentioned that talking about brain science. How does trauma and there's been some fascinating research that's been currently being done, in fact, on the impact of trauma on a in the child and adolescence into a human's brain? Can you share a little of that? Sure. And I'm gonna quote people who know a lot more than me, if you think about Dr. Bessel. Vander Kolk, who is wonderful researcher and wrote the wonderful book, The Body Keeps the Score, yeah, couldn't recommend it enough great book. And what he says, you know, trauma is not what happened to us. It's how what our how our body responds to what's happened to us. And if you think about that, at its base, all those things our body is built to do automatically what we call our autonomic nervous system. All those things that we should just be doing naturally not have to think about, those are very, very things that that start to get disrupted when trauma is impacting a developing brain. And things like what's our body supposed to do easily breathe, you know, regulate our heart rate, we're supposed to be able to sleep, we're supposed to be about have good, easy digestion and go to the bathroom, those normal things? Well, those are some of the very first things that happens to our bodies, when we our bodies is responding to the trauma that we've experienced, is that you have disrupted breathing, either you're not breathing deeply, or you're breathing very shallow or holding your breath, those kinds of things, looking at the immediate impacts on sleep, you know, disrupted sleep, and we know that him I certainly know if I don't get a good night's sleep, nothing goes well the next day. But as that if you think about that, in a chronic way, I'm sleeping too much or not sleeping enough. Things like digestion, you know, working with children who've experienced trauma, almost all of them have some kind of issues around food and digestion, stomach issues, stomach aches, things like diarrhea, constipation, see lots of just ways our body is telling us, hey, something's not right. And we need to be regulated. And then then you can really see that as children and adults are expressing that dysregulation and things like you know, irritability or disconnectedness. Our brains have really been in some ways rewired by those early experiences, and in taught in some ways, that the world is not a safe place. And so we're always looking for that threat. We talk about the hyper vigilance of children who've experienced trauma, they're always looking for the for the threat around them. So even the people who are trying to help them
teachers and social workers and therapists and and maybe a caregivers who are in a in a substitute caregiver role, the folks that really want to help them can feel like a threat to their brains. And so that makes it really difficult to have those good, strong relationships, which is why we focus so much on safety. Initially helping people to feel safe and to find safety. Because if you can't find safety, you can't move up the ladder to really the difference.
Things like learning, and connection and relationships. And Brett, I'm thinking, I know that people, we hear this a lot people, foster parents, adoptive parents, kinship, parents will say, Well, my child wasn't abused, my child was just neglected with the word, the adjective just first, let's talk just briefly about, if in your opinion is neglect a form of trauma. Oh, absolutely so, so think about the fact that neglect can involve things like your environment not being safe. So if you are constantly looking for food, or a food is in abundance in one day, and may be scarce for the next few days, your body spends most of its time and energy thinking about feeding itself. And that means you're missing a whole lot of other developmental steps that are coming along the way. Or if you are, it's unsafe in your environment, which is why we know that exposure to domestic violence is so traumatizing to a young brain is because of the constant threat, that it may feel fine today. But tomorrow, everything's gonna blow up and someone's gonna get hurt. And this is what we've learned through the years. And we're so thankful to researchers, he started studying veterans returning from war. And it wasn't just one incident that was causing the post traumatic stress, it was the chronic repeated exposure to the threat of violence, or the threat that was always present, that did not let their systems ever come down to a point that they could feel safe. And that is same for a lot of our children. And we actually see higher rates of PTSD for children in the foster care system than we do from veterans returning from war. That's fascinating. And it's so yeah, because many of these children, the environments they came from, were the equivalent of a warzone. Absolutely, absolutely. Fascinating. Dawn, now let's talk about the impact on a child's emotional development, we've already talked about kind of the foundational part of that, which is attachment in relationships. Are there other ways that trauma, neglect, witnessing violence in your house, even if it's not directed to you could impact children emotionally outside of their disrupting their attachment and ability to to form relationships?
Well, as Brett mentioned, one very significant piece, which is self regulation, and that's really, you know, our ability to be able to sit still, and to manage sort of the low level needs we have going on all the time. So if I'm really hungry, I'm able to say my notice that I'm doing it and say to myself, yep, you know, I'll be I'll be able to eat an hour, I can sit through here, I've got a piece of gum, all of these kind of these little, little needs and presses that we have all day, we're able to manage them, which allows us to attend the things, you know, task at hand or work at school, talking and listening to a friend, all of those pieces. And so self regulation is another system that that is is very significantly impacted by by trauma. And yeah, so not being able to manage your own resilience, really manage your own body and your and your needs. Causes, it makes, again makes people kind of want to take a step back from you. If you're always the kid who's elbow is bleeding over into someone else's space or stuffs moving over and other people's deskspace Yeah, it makes it difficult for you to be able to learn in the classroom, which you know, again, can create a lot of getting get a lot of negative feedback about your about your skills. So there are Yeah, there are there many, many other ways that trauma impacts the emotional well being and building of identity of kids. Don't what is disassociation, because I know that some children experienced trauma, disassociated as a way of mapping throughout life and it it perhaps was an effective protective mechanism at one point in their life, but it became become just the opposite. If they're not if they continue to do that when they are no longer in a traumatic environment. So what is this association? Yeah, thank you for asking about that. Because it is a piece we often forget to talk about. And it's it's because it's just not as obvious. It's not the first thing that pops in your head when you're thinking about trauma. But is it the other end of the fear response? So again, if you kind of started a normal, a regular lesson, no place of no anxiety we can go up the scale to a place of terror that may result in aggression. On the going down the other end of the scale we essentially flee. We flee from from the fear. If we can't fight it, though we tend to do we're going to flee from it. And so disassociation is kind of the ultimate way of fleeing. If you're not able to physically leave the scary situation. Your brain your awesome amazing brain will protect you by having you mentally leave the situation so you will disassociate. You will you know you're you're you won't be present there. Your body is present but your mind isn't present.
And that can go so far as people will describe having kind of an out of body experience. So they can sort of, they're floating above their body, it can result in the memory, blocking out memories of the event, at least for the short term. And even for people who've experienced chronic trauma, it can, their dissociation skills can become so good and sophisticated, that they sort of develop up their worlds that they travel to.
And again, this is extremely protective thing to do is extremely helpful in that those situations, folks will, if they're being physically hurt me, not it not experienced that the extreme pain, it's just, it becomes problematic if it happens, when you're not when you're no longer in an unsafe situation. And it removes you from it goes, everything ties together, but it removes you from relationships. And, and a person who is disassociating from an event is also potentially disassociating. From relationships at that point. And, and so it's it's a vicious cycle in that sense. Absolutely. And it's it can be can be difficult to notice, right? So many kids may be sitting in a classroom, and they're not being disruptive, but they're also, you know, daydreaming you're not paying it all, you know, any attention to what's going on around both academically but socially, as well. So they miss out on tremendous amount. Yes, yeah, it's such a good point, the kid who is a dysregulated, who is talking too loud, putting the kid next to him, making faces, you know, making fart noises or whatever the stuff that that kid is the one who is drawing our attention, the kid who is zoning out and avoiding the environment, is not drawing our attention. So we it's oftentimes it does go unnoticed, other than the child also just isn't isn't for me the relationships because they're not there. Right? Yeah. Okay. You know, so many of the things we're talking about seem to be cyclical, you know, we've talked about, you know, these children who are the kid who is acting out is getting negative feedback in school, getting negative feedback about who they are. The kid who is disassociating, is getting feedback as well, potentially, and kids who are avoiding relationships are getting feedback, and all of this feedback that our kids are getting, and most of it being negative, it impacts the way our kids see themselves and value themselves. So Brett, how does that impact a kid long term, one who has doesn't value who they are. I'm so glad you asked that, because that's one of the most difficult things to help people understand about trauma is that trauma really separates you from yourself. And so much of what we do in healing work is to try to help bring children and adults back to themselves. And what we know is that what you believe about yourself is really important to your overall life trajectory. And from a developmental standpoint, a child is inherently self centered, it's how their brains are made. So they think of if someone covers their eyes of a baby, someone covers her eyes, that person disappeared. So they really see themselves as kind of the center of the universe. Well, if your universe involves a lot of harm, and difficulty in adversity, that it is impossible for you to really see that as separate from you. And what we see often is that children interpret the trauma and the environments they come from, as somehow their fault, that they're the reason all these things happen. Because as you know, a normal teenager with no trauma thinks the whole world is looking at them.
They're always sure that everyone notices every pimple and every hair that's out of place, because that's part of their development. Well, if all the things you notice is what is bad about the world, because that's what you've experienced growing up, then you start to really see yourself as the problem.
Which is why a lot of young people especially struggle with things like self harm, and injury and suicidal thoughts, and those things, and we have a lot of work to do around healing, to help people understand that the things that happen to them are not them. They are just things that happen to them, and that they're also really strong things about survivors. And just because you have had trauma in your life does not mean you don't have amazing strengths. And then instead of spending a ton of time really trying to rewrite the past, what we do is really try to find the strengths that that person has, and help them build on those strengths. So we can make them more resilient to other things that might happen in their life. Yeah, and I want to talk some about resiliency at the end because I think anytime we talk about how trauma impacts it is so important to talk about the things that we can do to build these kids up. So yeah, thank you for bringing that up. We will come back to that. The creating a family.org podcast has extensive archives of shows related
get to today's topic of trauma and child development. We have been doing this show for 14 years now. And so we have a long history of evergreen content for you to check out, you can listen now, on your phone, in your car or on your computer. So go to your favorite podcast catcher, searched by our title, which is, of course, creating a family and follow us and then scroll through the titles to help you decide which ones you need the most. Alright, now let's talk some about how we've talked about this. We've alluded to it in different ways. But how can trauma impact away the child behaves? Because honestly, from a parent's standpoint, sometimes that's what we see the most. And what drives us the craziest dawn? Yeah, I think, you know, kind of think about that fear response. And just anytime we're having some anxiety that we're registering, we're not particularly comfortable, right? It's an uncomfortable feeling it's supposed to be so that we'll do something to feel better. And I think that the kids are responding to that. So they're, like Brett mentioned earlier, and adults as well, very hyper vigilant. So they're paying attention to lots of things in the environment, that perhaps other people aren't paying attention to, which, again, these are missing out on maybe the more important pieces, right, their brain is doing that so that it can be alert for any sign of threat or danger. But again, when you're doing that you're missing out on maybe your caretaker asking you to do something, maybe your caretaker saying something nice, you're missing out on a family event, because you're paying attention to all of the little changes in the wind, essentially. So kids can be hyper vigilant. And it can read alluded to this as well. I mentioned all of those sort of basic bodily functions that aren't working the way they're supposed to. And again, how much discomfort that causes so kids can be, yeah, they're physically uncomfortable, they and which makes them irritable, you know, get them seeing kids, but adults as well. And when we're irritable, we're not, you know, get in a great place to be open to new experience to be open to new information, we become even more self focused, and we'll do things to try to soothe ourselves that might look strange to other people. So sometimes these kiddos will, will, you know, will do things like hoard food, they may engage in self injury, or head banging, and do, you can do other things that can be really confusing and scary to the people who are taking care of them. They may put themselves into high risk situations, so they just don't ever seem to be afraid of anything. Parents will often describe, you know, geez, everything was going so well. And all of a sudden, you know, they they took off or they had a big outburst. So another thing that happens for kids behaviorally is that, that they're sort of used to being agitated and having things be off kilter. So often they'll do things to make sure that the situation stays that way. So being kind of everything being calm and quiet, can be can feel uncomfortable. So they'll do stuff to sort of raise the, the tension in the in the household, we hear that a lot, you know, that they just they just bring they breed drama I mother was in our support group was saying, you know, it's just, you know, everywhere, it's, it's like that's, that's where she thrives, the more drama that exists, that's where she thrives. And in some ways it is it's what she's used to. Yeah, like our brain sort of set for that wants us to always kind of go back to what it knows, right. So it all of our systems work that way. If we get hot, we sweat so we can go back down to a regular temperature. And the same thing, you know, is true with our expected level of fear and arousal as well.
And I have frustrating that could be to families and scary.
Absolutely. Let me reiterate something that you said and want to underline it, one of the things we first things we say to parents who are struggling with a child is to emphasize the importance of sleep. Because as Brett was saying, it's it's so often these kids have disruptions in their sleep. And you know, how can you be? How can anyone behave? I'll speak for myself, I have a hard time behaving when I'm really sleepy. I'm just, I'm grouchy. I'm not all that pleasant. And it's because I'm sleepy. Even if I'm not yawning, I'm you know, chronic sleep deprivation. Does it bring out the best in any of us? Yeah, and the other thing I think we may not always think about is that Sleep, sleep is extremely important, obviously, to revitalize our physical selves, our bodies, it's also really important while you're saying this mentally too. But you know, for kids, one of the things our brain does at night and you have to go through these phases of sleep is sort through all of the things you've been exposed to that day. So if you're, you know, a young person or you know, you're in school and you're learning things, you need sleep in order for your brain to go through all that stuff, decide what's gonna stay for the long term, what's gonna get rid of, and if you don't have sleep in your brain can't do that. It impacts again, what kids what kids are able to learn, and it can make them quite make it feel like they're very it's very unpredictable.
Yeah, and that's a great segue into another impact of trauma is on the child's ability to learn. And oftentimes these kids are perceived as having learning disabilities. And they may, but they also trauma can mask itself as a learning disability. But what are some of the things that some of the learning issues and actually, let's talk about some of the MIS diagnoses that these kids may get simply because their trauma is expressing in one way, and our perception as adults, we might want to label them and not recognize the impact of trauma.
Sure, so if you think about early trauma, disrupting traditional or kind of normal neuro development, and they're just some basic brain pieces to that, too. And so when you when you think of a child who is dysregulated, in the sense that they are, they have a hard time calming down, or they have a hard time self soothing? Well, that child is going to look overactive and busy. And some of those words you hear about young children often. But then when they're not able to kind of change that behavior with kind of traditional behavior modification. Usually, there's something more going on. And unfortunately, a lot of children who've experienced trauma gets diagnosed with things like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, you know, those, if you look at the kind of the diagnostic criteria for ADHD, and you look at the same, on one hand, you look, on the other hand, a list of physical impacts of trauma, they look really similar. And unfortunately, a lot of what happens is that when you try to medicate some of those things, is that it doesn't help it can, in fact, make some things worse. So if you're giving a stimulant per se, for a child who's truly ADHD, and it helps them to focus, that's one thing. But if you're giving a stimulant to a child, who his nervous system is already over activated, it's already on edge all the time, you could get the opposite result, which is why it's really, really important for our care providers or medical providers to to understand a child's trauma history, before they started trying to do good medical care and psychopharmacological interventions to really get that that trauma history down. That is so true. And I will say that we see the same thing with children with prenatal exposure, which is also a form of trauma, that they will often be misdiagnosed with. Well, ADHD, but also autism. But in particular, with ADHD, they can be misdiagnosed because that is a sign of the brain damage caused by prenatal exposure, but also autism. Do you see that as a misdiagnosis for some of these kids? Brett? You know, that's not you know, Don may have a different experience here. But that's not been in my experience, something that gets often misdiagnosed, I'd say a lot of times is there is a delay and an accurate diagnosis. And so a child they may be dealing with, and unfortunately, a lot of this comes from schools. So schools are dealing with things that make school hard. Yeah, yeah, right. If you have a hard time sitting in your chair, and you have a hard time completing your work a hard time keeping your hands off, the people beside you, they're really dealing with those behaviors. And often, there's a real focus on the externalized behaviors, and not a real focus on what's causing those with the root cause issues. And sometimes ignoring some of the internalized behaviors, some of the things that are happening with children who maybe don't have externalizing behaviors like like aggression, or, or talking excessively or fighting other kids, maybe they're sitting there quietly compliant, but they're not really learning anything, or they're not making progress socially. And a lot of those kids are in more of an internal flight response to the things they've experienced. And I worry about those kids the most to be honest with you. When a child is giving a what I call attachment seeking behaviors, they're kind of acting out. We they're giving us some really good data and really good information to work with. When a child is not giving you much at all. It's hard to know what's happening there. It's hard to know what's going on inside them. And unfortunately, for a lot of our was really started pre verbal. So before they had words, and so asking them what's happening inside them is difficult sometimes, because they don't often have the words to describe what they're feeling. Most often they don't.
Exactly. Dawn, let's talk a bit about the aces, the adverse childhood experiences, the research that's been done around that and the impact of trauma, childhood trauma on long term physical health. Right, right. Yeah, just quickly, so probably most folks are familiar with a study now but it was originally a study that involves sending out a questionnaire to adults, patients or members of the basically help
care plans. And the survey is asking them questions about their early childhood or childhood experiences, and included experiences that we, that we believe to be sort of adverse negative experiences. So things certainly including about being a victim of domestic violence or emotional abuse, but also whether you get a household where parents were separated, living in a household where a parent had been incarcerated. And as a tremendous study, huge study, lots lots of people returned the questionnaire. And what came from that was the knowledge that the more adverse childhood experiences a person had, the more physical health problems that they had was really the first study to establish that we kind of seems like yes, we get that now. But it was really it was the first first time that it was really shown in science. It was revolutionary. It was revolutionary. Yeah, it's real. And you know, the other interesting thing about that is people want to, I think, generalize and say, Oh, these are going to be poor people, or these are going to be people of color, or these are going to be whatever. And these were almost I don't have an off the time not looking at this study. But they were overwhelmingly there were people who were in my opinion, enrolled in Kaiser Permanente. Yes, health care plan. And they were the majority of them were middle class, they were successful enough to be holding down jobs. You know, they were because they had to have health insurance, you know, health insurance cafe, right? That's right. So this wasn't that this wasn't the population that would have been stereotypically pigged for this. And I think that's the other part. The end, the number of people who had had child aces adverse childhood experiences was startling as well. Yeah, that's right. And the other really fascinating thing about it was there's almost a kind of one to one correlation between the number of adverse experiences and the number of health problems I've arrived, you know, oversimplifying, but nobody know, but not by much. And now there was a direct correlation to they first were unable to these people were alive at the time, but they subsequent research has along this lines have shown that increased risk of early death, or that's years of death, how many years that cut takes off of your life. And it's the it is very interesting, almost a one to one correlation between the number of adverse childhood experiences. And and then, and then health impacts and then death. Exactly. Right. And certain forms of disease, including some cancers and heart disease and hypertension. And, you know, I know, at one time when folks would talk about their results, and what explanation for that was that due to due to the impact of those adverse experiences on some elements of brain development, it can lead people to make poor health decisions, but they have additional stressors, including using just cigarettes or substances. And while they're certainly folks who have experienced trauma have a higher rate of those issues, we sound we can see those same health effects of children. So having bad making bad decisions, sort of blaming it on the person does not explain that data.
I'm glad you pointed that out. You're right, because that's another thing that another stereotype that we think is right, yeah, sure helps us kind of keep a distance. We're not going to make those choices. But, you know, in very young children, we're still seeing, you know, much higher rates for kids who have adversity at higher rates of diabetes, asthma, hypertension. Yeah, exactly. We are so happy to announce a partnership we have with the National Council for adoption, we want you to know that you can stay up to date on the latest federal adoption policies and laws that impact families. By receiving advocacy alerts delivered right to your inbox. The National Council for adoptions online Action Center gives you the tools talking points and facts you need to speak up and be an effective adoption advocate. Visit adoption council.or/advocacy. To sign up for the alerts and make your voice heard on adoption issues that matter to you. We really do as adoptive and foster families need to advocate for best practices and things that we need as families because we know will help our kids. So please check out adoption council.org/advocacy
Alright, so we're going to end on a more positive note here because we have talked about and we don't want to paint the picture that our children have no chance for a leading a healthy life if our kids has experienced X number of adverse childhood experiences are our child has experienced neglect or whatever we can list the and we see that our children are responding in ways that we've just described in the last 45 minutes about how our kids would respond to trauma that they are doing for life but that is not the case. And Brett I'm going to turn to you because you've been you've a couple of times raised the the idea of resilience
So many of our children, many, many of our children are thrivers. And survivors, and a child who is experienced trauma is not doomed. And we can't and we, as parents can, can help, because we can help our children become more resilient. So let's talk some about what Bill's resiliency and what can parents do to help their kiddos become more resilient to overcome some of the negative impacts of trauma? Well, I'm glad you asked, because this is my favorite thing to talk mind to, I could not agree with you more. It's it's just love, that we know, we know so much about the science of trauma now that I'm kind of a trauma science nerd, and I love to talk about it, I love to talk about ACEs and all that we know. And unfortunately, what we can do unintentionally is, is give the opinion or the impression to people that this is a diagnosis or this is somehow determinative to determine of life. Yeah, the reality what we know now is a lot more about the science of resilience is that science, resilience is not something you're born with resilience is something that's built over time. And we can do very intentional things to help counterbalance. And to protect children from the things they've experienced, by very much focusing on what's strong about them, we can move towards interventions that are really about healing centered engagement, to coined a term Dr. Richard Jen, right, I'm used. And one of the basics of those just makes sense to everyone. And that is consistent supportive relationships. And the beautiful thing about that is it doesn't have to be a parent or caretaker, those consistent supportive relationships and think of each each person hearing this, there are people in their lives that have been consistent and supportive and positive, that may not be anyone they've ever lived with. It could be a coach, or a minister or a teacher, I can't tell you the number of people that have told me stories about a teacher's intervention with them, that stuck with them throughout the course of their life. And that really is life giving life affirming. It's also important to know those relationships don't have to be forever, they don't have to be 20 year relationships, it's course it's great if they are but even safe, supportive, consistent time limited, relationships make a big difference. And helping a child's brain to rewire to understand that not everyone is dangerous, and not everyone is is going to hurt them. And that's an important piece of that skill building. So safe supportive relationships are huge. Another one is a sense of the future. What we know is that kids do see themselves as part of something bigger. And that that usually comes from faith development, some kind of spiritual development are often real cultural norms and their families, maybe it is something in their religion or just something in their culture, that they are consistent. So things that the way you do holidays, or the way you celebrate, or even the way you have a ritual in your in your family, this kind of cultural identity things are part of connecting to something bigger than themselves. And those connections really help a child start to think about things like plans for the future, maybe that something that happened in the past is not doomed to repeat itself, that they can actually have a future. And so helping kids once they get enough safety, really think about a plan for the future and something to hold on to. And then the other I'll mention is a sense of mastery. Harvard's center for the developing child, if you've not checked out their website, it's a great resource is lots of great resilience resources there. But one of the things that is so key is every child needs a sense of mastery. I think every person needs a sense of mastery, something they're good at something that makes them unique, and which is why we have to spend more time investing in things that children are interested in. And that may have a natural aptitude for than spending time trying to remediate things they don't do well.
Unfortunately, our public school systems aren't always good at that. And so we can really help build buffers and whether that is painting and drawing, or playing basketball, or studying science, whatever it is theater, all those ways that you can connect with something that you can gain some mastery over and feel like you have some control there that helps your brain understand that you could do that with something else. You can transfer that, that mastery into something else. And that's really important when you want to be employed one day, and you want to manage your money and do things like buy a house or you know, be able to afford your bills those things. I love that resilient focus strategy, because it keeps us out of a deficit based mindset. Everybody has struggles and really adversity is universal. And so what we need to know is that there could be somebody with bad life outcomes that only had one adverse childhood experience because they didn't have the safe consistent buffering relationships and
Other enriching opportunities. And there could be kids with a 10 a score, who have experienced every bad thing you can imagine, that thrive and become extremely successful. And most of the time that is because of the resilience in their lives, relationships and otherwise. And is a subset of what you mentioned about focus on mastery, is for us adults to also focus on strengths, which is it's another way of saying what you were saying, but it is so tempting. And I think sometimes for us as adults, to focus on where our kids are struggling, and I think we do that at a fear, we because it's, gosh, they're behind, they haven't learned the multiplication table. So it will never, they'll never move out of my basement, you know, whatever we, we start, we extrapolate into the future, what we see her children where they are right now. And we're fearful, we got to stop hitting other kids, you know, my gosh, they're going to be under the jail someday, if we don't do this, that type of thing. So we respond by trying to focus down on what our kids what they screw up on, rather than Shifting our focus to see where do our kids shine? Oh, they love animals, they are so kind to animals, and animals love them, or, you know, they have a real sense of style, they I wouldn't have thought to put those socks with, you know, with that, with that outfit or that that. So focusing on where our kids shine, as opposed to where they're struggling is a challenge for parents. I think, Don, do you see that as well? I do. And it's one of one of my favorite things to teach kids and parents about is, you know, multiple intelligences, right? So yes, and just to see kids light up, when when you know, together, you've been able to find the thing that they're just really good at, you know, being a good friend, just so many things help helping around the house. And then to help give them some understanding about that. Here's real basic sense of your, here's how your brain works, then you can't be good at everything. And yet, this is what school intelligence looks like. But here's what this looks like over here and how important that is to how valuable it is. So yes, I couldn't I really couldn't agree more. And it can be such a relief for parents as well. Right? Yeah. And kids and I so glad to use the word school intelligence because I speak for as a, as a parent of child who struggled in this and being able to say, school values, one type of intelligence, but there are so many. And so that's not your strong suit, who cares? All the others are more important, you know? So, and I really feel it when you can have a moment with kids. They really I've seen kids just just shine when they you know, they kind of have their aha moment about that.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Well, thank you so much. Brett Loftus and Dr. Dawn O'Malley both with cross North Communities for Children for talking with us today about how trauma impacts a child's development and perhaps most important about what we as parents can do about it. I so appreciate your being here. And for our listeners. Check us out next week. We'll have another great show another great information and I will see it in
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