Parents & Caregivers

Traumatic events, such as the death of a loved one, or being the victim of violence, can have a significant impact on mental and emotional wellness. But when harmful or threatening events happen to children — even babies — whose brains and bodies are still developing, it can have a much more serious and long-term impact.

Controlling how we respond to children during trauma is critical.

As hard as we try, we can’t always keep our children safe — from bullying at school, violence in the neighborhood, or natural disasters. Childhood trauma creates a type of stress called toxic stress, which can damage a developing brain and affect overall health. Toxic stress increases the hormones which curb the body’s ability to fight infection and lead to autoimmune problems such as chronic infections and asthma … increases difficulty in making friends and maintaining relationships … increases problems with learning, memory, and problem-solving … and can overwhelm emotional coping skills leading to fighting, zoning-out or defiance.

Resilience is key to helping children and families heal from trauma.

Resilience is the ability to return to being healthy and hopeful after bad things happen. We can be hurt, but we can heal and grow stronger through the process. The path to healing and resilience is through safe and nurturing relationships with adults, healthy attachments between parents and their children, counseling services when needed, opportunities to learn, grow and build confidence through youth programs (sports, arts, music, theater, dance, church groups, etc.), and safe and supportive environments to learn and grow.

“Resiliency is not as prevalent as we would like to believe. What we do know is that it is strongly related to the belief that somehow you “mattered” to someone: the deep belief that at one time you mattered to another human being” Vincent Felitti, M.D., Co-Principal Investigator, Adverse Childhood Experiences Study


"Just Breathe"

by Julie Bayer Salzman & Josh Salzman (Wavecrest Films)

Build resilience in children and youth.

  • Listen to and validate your child’s feelings. Use statements like, “Wow. Sounds like you’re sad about… or mad about…or frustrated with…. What’s going on?” (We all feel better when we feel heard and supported.)
  • Strengthen the nurturing bond between parent/caregiver and your child. Hold, talk, read, and sing to your babies and toddlers – this helps form healthy attachment and helps build a baby’s brain! Hug, high five and praise your child.
  • Focus on finding solutions to disruptive or troubling behavior rather than punishment. Helping a child problem-solve and think through better ways to handle their big feelings and agree upon ways to make amends to a parent, sibling, or friend when they have hurt someone else’s feelings strengthens the “thinking” part of the brain. Additionally, recognizing and encouraging positive behavior is more effective than punishing negative behavior. We all like it when our efforts are praised and recognized!
  • Teach your child about the brain and how to express emotions in a healthy way. (Watch this video of kids teaching the audience about anger and big emotions on the brain, and how to stay calm with mindfulness and breathing. This one shows fun games to build emotional regulation skills in kids)
  • Model good emotional regulation for your children. When you get angry or frustrated, give yourself a quick time out, do some deep breathing, think of song lyrics you love, anything to calm your own emotions in the moment. Asking for help when you need it is a sign of strength; modeling this skill for children is a powerful way to help them understand that they are not alone and that they can lean on others for support.
  • Do your best to make sure your child’s needs are met, with safe housing, healthy meals each day, clothing to keep them warm, having a family doctor to treat any illnesses or injuries, and safe and supportive schools and child care centers. (Call 211 if you are struggling to meet the basic needs of your children, they will connect you to available services.) If you don’t feel that your child’s school is safe, advocate for them to take a trauma-informed school approach (resources in the education page).
  • Create the strongest support network that you can for your child, with family members, friends, teachers, coaches, and neighbors. It takes a village to raise a resilient child!
  • Take care of yourself too! You can’t pour from an empty cup. It’s important to take time for yourself, do things that make you happy, and feel connected and supported.
  • Seek counseling services, for your child and/or your family, if your child has been exposed to a traumatic event and is demonstrating symptoms (see symptoms above).
  • We parent the way we were parented. Think about what you like and dislike about the way your own parents raised you. What would you like to change, do differently?

4 Protective Factors for Parental Resilience

• Take quiet time to reenergize: Take a bath, write, sing, laugh, drink a cup of tea.

• Do some physical exercise: Walk, stretch, do yoga, lift weights, dance.

• Share your feelings with someone you trust.

• Surround yourself with people who support you and make you feel good about yourself.

5 Incredibly Fun GAMES to Teach Self-Regulation (Self-Control)

Early Childhood Development

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