Henrico forum addresses noticing signs of trauma in children

Recognizing trauma in children

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Virginia Education Association hosted a community forum at Hermitage High about spotting signs of trauma in children and how trauma can affect learning on Thursday evening.

Anything from peer pressure to school violence can contribute to that stress. Experts say there are signs to look for that may never be spoken. From school shootings to children showing up to class with guns, and the everyday effects of bullying in the classroom.

"I work with kids under five,” Cameron Breven said.

It’s why Breven is here. Breven works with young children every day.

"Mostly in their homes, preparing them to get ready for school,” the social worker said.

Too often experts say there are signs that children are traumatized and often adults miss them. According to the CDC, a few triggers of trauma in children can include:

  • Reliving the event over and over in thought or in play
  • Nightmares and sleep problems
  • Becoming very upset when something causes memories of the event
  • Lack of positive emotions
  • Intense ongoing fear or sadness
  • Irritability and angry outbursts
  • Constantly looking for possible threats, being easily startled
  • Acting helpless, hopeless or withdrawn
  • Denying that the event happened or feeling numb
  • Avoiding places or people associated with the event

A group gathered at Hermitage High School including parents, teachers and people who work with children to learn how to communicate with kids who have experienced pain.

"I’m thinking about my own children and what I would’ve done,” Dr. Lori Desautels said.

The author and college professor led the discussion. She says it’s all about building trust.

“Noticing a haircut. Noticing a new pair of shoes and stating it says to the child ‘I see you’,” she said.

That way children can feel comfortable opening up when they need to the most.

"Our children need an opportunity to share their fears, to share the worry and the anxiety that they’re feeling it,” Desautels said.

When they do, adults should encourage it.

"It’s OK to feel that way and to sense that way,” Desautels said.

She also encourages adults to keep their cool, even when you want to lose it.

"When I am calm, that’s actually mirroring what I want from my own child…The way you look at a child for two seconds can really change the brain architecture,” she added.

"The thing that stood out to me the most was just creating space for kids to talk about what they’re experiencing. We focus a lot on ‘hey, tell me what you’re feeling’ but really noticing the sensation, drawing it and then giving it a color and being able to use that (will be helpful),” Breveren said pointing to a tip she learned from the forum.

Local educators held the event because they believe when children are traumatized it can affect how well they do in school. They say when adults know what to look for, they can play a role in helping kids be their best.

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