By Robin Moss
Director of Therapeutic Programs
Robin Moss is a Tennessee state Licensed Clinical Social Worker with more than 25 years experience working with children, youth, and families. Robin completed her graduate studies at Washington University’s top ranked George Warren Brown School of Social Work in St. Louis in 1998. Robin has many years of experience providing therapeutic services, along with advocacy, program development, and supervision in nonprofit settings. Robin began her work at Bethel Bible Village in February 2008 and was promoted to her position as Director of Therapeutic Programs in June of 2012. She and her husband, Jon, have two daughters.
If childhood trauma had a poster child, it would be the year 2020.
I can’t remember a time when there was a greater need to help children and teens though crisis. No matter how much we try to protect them, our kids have been deeply impacted by COVID-19, the Easter tornadoes, and a divided nation.
Camps have been cancelled, the return to school and structure is still uncertain, and for children who love to be social, the cancellation of a group birthday party can be the very. last. straw.
We Thought the Kids were Fine
The most important thing to understand about kids is that they may not show signs of trauma until weeks or months down the road. At first, they are watching, listening, taking it all in. They feel the stress all around them, even as we try to protect them from it. Often, they are numb for a while.
When they do react, it is not in the way we would expect. As parents, we assume they will tell us how they feel. Instead, based on their age, they may start wetting the bed, sleeping way too much, or go into a total behavioral tailspin.
Last week at my house we wanted a safe way for our daughters to get out of the house and decided to take a family drive out to the lake. My youngest said “No.” When I let her know that was not an option, she dug in her heels, stared me in the face and continued to refuse.
When a normally compliant child suddenly exhibits outright disobedience and defiance, you know there is more going on inside her head. This wasn’t about a trip to the lake, it was an attempt to control her environment when everything in the world was feeling very out of control.
We talked about why she was reacting this way and about safe choices. I asked if she could tell me what she was feeling, and explained that if she is feeling fearful about going to the park, that wearing a mask to the park would be a better option than remaining alone indoors.
Watch for Signs of Trauma
As we go through the phases of reopening, it’s important that we continue to take our children’s emotional temperatures. They are facing a school year filled with unpredictability and we need to make sure they are prepared for it. Keep an eye out for these behavioral changes:
— Anxiety about things that have not bothered them before, such as suddenly becoming afraid of storms. If anxiety continues or escalates to panic attacks, consult with your pediatrician.
— Reverting to behaviors from a younger stage, such as temper tantrums or thumb sucking. If this continues for more than a few weeks, check with your doctor.
— Excessive sleep. Rest is good, but if your teens is sleeping 15 hours a day and spending the rest of the time glued to a phone or video game, they need help setting limits.
— Increased irritability, mood swings, risky behavior, withdrawal from social interactions, or loss of interest in things the child usually loves to do. If signs of depression continue, consult with a counselor or your family doctor.
Some reactions require emergency care:
— If you child has thoughts of hurting others or him/herself, contact your pediatrician or mental health professional immediately.
— If your child is in immediate danger or endangering someone else, call 911.
Be the Positive Presence They Need
Day to day, listen to your children, ask questions, and pray with them. Let them know that our creator has promised us that even when the world is filled with trouble, we are in His hands and can trust in that. Be intentionally uplifting and encouraging to your kids during this time. Send texts or Instagram messages to your teen with encouraging messages or a special Bible verse, and remind them how much you love them.
Remember also that Bethel is here for you. If your child is having emotional or behavioral problems that you cannot control and/or has fallen far behind in school during this uncertain time, consider contacting Bethel to inquire about our healing residential program or having your child attend our campus school as a day student.
With very small classes and exceptional trauma-informed care, Bethel Christian Academy has helped many middle and high schoolers recover from childhood trauma so they can fulfill their dreams. Children who have been through trauma have amazing potential. Sometimes they just need a different environment to help move them forward from where they are standing today.
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Bethel Christian Academy
Bethel’s residential program with therapeutic care