Nancy Adler-Jones, MSW

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Significant Adults Affect Trauma Response in Children

I frequently talk to grandmothers, aunts, teachers who are troubled by what children close to them are going through.  They feel sad, disempowered and helpless.  I explain to them that their very presence in the child’s life can make all the difference in the world, as the child feels connected and seen.

Gavin de Becker, author of “The Gift of Fear” eloquently speaks of this phenomenon in his book “Protecting the Gift”.  I quote from p 276-277

“The good news is that children who are at risk of growing up violent can often be helped more easily than most people realize. In her emotionally evocative books (including The Drama of the Gifted Child and The Untouched Key), psychiatrist and child advocate Alive Miller makes clear that if mistreated children have effective human contact, some recognition of their worth and value, some “witness” to their experience, this can make an extraordinary difference.

I have leaned that the kindness of a teacher, a coach, a policeman, a neighbor, the parent of a friend, is never wasted. These moments are likely to pass with neither the child nor the adult fully knowing the significance of the contribution. No ceremony attaches to the moment that a child sees his own worth reflected in the eyes of an encouraging adult. Though nothing apparent marks the occasion, inside the child a new view of self can take hold.

Not just a person deserving of neglect or violence, no just a person who is a burden to the sad adults in his life, not just a child who fails to solve his family’s problems, who fails to rescue them from madness or addiction or poverty or unhappiness. No, this child might be someone else, someone whose appearance before this one adult revealed specialness and lovability and value.

A child’s value might be revealed through appreciation of his or her artistic talent, physical ability, humor, courage, patience, curiosity, scholarly skills, creativity, resourcefulness, responsibility, energy, or any of the many attributes that children bring us in such abundance.

It might literally be matter of a few hours with a person whose kindness reconnects the child to an earlier experience of self a self that was loved and valued and encouraged. I can say from experience that it doesn’t take much. As a boy, I needed most of all to know that the violence and the madness was not my fault. The people who gave me that knowledge gave me the great gift of my life”

Sat, March 5 2011 » Trauma