Following is an excerpt from Chapter 1, I Worry About the Kids, a workbook for parents, teachers, and mentors, by Steve Sparks. Anticipated publish date September 2016.
“Although children are resilient and adapt to their immediate surroundings and their broader environment—good, bad, indifferent, and ugly as it might be—kids inhale the pain of loved ones, especially parents they look to for love, support, and security. Parents don’t always see or even think that toxic behaviors in the home, school, and neighborhood will have long-term implications on the healthy growth of their children. Parents who suffer from severe post trauma stress are fully engaged in their own world of emotional pain, a private agony that can strike at any moment by haunting triggers from the past. Outbursts of anger, panic attacks, and irrational behaviors represent a trauma-affected adult who is expressing grieving emotions from past traumatic events. When these scary events occur in the home, kids become frightened for their safety. Children are often silent and try to stay clear of threatening violent behaviors, but they never forget. They live and cope with whatever happens around them just like adults.
I’m often asked why I worry so much about babies and young children when thinking and writing about post-traumatic stress and the toxic circumstances that surround a family when a parent suffers from it. I worry because even unborn babies can be damaged from post-trauma family dynamics. And I worry about the kids because the longer the delay in paying attention to them, the more permanent the damage.
Where do I find these children? The terrible answer is I find them in every social strata, every economic level, in every neighborhood, everywhere. Children exhibiting the signs of post-traumatic stress often live in military families that include a parent who served in hard combat but came home fueled by anxiety, depression, and anger. They are children of first responders whose work places them in the midst of terrible violence and chaos, and they can’t help but bring some of their despair back home. They are homeless kids sleeping wherever they can lay their head for the night. Sometimes their parents are with them, sometimes not. They are the children of alcoholics and drug users. They are kids living among convicted criminals who need supervision of their own. They are the children of chronically depressed parents. They are undernourished kids living in poverty. They are kids with limited access to education—for whatever reason. They are children who have witnessed a murder, or a gun accident, or pulled the trigger themselves—you read about these stories in the newspapers way too often. They are children who found a parent dead of suicide. Or who was in the room when their mother was raped. They are foster children taken from parents who abused or neglected them, only to end up in another abusive situation. They are kids whose father or mother skipped out one day, never to return. They are children living with their grandparents because their own parents are dysfunctional or violent. They are children at the mercy of adults—stepfathers, pastors, relatives, neighbors—with sexually deviant personalities. Our society is experiencing an epidemic of children suffering from post-traumatic stress right this minute.
Why do I worry about the little kids? Because I see their anxiety, pain, and distress. I watch how they flinch, how they become mute, how they retreat from tender touch. These little kids often arrive hungry at school and nap too long, or not enough. I worry about the kids because, for the most part, they are invisible. They fall through the cracks. When nobody pays attention to them, they grow up damaged. Their antisocial behavior and learning deficiencies escalate. They mimic the toxic behavior of their caretakers by bullying classmates, by lying and stealing, by becoming defiant. They learn to manipulate people and manipulate the system. They are angry. They live in a state of panic. If they get in trouble in school often enough, they are expelled. Pretty soon, they take to living on the street because their home is more dangerous than interactions with strangers.”
My goal with this latest project is to make the current e-book, My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 2, a paperback workbook. Most parents and teachers I talk to are interested in the views and solutions that come to us directly from survivors who thrive in life after trauma. Post-trauma stress is often a life time challenge if not caught early while the young brain is developing. After age 5 or 6, it becomes increasingly difficult to change the behaviors connected with post-trauma stress symptoms. Our best hope for the irradication of post-trauma stress is to start very early from birth to age 5. Quoting from, Bright from the Start, by Jill Stamm, P.h.D.
- Spending one-on-one time loving your child
- Playing with your child
- Responding quickly and predictably to your child
- Touching and cuddling with your child
- Reading and singing to your child
Of course, the above is just a small example of the huge responsibility that comes with being a parent. Most of us struggle with parenting, and need a good partner to be supportive. It takes a village, they say. And for me, I knew none of this very well until reaching the later years of my life. The often unintentional consequences are enormous! It is up to parents, teachers, and mentors to become trauma informed so that we are able to do our part in building healthy minds and bodies of the children in our lives…
Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1&2. Click the highlighted text for my author page…