When a child is recovering from emotional trauma, their thinking, emotional processing and embodied sense of themselves will be fractured, split up and split off. They will be in a fight or flight state where there is no rational thinking or capacity for self reflection. Their behavior will be erratic, explosive, scary, uncontrolled and seemingly uncontrollable. In a best attempt to make sense of the child’s behavior, schools and parents often try to teach children how to behave, how to recover, how to communicate their needs. They go about this by reiterating the rules, providing punishments and incentives, being consistent. However, these interventions need a child to think straight to access them.
A child in trauma can’t learn how to behave because they can’t think straight while they are feeling uncontained and unsafe. A child in trauma needs to feel safe enough to trust the world and the adults around them to put them back together not to teach them how to behave. However, trauma is like water and it floods into everything and everyone around it. Parents and schools sometimes find themselves unable to think straight too while their minds are holding the child’s trauma. Trauma derails, it freezes, it incapacitates children, their adults around them and sometimes whole systems.
So the next time your child who is recovering from trauma has the tantrum of all tantrums see if you can find any space inside yourself that hasn’t been flooded by their trauma in that moment. Find that space and try to expand it, find a name for the safe space, a colour, a sound, give it an identity, make it a place you can return to and then invite your child to join you there. If that sounds a bit dippy think about it, the biggest injury of trauma is that your child feels they are not safe inside and they need you to show them how to reach and grow safe spaces inside themselves, not teach them how, but to know it yourself and embody it. Recovery from trauma starts with safe minds, safe bodies, safe spaces and finally after all that feels better, there is more capacity for safe behaviour from the child.