I remember going to make pottery or being a “body-guard” for my grandmother during events when I was little. I thought the nerve of these events to not have any snacks, coloring books, or TV to watch. Why would anyone come to an event without food? To this day, I’m still not sure why.
In the middle of all these events with old people who smelled or looked weird, one thing I did have to pass the time, was people to watch. I grew up listening and watching when I wasn’t in my own world daydreaming or writing. Everything was a new world to me. As my world expanded, my grandmother would playfully complain that she couldn’t even talk in peace after her spelling tactic failed to throw me off guard by the time I was four-years old and “grown folk talk” was needed.
Children are amazing. They absorb everything and if you pay attention, teach you how to view the world in a slightly more innocent and humane way. From asking who changes the lightbulb on top of the radio tower, to what was the world like before the internet, children take everything in and do something with it.
Along with the good and hilarious moments with children, there is a downside, trauma. Today is National Children’s Mental Health Day and I wanted to talk about childhood trauma, adults’ responsibility to help minimize the amount of trauma children go through, and what you can do to help reduce the effects.
“It’s okay Mommy, I’m right here with you…Mom, please stop saying cuss words and screaming because I don’t want you to get shooted”
When I imagine childhood trauma in recent years, the first thing I think about is Philando Castile’s girlfriend’s (Diamond Reynolds) daughter that was in the backseat of the car, the day he died. That experience is so horrible that I can’t imagine what is needed to help her process what happened. No child should ever have to comfort their mother in a crisis mode.
While this is an extreme example, but think about how many times children go to sleep hearing the sounds of their parents arguing, peek around the corner seeing abuse, sexual assault, or even not having food to eat at home. Kids assume this is normal because it is in their life, and do not recognize its a problem until they are much older. Some children have to play parent because mom or dad are at work. Some children see behaviors and accept it as what will eventually happen to them because uncle does it. Some spend their whole life searching for love because they never saw it correctly modeled. All these issues can be minimized by a few simple things.
- Stop. Get help from a therapist. Not just for the child, you. Yes, you! You may not think you have any reason to need a therapist, but you do. There is something that happened when you were a child that you didn’t even know impacted you. Get one. They a not just for “crazy people”. They are a perfectly healthy way to learn how to process difficult points in our life and develop proper coping mechanisms. If money is an issue, a lot of therapists have sliding scales for pricing. It also saves you from traumatizing your significant other daily while giving you an unbiased opinion about things that you are stressing over.
- Communicate with your children. If something happens around or to them, you need to help understand what’s going on. Children are not as dumb as you may believe. They pick up on so many nuances that we don’t notice but they often don’t know fully what they mean. Help them process. Don’t hide the truth. Be honest. This teaches your child how to evaluate emotions and how they are supposed to deal with them. If you don’t know how to deal with those emotions, that’s why YOU need a therapist. (See #1)
- Be Mindful. Whatever you thought your kids didn’t hear or see, they did. PERIOD. Children model the behavior of the ones they love. If you constantly are bringing new women around, eventually you would have created a new normal for how you interact with significant others. My cousin, Joi, used to “talk on the phone” mimicking the conversations she heard from the adults. The most shocking one was when she used the s-word with perfect old black woman intonation. Surprise! Be careful what you say and do!
- Listen to them. Believe them. If your child says something, listen to them. Don’t minimize what they are saying just because it doesn’t sound right to you or something that hurts. Kids reach out for help all the time, we just have to be looking for those signs. Childhood assault is an extremely common phenomenon, ignoring it because it seems unlikely to you, is the most dangerous thing you can do. There are plenty “weird uncles” (doesn’t have to be an actual uncle) that they can’t stop on their own, they look to you to protect them.
- When all else fails, Get them a therapist. You can be mindful of the things you say or do around them, communicate with them, and listen to them all day long, but you are not a professional therapist. I am against putting children on medicine, especially at a young age, but I am perfectly fine with early adolescents talking to someone beyond their best friends and you about things. Sometimes, those issues are with you and they need a safe place. Provide that for your children.
- Finally, love your children. I literally mean show affection for your kids. You don’t know how many adults are walking around today still broken, creating other broken people because they didn’t get hugged as a child. Physical contact and words of affirmation are so vital to proper development. It gives security, peace, comfort, and allows them to build a proper self-image while the world does all it can to tear it down.
Mental health with children is often connected to the mental health of the parent. Proper coping mechanisms and communication techniques most be built with a foundation of respect and love to truly protect and help usher children through life. If you are struggling yourself, please seek help. If your child has struggled with traumatic experiences in their life, take time and help them sort it out. It is more harmful to not deal with it now than the outcomes of dealing with it later.
Turn Your Brightness up
Check out the Children’s Mental Health National Awareness page for more resources.
P.S. If nobody else tells you this today. God Bless You, I Love You!