The Water Lily Way

A school counselor's story of how to live, work and play…the water lily way


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The Need for Trauma Sensitive Schools

It’s estimated that 26% of children in the U.S. experience some kind of traumatic event before the age of 4.  Every year, more than five million children experience some extreme traumatic event. Traumatic events can include natural disasters, motor vehicle accidents, life threatening illness, physical abuse, sexual assault, witnessing domestic or community violence, kidnapping or death of a parent or loved one. Trauma can seriously impact our kids during their younger years and can cause severe health impacts later in life. In the classroom,  children can display traumatic stress through aggression, anxiety, defiance, perfectionism, and withdrawal. And here’s the biggie, signs of trauma often times look very similar to ADD, ADHD, OD & CD.

Trauma affects the whole child: the mind, body, and spirit. The impact of trauma on the brain significantly effects children, their learning, and their ability to form relationships with others. Our brains are developed to help us respond to threat. We often times hear this referred to as the “flight or fight response.” When we are confronted with a dangerous or potentially dangerous situation, our brain goes on alert and prepares the body to respond. The brain  does this by increasing the adrenaline in our system. When the threat is no longer there, our brain releases other chemicals such as cortisol to reduce the adrenaline in our bodies. This helps us to relax and to quiet down. We no longer need to fight or run, so our body adjusts accordingly. This is a normal, healthy reaction for many humans, but not for all.

In some situations where fighting or running is not possible, our brain may help us to freeze. In these situations our breathing may slow down and chemicals such as endorphins are released that help us to be very still or even to go numb, and therefore feel less pain. When a child is traumatized by extreme or repeated events of abuse (for example), chemical reactions in the body and brain can be switched on as if they have never been switched off. The brains of these children are often in a state of fear. This state of “fear activation” leads to changes in emotional, behavioral and cognitive functioning because the brain is tricked into survival mode. A major negative outcome of this is that a traumatized child can constantly be in this state of fear. As a result, this can cause things such as hypervigilance, a focus on threat-related cues (non-verbal included), anxiety and behavioral impulsivity.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that some traumatized children really struggle controlling their anger and impulses, and maintaining their attention and connection in the classroom. It does not come easy for these children to regulate strong emotions and instead, they jump right to a reaction, with no time to think. While often times we see this through aggressive behaviors, children may also react by disengaging or dissociating. Both are adaptive human responses to traumatic experiences.

Young Student Crying in Class

So what can we do in our schools, and in our communities to help our children who have been victims of trauma? Here are only some of the approaches you can help integrate into your school to effectively meet the needs and reach out to this, unfortunately, vastly growing population of kiddo’s.

  • Teach coping skills (mindfulness techniques, journaling, how to ask for a break when needed, deep breathing, relaxation, etc.). Check out the “Mindfulness” section of this blog to see various resources and activities you can utilize at your school.
  • Teach self regulation skills.
  • Inform and educate other teachers, school staff, administrators and families on the impacts of trauma
  • Give children choices! Often traumatic events involve loss of control. You can help children feel safe by providing them with some choices or control when appropriate.
  • Provide these children with EXTRA support and encouragement.
  • Once again, educate others on trauma! Educate, educate, educate! Advocate, advocate, advocate! Recognize that behavioral problems may be related to trauma. Keep in mind that even the most disruptive behaviors can be driven by trauma-related anxiety.
  • Be sensitive to cues in the environment that may cause a reaction for a traumatized child.
  • Provide a safe space for the child to talk about the traumatic event or provide additional resources in the community for the child’s family.
  • While a traumatized child might not be eligible for special education, consider accommodations and modifications for the child to support academic success.

Helpful Websites:

This is obviously only a start to the ways we can promote trauma sensitivity in our schools. However, there are so many resources available today to help meet the needs of our kiddo’s who have experienced traumatic situations and as a result, have been impacted for life. It is our job to work together as a team with other educators, specialists and the families of traumatized children to see that these children are cared for, understood, and guided through their long journey in coping with their traumatic experience(s). Be an advocate, be an educator, be a leader and promote a trauma sensitive environment at your school.
One last thing….If you’re looking for a good summer read, I HIGHLY recommend “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog” by Bruce D. Perry. Dr. Perry (child psychiatrist) discusses the various children he has worked with who have suffered from severe cases of abuse and neglect. I PROMISE you, your life will be changed after reading this book. You will come to new awarenesses and insights on the extreme impacts of trauma. The cases he presents are unimaginable….
-Jessica 🙂
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Be your own cheerleader & cheer on those around you…

loveself

What IF the only resolution you made was to love YOURSELF more? It seems like such a simple question, with what “should” be such a simple answer. But for many females in our society, young girls, teenage girls, young adult women, and adult women, loving ourselves is not always something that comes easy. I am 25 years old, and can say that in the past two or three years I have finally began coming to a place where I am feeling more comfortable, proud and confident in my own skin. Have I always felt this way about myself, my potential, my knowledge, skills and body? No. Was it easy to get to where I am now? Absolutely not. Did my negative self-talk hold me back in my roles as a student, friend, sister, daughter and partner? Uh huh. Did I compare myself to others throughout my teenage  years and into college? You bet. Does this still happen for me at times now if I am not mindful of my thoughts? Of course.

What scares me is not that I am alone in any of these experiences or thoughts that I just shared with you. What worries me is that there are WAY too many other women and young girls who are experiencing what I just spoke about (and more) daily. Our society has a way of telling females how we “should” be. What we “should” look like. What jobs we “should” have. All the tasks and responsibilities we “should” be able to manage. Our culture has created an environment of competition among women. Instead of empowering each other and advocating for one another, we compare, we contrast, we judge. We not only make assumptions and evaluate others, but we do this to ourselves. It seems like a never ending circle. It seems like a cultural epidemic that has no answer. And yet, if we try and understand this on a smaller scale, the solution does seem to be a bit more “manageable” (not sure I like that word, but you know what I am trying to get at 😉 ). If we stop and reflect on this vicious issue, we may find that it might not be as difficult as we think to create the change we’d all like to see in order to live in a world that encourages more self confidence and self expression and less judgment and competition.

With that said, as I am female who has struggled with self-talk, self-esteem,  and body image, I am not saying my journey or your journey in becoming more self confident will be simple. I definitely am not implying that. But what I am suggesting, is that the changes we make in our everyday lives can be simple. We can begin strengthening our self confidence and respecting our own self-worth. We can empower those around us, our friends, sisters, mothers, daughters, neighbors, collegues, classmates, the list goes on and on.

I wish more than anything I could give you, or my friends, or my little elementary girls who have very low self-esteem, something that would just take these struggles away. I wish I knew exactly what to tell you and how to tell you to love yourself, your body, and your special and unique qualities. But, I can’t. No one can. My own journey, and every woman’s journey, in learning to appreciate herself (myself) looks different. There’s no magic wand to make it happen. There’s no trick that allows you to wake up one day and poof, all of a sudden you’re confident and proud of the woman you are. Yet, there ARE a lot of us on this planet.  A lot of us that are in conflict with ourselves daily.  A lot of us being our own worst enemies. We can come together, we can struggle together, and we can find ways to support each other while we help ourselves learn to love who we are, all that we are, and all that we do.

Learning to love ourselves comes with time. It takes effort. It takes stepping in your own “stuff” and working through it. It takes strength, and an openness and willingness to grow and learn. While every experience will be different, and the process may take longer for some than others, we can still support one another. As I said before, I don’t know the “secret” but I would like to share some different ideas with you in this post and in posts in the future. Some of these are things that have helped me in my own journey in becoming a more confident individual. Others that I have listed are thoughts, websites, activities, etc., that stand out to me and I feel as though could be helpful to you or for others around you. As always, please feel free to share and exchange any thoughts of your own as well.

  • Be mindful of your thoughts, your self-talk and the way you present yourself to others. Is what you say something you would say to your best friend? To a co-worker? A sibling? Reflect on treatingt yourself the way you do to those you love.
  • Forgive yourself! Everyone makes mistakes, no one is “perfect”…
  • Avoid “shoulding” on yourself. If you find yourself saying, I “should have” or I “must” you might be placing unreasonable expectations on yourself.
  • Encourage yourself!!!! Be your own cheerleader.
  • Create a word for yourself, such as strong, beautiful, intelligent, caring, respectful, driven, etc. When you notice those negative thoughts, recognize that they are, but use your “word” to help you focus back on the positive and present.
  • Appreciate your body. Recognize ALL that it does for you each and every day.
  • Take notice of when you pass judgment and compare. What does this do for you? Instead of looking at how you’d like to be like someone else, VALUE all that you are.
  • Exercise! Exercise increases the release of endorphins (chemicals in your brain that fight stress). Exercise boosts self-esteem and helps decrease stress, tension and anxiety.
  • Listen to your body. Everyone’s needs for exercise, nutrition, sleep, socializing, etc. is DIFFERENT. Know what feels “right” for you. It’s amazing how wonderful we can feel by simply listening to our body and honoring what it asks of us.
  • An oldie, but a goodie! Dove Real Beauty Sketches: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=57SUnwrY59o
  • Embrace and Empower (“Like” it on Facebook) – A page that encourages self-love and self-acceptance through inspirational quotes, resources, etc.
  • The Four Agreements by Miguel Ruiz (Just check it out… 😉 )
  • Yoga: This has been a big one for me. Yoga encourages mindfulness, awareness, and it connects you with your thoughts and body. Yoga has challenged me mentally, physically and has been an amazing part of my process. It’s help me learn to acknowledge my self-talk, but then has also supported me in not allowing negative thoughts to interfere with my practice. Basically,  the greatness I’ve found with yoga is that I’ve been able to integrate my awarenesses and greater self-appreciation that I continue to learn on my yoga mat into “real” life situations.
  • Gratitude journal. Treat yourself to a fun, little notebook and begin journaling about all that you are thankful for, and all the strengths and special qualities you have as an individual.
  • No more “fat” talk. “Fat talk” does not refer to just weight, it includes all that we say as women that brings us and others down. It’s more “negative” talk, in my perspective.  The following website is dedicated towards helping to eliminate negative talk. http://www.operationbeautiful.com/release-form/how-to-become-fat-talk-free/

 

In Schools:

  • Have a student sit on a chair in front of a whiteboard while other students write positive phrases on the board.
  • Tape a blank piece of paper on student’s backs. Students walk around and write positive comments on other student’s sheets.
  • “Friendship bracelets” —See “Noticing our Kindness” post  (individual/group activities)
  • Bucket Filling—See “Bucket Filling” post (under curriculum)

More to come here….

 

 

I hope you have a wonderful end to your week. And I hope you are able to begin embracing yourself, all that you are, and that you are also able to empower those around you to do the same. 🙂

Jessica