Updated: Jun 13
Welcome to the June edition of the childhood trauma newsletter. The past few weeks have been heavy for caregivers as we grapple with the aftermath of the violence in our communities. I know it's been said too many times, but my heart goes out to the families and the communities impacted by these tragedies.
If you are struggling to wrap your mind around the trauma we are facing in our world, please know that you are not alone. It is normal to cry, feel anxious, change course, get angry, and irritable. These feelings are a natural response to our disturbing reality. There is nothing "wrong" with you.
Today I want to talk about vicarious trauma (VT), also known as secondary trauma, and how it impacts children and families. Many of us are experiencing VT due to the constant tragedies in the news and in our social circles. Mass shootings, the war in Ukraine, racism, the pandemic, and political unrest are traumas we learn about vicariously through others.
VT is a risk factor for front-line workers, therapists, children, and adults with a history of trauma. In addition, caregivers like you, raising or working with children impacted by trauma, are also likely to experience vicarious trauma.
"If you work in a helping profession or are caring for children with trauma, it's not a matter of if you will have symptoms of VT, but when. "
So what is vicarious trauma?
A type of psychological trauma we may experience from being indirectly exposed to a traumatic event or series of events
It involves experiencing symptoms of PTSD from hearing about or witnessing trauma in others. Symptoms of PTSD are anxiety, depression, panic attacks, nightmares, avoidance, insomnia, anger/irritability, scary intrusive thoughts, plus more.
VT is based in our empathetic response to others - the more empathy you have, the more at risk you are for vicarious trauma.
It can profoundly impact our sense of safety and ability to function in everyday life.
It is a normal response to abnormal situations, but it changes how you view the world around you. It can make you see the world as a dangerous place and create hypervigilant/paranoid thoughts and feelings.
In children, VT can look like behavior problems, anxiety, refusal to go to school, anger/irritability, and frequent physical complaints (always rule out medical conditions with your pediatrician). VT could also cause changes in mood, sleep, and eating habits. The good news is that we can help our children through VT by establishing a safe environment.
If you think your child is experiencing VT:
Keep your routines consistent and as predictable as possible. Sudden changes can cause additional distress. If a change is necessary, tell them ahead of time to prepare them for the change. Being prepared for changes builds a feeling of trust and safety.
Prioritize sleep over everything else. Make sure your children get anywhere from 9-12 hours of sleep, depending on their age. Keep devices out of the bedrooms.
Be honest and follow through on your promises. Adults tend to tell white lies when it's easy or convenient, but children are more intelligent than it seems. They need to know they can rely on you to be honest with them, no matter what. Tell them the truth about their life in age-appropriate terms. If children don't have answers to pressing questions about their parents or family, they will make up stories that are worse than reality. If you don't feel comfortable doing this, I recommend the support of a therapist or parenting coach for difficult conversations. If that's not possible, look for a workshop or article on telling the truth to children.
Take care of your emotional well-being. Children look to caregivers as the litmus test for how they should feel and behave. Our nervous systems are underdeveloped until around 25 years old. Because of this, children need to link up with their caregiver's nervous system in a process called "co-regulation." Co-regulation occurs when a calm adult syncs their relaxed nervous system with a child's dysregulated nervous system. This process teaches the child's nervous system to calm down (or self-regulate). Co-regulation is a learning process for children to learn how to cope with distress.
Being aware that VT is a possible outcome of being in close contact with someone who has experienced trauma needs to be normalized. If you work with or raise children with trauma, it's not a matter of "if" it will happen; it's a matter of "when" it will happen. What makes it worse is the shame we put on top of the trauma responses. VT is not your fault, not the child's fault, and is a normal reaction to distressing events. To learn more, consider setting up a workshop on this topic with me.
The Trauma Champion of the Month is my friend, Suzy DeYoung! This is a mother you need to know. Suzy is the moderator of Trauma-Informed Parent on Facebook, which has over 200K followers. She holds a Masters of Education in Parent and Child Development from Bank Street College of Education in New York City. Suzy created Trauma-Informed Parent to offer parents and caregivers of children who have endured trauma and/or adverse childhood experiences (ACES) access to resources that were largely unavailable when her son, Cary, suffered a traumatic accident in 2004. Cary's story is shared here: Remembering Cary.
Suzy began her career in television production, working for various programs, including Ryan's Hope, Good Morning America, The CBS Morning Program, and Live! Regis and Kathie Lee. Following the birth of her three children, Suzy went on to work as an early childhood teacher and also as a parenting coach.
Following the 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT., Suzy became involved in Newtown's recovery efforts. Suzy served as Community Outreach Director for The Sandy Hook Promise; Care Coordinator for The Newtown Recovery & Resiliency Team; Founder and Director of the annual Newtown Yoga Festival and Director and Co-Host of The Avielle Foundation's Brainstorm Experience: a monthly speaker series focused on mental health issues.
The Brainstorm Experience Speaker Series was created to offer residents of Newtown and Sandy Hook, CT. a vehicle to engage and learn more about issues pertaining to mental/brain health. Guest speakers included, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk ("The Body Keeps the Score"), Brene Brown, Jane Pauley (Living with Bi-Polar), Dan Harris (Meditation), Andrew Solomon ("Far From the Tree"), Ta-Nehisi Coates ("Between the World and Me") and California's former surgeon general, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris.
Suzy is a regular contributor to the online parenting forum, Grown & Flown, and her first book, "A Gift of Hindsight: Reflections on Successes, Failures, and Lessons Learned from Seasoned Parents and Parenting Experts," was published in 2019. Her book is available on Amazon, and I own a copy! I gained so much insight from reading her book on parenting and what to expect as my daughter grows up.
Presently, Suzy works as a researcher for bestselling author Andrew Solomon.
Trauma Resource of the Month
The CARES Model for Trauma-Responsive Connection is created by yours truly! The CARES Model is a one-of-a-kind framework for calming a child's nervous system through respectful connection. Click the link to view the model and learn what you can do to help a child stuck in the fight/flight/freeze/fawn trauma response.
As a consultant for ConnectOurKids.org, I am developing content for phase two of an educational animated video series on childhood trauma for teens and young adults.
Our team of experts completed phase one earlier this spring, and the videos should be available towards the end of this summer or early fall. The videos will be free to view online due to the generous funding provided by the state of Ohio. Thank you, Ohio!
I can't wait to show you the groundbreaking work we've been creating at Connect Our Kids. If you don't know who ConnectOurKids.org is, I encourage you to check us out. We are on a mission to help every child find their family and a place to call home through innovative technology and tools to help children in foster care connect with people from their past.
In this article for PsychCentral, "Helping Children Cope with Anxiety After the Death of a Parent," I contribute my personal and professional expertise on coping with grief and how it impacts young children, teens, and adults differently.
"It ebbs and flows like waves in an ocean," Tyson says. "Sudden large waves of grief can show up around significant dates like birthdays or holidays. The anxiety can be triggered by a memory, a smell, a sound, a taste, or other sensory experiences."
Don't forget to check out my brand new website and invite your friends to subscribe to this newsletter on BethTyson.com.
On a personal note...
My daughter graduated from Kindergarten this past week, which was a mix of emotions for this mama! As the mother of an only child I am keenly aware of every first and every last experience with her because I know there will never be another one.
I wish you a peaceful summer and remember, we only get 18 summers with our children. So take time to slow down and enjoy the moments. Be here now. I must keep reminding myself that I won't live in fear and let murderers win.
If you need anything, please reach out to me. I am currently booking speaking events and training for the fall, but my schedule is filling up quickly! To schedule time with me, visit my calendar HERE.
Thank you for sharing your heart and your inbox with me. I hope you found this edition of the childhood trauma newsletter helpful and encouraging. If you like my content, please join us in my Facebook group, Emotiminds.
With grief, hope, and love,