Welcome to the March edition of the Childhood Trauma Newsletter! I am Beth Tyson, a childhood trauma consultant, children's book author, and former trauma therapist. Inside, you will discover why meditation isn’t for everyone and how we can help children use mindfulness without triggering a trauma response. I will also share with you the hopeful research on Positive Childhood Experiences (PCEs) and how they can mitigate the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Hint: It's all about connection. I share our Trauma Champion of the Month, Cissy White, who will inspire you and provide wisdom to parents with a history of PTSD, and a thorough update on what I've been working on over the last two months. I hope you find this helpful!
TRAUMA-INFORMED TIPS FOR MEDITATION
Last month, I created a post about trauma-informed meditation and mindfulness that went slightly viral on my LinkedIn page. Due to the rise in meditation in schools and other places children spend time, we must understand the potential to trigger children with a history of trauma and how to prevent it when possible.
Can mindfulness and meditation be helpful for children? Absolutely. However, we must also be aware of the potential to do unintentional harm and prevent it when possible. For example, traditional meditation that requires children to sit still, lay down, or close their eyes can activate a trauma response. When children are traumatized, their bodies and mind are often in a state of hypervigilance. This state means they frequently feel as though there is an imminent threat to their life, even though they may be completely safe.
Hypervigilance is a protective state created by our nervous system based on our experiences with trauma. The goal of this state is to protect us, but it makes it very hard to sit still, be quiet, or think clearly. Certain types of meditation ask the body to do something that feels unsafe, and this can exacerbate the trauma responses. In addition, memories or emotions could flood in when a child attempts to quiet their mind, stirring up anxious responses that could get them in trouble in the classroom instead of relaxing their nervous system. On the flip side, calming the body and mind could also send the child into a dissociative state that appears to be meditation but is a trauma response. Can you see how tricky this can be?
What can we do?
Adults must be aware of the risks and learn trauma-informed meditation for children. Here are some tips that can help make your next meditation at home or in the classroom trauma-informed, but this is not comprehensive. Seek professional training in this area if you regularly meditate with children.
Tips for Trauma-Informed Mindfulness
Let participants know that they can stop, move, or leave the room at any time
Provide various anchors besides the breath - such as hands or feet
Tell them that not everyone feels comfortable doing meditation, and it’s ok if they don’t like it, there is no shaming and blaming
Allow participants to keep their eyes open or downcast instead of closed, whichever they are comfortable with
Suggest a moving meditation instead of laying or sitting still
Allow the children to lie facedown if they choose. This can feel soothing and grounding to the nervous system
Include music or use a guided meditation created for children
Know the symptoms of dissociation while meditating and be prepared to intervene
Check in with the children afterward and follow up on anything you noticed
Example: “I noticed you didn’t want to close your eyes, what was the meditation like for
you? It’s ok if you feel afraid. That can happen sometimes when we do meditation.
What might make it easier for you next time?”
There is often the assumption that meditation and mindfulness have specific rules. But, we can bring meditative practices into art, cooking, walking, playing music, and other activities that could be less triggering for some people.
I want to be clear that I believe in the healing power of mindfulness and meditation. Still, I also think how it is traditionally practiced in the United States can aggravate trauma symptoms in some people. Children with trauma don’t have a blinking sign over their heads alerting us that they might be triggered, so it’s beneficial to take precautions and provide trauma-informed instruction whenever you offer meditation.
TRAUMA CHAMPION OF THE MONTH
I include this section in my newsletter to highlight the work of colleagues and other inspiring people in trauma-responsive and healing-centered care. I think it’s essential that we lift each other up and look to each other as comrades in preventing and healing childhood trauma. So, without further ado, this month’s Trauma Champion is…
Christine “Cissy” White is a writer, mother, health activist, and trauma survivor. She manages the Parenting with ACEs Group on the ACEs Connection. ACEs = Adverse Childhood Experiences. She founded Heal Write Now in 2014, hoping to be the woman she needed her whole life – a public person openly living, loving, and parenting with PTSD. She leads Parenting with PTSD & ACEs workshops for trauma survivors and treatment providers. She’s co-founder of the #FacesOfPTSD campaign. She credits the unconditional love of pets and the open page with helping her survive childhood and traumatic stress. She believes writing is a portable and affordable tool available to and beneficial to almost everyone. Her survivor-led advocacy has been written about in the Atlantic, Huffington Post, and The Mighty. She believes any trauma-informed initiative must be informed by trauma survivors to be effective. White’s writing can be found in The Boston Globe, Ms. Magazine, To Write Love on Her Arms, The Mighty, Spirituality & Health, ACEs Connection, Elephant Journal, ACEs Too High, and at Heal Write Now.
Cissy is a wealth of knowledge and a beautiful human being. Please check out her website to learn more about her journey.
RESOURCES OF THE MONTH
Did you know that research by Harvard University shows that all children need to thrive is one caring, committed, and loving adult?
You are not alone if you feel burnt out caring for children with trauma. It can feel impossible to go on. You might even feel sad about the life or child you thought you would have. However, there’s nothing wrong with you grieving this unspeakable pain. In fact, if you do grief work around this pain, you might find it reduces frustration and creates tolerance for the relationships in front of you.
If you need inspiration on the power of one caring adult, watch this short video by Josh Shipp, or check out this research by Johns Hopkins University on the mitigating impact of positive childhood experiences on adverse childhood experiences.
Save this email to revisit during your tough days when you need support. Thank you for being so committed to children who need you more than you know. Please don’t give up. Behavior is a messenger, and I believe kids always do their best.
WHAT AM I UP TO?
Pictured: The Connect Our Kids Advisory Team
Last week I attended the RootsTech Conference on behalf of Connect Our Kids. This non-profit technology company unites children in foster care with safe and loving people from their past or extended family tree FOR FREE. About 7,000 people attended the conference in person, and there were rumors of another 20+ million attending online! Representing COKids as their new Director of Trauma-Informed Practices was a tremendous honor.
COKids CEO Jennifer Jacobs, and COO, Jessica Stern took the main stage at RootsTech to announce a collaboration with Family Search - the largest genealogy company in the world and the owners of Ancestry.com. It was an experience I will never forget, and it inspired me to want to learn more about my family heritage and ancestors. After all, knowing who and where we are from can heal trauma, empower us to overcome adversity, help us build a strong sense of self, and grounds us in an often topsy-turvy existence.
After reading this newsletter, I encourage you to head to ConnectOurKids.org to learn more about our life-changing work for foster care children and beyond.
Over the last few months, Connect Our Kids, and I have been creating an attachment-based trauma-informed training for child welfare professionals called “Why Connections Matter.” It is part of a three-tiered training program designed to educate child welfare professionals and others working with children in foster care about developmental trauma and how healthy connections are the path to healing.
I’ve collaborated with foster and kinship care expert Allison Davis Maxon, author of The Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency, to create The Why Connections Matter training, which will be a game changer for child welfare professionals and social workers across the country! It’s experiential, innovative and will engage the audience in a unique way. Say goodbye to sleepy presentations when you work with us!
Alongside Connect Our Kids, I also started creating content for season two of the Connections Matter Academy (CMA), an animated short video series to help teens (and others) cope with childhood trauma. I will keep you posted when the new videos are ready. It will be several months at the earliest, but I promise they will be worth the wait!
In season two of the CMA, we will address relational safety for teens who have experienced childhood trauma in three-minute clips they can easily absorb. You can watch season one on our YouTube channel and subscribe to receive notifications about new videos.
COMING UP: CHILD ABUSE PREVENTION MONTH
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month across the United States! We will light up the Capitol blue in Pennsylvania to spread awareness about child abuse prevention. Our symbol for the month of April is the pinwheel because every child deserves a carefree and playful childhood.
Personally, I believe we should change the name from “Child Abuse Prevention Month” to something like “Family Preservation Month”, but that’s just me. I would rather be working towards a long-term goal than avoiding an outcome. What do you think? Feel free to respond to this email with your thoughts. I love hearing from all of you!
I am a co-chair of the Pennsylvania Child Abuse Prevention Team, and if you want to help preserve family well-being in PA, I would be happy to interview you to become a member of our team. If interested, please get in touch with me, or learn more about creating a trauma-informed Pennsylvania at HealPA.org. We can’t talk about trauma without taking action!
Thank you for taking the time to read my newsletter today. I know how little time adults have as we juggle multiple stressors in life, but I’m so honored you spent your time with me today.
If you find my work helpful, please forward this newsletter to a friend, colleague, or family member so it can reach those who need it most. If someone sent you this email, you could also receive it for free in your inbox by subscribing to BethTyson.com.
Take good care of yourselves, Trauma Champions, and hold onto the glimmers of hope each day.
For my daily thoughts, tips, news, and resources on childhood trauma and grief, please join my Facebook group, Emotiminds.
Beth Tyson is a childhood trauma consultant, a 3x best-selling author, co-chair of the Pennsylvania Child Abuse Prevention Team, and a member of the CASA Advisory Board, among other advocacy roles. Beth provides trauma-responsive and healing-centered guidance to organizations that want to improve the mental health of children and families. She is also the author of A Grandfamily for Sullivan, a children’s book for kinship families and children raised by their relatives due to unfortunate circumstances.