Trauma Informed Care for One Another

I have a vivid memory of standing with the teachers one day at recess in the first grade. There was a young girl named Carla who was typically known for fighting and being abrasive. Mean. I was scared of her with good reason. They watched her scuffle with the other kids and instead of stepping in, one of them passively said to the other, “…Well…her father just died“. At 6, this little gal had lost her dad. And came right back to school. Though my father would have never been considered Hands On, I couldn’t imagine what must be going on in their home. I didn’t know how she was suffering. I knew she had at least three siblings in that school alone, and, even back then, I felt she should have been somewhere being cared for at that moment. Not being gossiped about quietly. And being labeled with no regard for who heard. The benefit, though, as we stayed in school together for several years, was that I wasn’t scared of her anymore. I understood her.

I took this with me into teaching many years later. I have had colleagues who stood firm that, ‘we don’t have time to know everyone’s personal history‘. And I have had those who believe, with me, that it is the first thing we should know. Understand the trauma, understand the person. You can not care for or educate a child if you do not know their trauma. Plain and simple.

Indeed there are time constraints. And, as adults, we have learned that we are mocked if we do not follow the toxic adage to never, never lead with your troubles. The horror of someone’s baggage and all that. If you have ever looked down on another for exposing their damage, consider, instead, that they were asking you for help. They were reaching out to you. They were trying to connect. Not become the subject of cruel gossip or jokes. Sometimes it is not about “drama”…it’s about true pain. We share our pasts in hope that others will know how to better love and care for us. Not so we may be punished for being vulnerable. We wouldn’t want that for our children. And these children, just as often, bring with them the same incredible weight as many adults. Weight of abuses, neglect and hurt they bear masked in that God given innocence and resilience. Only they are not yet developed enough emotionally to reach out in the ways an adult might. A child can’t ask you to care for them. A child can’t ask for healing through connection. They can’t yet ask for compassion or to be heard. Perhaps not by definition, but my job is to be that bridge and offer to help carry some of that weight. And to see them for who they are, not for what has happened to them. Trauma informed teaching is a benefit to everyone. Not a hindrance. And there absolutely is time.

I will admit I have struggled a lot, particularly with my youngest daughter, with what to include on school introduction forms. What is ‘too much’ to say at conferences. What information needs to be shared by email as far as what’s happening at home and what can be left out. I have struggled because of careless teachers like those I knew long ago, and I have struggled because of the shame I have felt in sharing my burdens as an adult. In being defined by my own hurt and perceived as damaged because I shared ‘too much’ or had times when there was simply no strength to function. But I always come back to what I believe. If I want my daughter’s whole person to be cared for, I must let her teachers know exactly what that means to us and trust it will not be abused. In this act, I feel I can advocate for acceptance of who she is, rather than perpetuate shame for it. That’s what I would want for myself so that is what I want for my children.

It is true that we can only act and react from a place of our own experience. That is our very life reference material. Children and young adults are no different. They hurt as we do, they seek healing as we do. If we are lucky in life, we find those bridges. But for our children, it is our responsibility to be that bridge. Time or no time. Faulty ideals of ‘oversharing’ aside. Change their reference experience. Allow your own experience to be changed for the better. This is growth.

We are all delicately rooted, but whether in education, healing or connection, we remain a whole person. If we intend to be cared for, we can not cherry pick the pretty parts to share of ourselves. If we intend to care for someone else, we invest time in understanding them as a whole. Our burdens and trauma, while they do not define us, do complete the story of who we are in being accepted as individuals and whole people. There is no shame. It’s all very much Need To Know. Pretty or not, this is life and understanding one another. That’s what I would want for my children. So that is what I want for myself.

Sam

24 thoughts on “Trauma Informed Care for One Another

  1. “Our burdens and trauma, while they do not define us, do complete the story of who we are in being accepted as individuals and whole people. There is no shame.”

    I. Love. This.

    I do not know how to react to people that consider grief as having an end date or feelings to have an extinguisher.

    I hope that teachers are more in touch these days with caring for a student as a whole. I think the majority of them are. As society has changed, our education standards and practices need to change with it. We know more about mental health than we ever have. About trauma. If teachers aren’t implementing that knowledge, if WE, in our daily lives aren’t implementing that knowledge, I think it makes us truly sucky human beings.

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    1. I think the same is true about some educators as is true of some people. Like how they say people don’t help someone who’s fallen or been in an accident because they ‘didn’t want to get involved’….I guess as an adult human, there is no one forcing you to when it comes down to it. But as teachers make no mistake, you *are* involved. The convenient civilian choice to ‘not get involved’ doesn’t really apply. But teachers, such as they are, are human as well when it all boils down I suppose. Like most things in life, the dividing line is a matter of honor, humanity and doing what I promised to do in taking on this choice. The standards in support of whole person education are on the upswing nowadays. This is a great thing.

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  2. It’s so important for teachers to understand some of the family life for the students. Especially for the younger ones. When I was a teacher it was very helpful especially with those who were acting out “for no apparent reason”. There is always a reason! And even while planning lessons, we were encouraged to take our students home lives into consideration – if I was in a school with a lot of low income families, we shouldn’t use food items in activities to be sensitive to that.

    Knowing lots of facts just enriches the classroom environment and the teacher/student relationship

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    1. Exactly! Their home lives away from school is *who* they are. Every child has a story, they don’t just appear in class as entities. My greatest rewards have been in reaching out in these situations. Even the kids who aren’t troubled at home have worries and anxieties and fear. It’s shown in different ways but it’s there. In our case there is a medical history as well as emotional struggles and physical barriers. I’d want them to be cared for the best they can be and that requires a lot of these things to be known by the people who are spending the most time with them!!

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  3. We all need to forget about the pretty “Insta lives” and what the Kardashians are doing and focus more on our neighbors. We ALL have pain and sharing it reduces the burden of it.
    Children especially feel that when things go wrong it’s because THEY did something wrong. Too many adults have forgotten what childhood felt like and how they thought about the world when they were little.

    We need more people like you Sam interacting with our children. Thank you for stepping up and caring.

    Hugs! 💌

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    1. That’s the other aspect of almost any age group of kids. They feel faulted and blamed and they feel hopeless. It’s unreasonable to expect the natural supposed resilience of children to overshadow their worries and hurt. That they will ‘bounce back’. Well, no. They are human as well. And at some point they will learn to lose hope just like so many adults that go unsupported and feel misunderstood. The smallest acts and care can change these outcomes so easily. Thank you, my friend!! 🤗🤗🤗

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  4. This post was so necessary right now. It’s a very raw feeling as a parent…and a scary one, when you *have to share personal details. *Because you want help for your child. Either we feel safe in the end or extremely violated, judged and watched……by the educators. Unfortunately dealing with the negative, causes so many more issues for an already damaged child, which then makes the home environment even more stressful. Teachers, indeed, have a lot to do with this. I wish more understood the impact they make on children, individually. Even if the class holds 26 kids (which is too many in my opinion), there is still a way to make each 26 of those kids feel cared for and special. And these little side conversations that teachers have are so rude and disrespectful. I am glad they are not the majority. I have faith STILL, that there are many within the teaching profession, that are driven by passion and a love for our children.

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    1. It’s natural to many to not want to hold the burdens of another or be ‘responsible’ for it in a sense and unfortunately there are so many teachers who follow the antiquated ideals that we are not supposed to *be* responsible for those burdens. That there isn’t time. That we aren’t counselors. That we aren’t raising their kids for them…on and on and on. The reality is, depending, we have them and *know* them for a great portion of their day which is their life frame. That’s what kids do…they go to school. We are their frame. How on earth can we connect, relate to or touch their lives if we don’t understand them. So many of us don’t compartmentalize these kids away fot the night once we are home. Though my time each day was shorter with my kids than it would be if I was teaching grade school, in many cases these older kids are hurting like hardcore adults. You can’t tuck that away and still ‘want what’s best for them’. If we truly want what’s best then we have to care for them in their worst times. Interpersonally speaking as well, it’s hard to jump in and reach out for the help you do need and it’s so often frowned upon as ‘too much’. For our kids we have to walk that line just as carefully in order to protect them, but we are also their only advocate and have to ask for help *for* them. It feels so hopeless in any case of reaching out and not getting help because of the weight of the situation.

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      1. I could not respond to this right away because I was still extremely angry about the troubles that unfolded with school.
        It takes commitment to care. I’ve noticed with some of these teachers, that anything that falls out of the category of fitting in and making their jobs easier, it’s just not going to work. Compassion only goes as far as a text message through class dojo. It’s even harder when the teacher places the burden of the entire class being disturbed, upon one child……then your kid comes home and tells you who else was involved but didn’t get caught or fess up. There is an over all feeling of defeat and definitely not being heard. When you feel your child is not being heard…..you don’t feel you’re being heard. But they continue to say…”Let us know how we can help”. It’s a script. They have to say this. The countless times I had to humble myself to tell them his needs. 6 hours of the day, these kids spend with adults that they can either trust, or learn to really hate. 6 hours. Their crucial hours. Older kids especially need to be told they are not on their own. I hate the term..’young adults’ placed on teens. They are kids, not adults. *I am a young adult. Call them what they are and treat them as such…. children. Which means, they need guidance, understanding and care from their educators. God bless the teachers that go above and beyond for their students. Mrs. Q pretty much told me Jeh needed compassion training. No. What happened was, he was and is an observant kid. He knows when an adult is for him, and when one isn’t, and he didn’t like her. If she actually took time to know him, she would have seen how truly compassionate he is. Some of these educators blame the students for their lack of empathy, compassion and communication skills. When these kids react to how they are treated, they are labeled. It Just has to change.

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        1. That class app was so demeaning. I would always think where is the care, support or personal nature in *that*. I feel embarrassed during times I can’t be involved face to face at school or with their teachers, or with the parents of my students. I can’t imagine actually preferring to cut and paste out template responses and web addresses to parents. Also, it *could* have been a great tool. They just chose to allow it to cause more symptoms of their problem. It was telling, for sure, of that larger issue. That all became clear to you!

          And I know Ive already told you this but invalidating a childs pain and his parent’s struggle by punctuating communication with blame of lack of empathy or compassion is sinful. “Teach him that”….indeed.. It was the same as telling you that you haven’t been doing that since day one. Make him feel loved and accepted and understood at school where he is uncomfortable and scared. How about that??!

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          1. Yesterday I read some meme that said: “Children learn best when they like their teacher and when they think their teacher likes them.” I could not agree more. There was only ‘1’ of his teachers that utilized that tool in a positive way. She made sure she saw the best in Jeh, and shared it with me, not just the negatives. Anything he needed further help with, she would ask me questions rather than telling me what she felt I should do. That app could have very well been used in a helpful way. I just wish more teachers with passion existed. That is what it comes down to. I just recently stopped being upset about Mrs.Q’s therapy suggestions. I kept thinking of things that I should have said in his defense and mine. Because I felt that very same way you just explained…..like I was being accused of never teaching him empathy or compassion. I hated her guts for a while, because she actually knew what was going on outside of school. All he needed was to be shown love and understanding. Being in such an overwhelming place after emotional disturbance dis not help at all, but he was never so far gone that they could not turn that around. I love the teachers that gave their all to make him feel comfortable. I’m just glad my eyes stayed open.

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            1. More do exist. We bear the face of those that have reached an indifferent impasse in their chosen career. Sadly many are beat down by not being supported and by having the light of the bad ones cast on them. The school he experienced was a prime example of administration allowing morale as well as checks and balances to slip. Which lowered standards enough to where they were, in my opinion, actively damaging children each day. And see? The one good apple there sits in the shadow of the bad. But she stays loyal to her profession and the children though she can’t affect the change I *KNOW* she knows is necessary there. Because it’s all been grandfathered in. I’m not sure that I care what anyone else says about this next thing, but kids his age are at school first for love, education can not follow until that is the atmosphere. Not at that age! All the tough love and ‘life lessons’ about how we “won’t like everyone in our lives” can be delivered for the rest….of…his life! And as adults we can DEFinitely speak to that!

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  5. So beautifully written Sam. I agree with you whole-heartedly. Thanks for being so honest and truthful. I have often been on the fence as to how much to share in my own life as well as the lives of my kids who have been hurting due to situations beyond their control. I do speak up to share when I believe there is help offered or understanding available to them/me. Good for you dear friend. We’re all here to support each other…and kids need it too.

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    1. There are so many things when I was little that I feel my teachers needed to know that they weren’t told. My brother as well when he got older. We struggled so much at different times with completely different things and I always feel my mom felt it was an invasion of privacy or left her open to the ridicule she’d seen over things that weren’t seen as ‘normal’ then. It was like admitting we were a mess and then…people would know it for sure. I understand now to an extent but, seeing the other side now, I can’t help but think how different things would have been if we had the help we needed.

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      1. I agree with you Sam. And I’m sorry that this was your experience. But I love that you are changing that for the next generation with your girls and with your students. People are more likely to say what’s going on behind closed doors than they were in our time. At least kids can get the help they need and not feel so alone because many times what they’re facing often happens unfortunately. Big hugs to you.

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        1. It was very common to label kids when I was growing up. I can only imagine. I’m glad the atmosphere has changed for these kids for the most part! Thank you! 🤗🤗🤗

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  6. There are way to many kids today who don’t have a good home environment or support from the outside. Thanks you for trying.

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    1. Whether it’s families who struggle or those that are just ‘too busy’, it often comes out at school. I will never understand the teachers who don’t believe time for extra support is warranted!

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  7. Go Sam! Thank you for making time 🙏🏼

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  8. I totally agree with the vein of your post Sam. What is concerning to me is the bigger question. Did those teachers step in to help guide that young child properly through her sorrow and teach her that it was not necessary to act out aggressively? Trauma gives birth to so much mental disorder. All the ‘evil’ stalkers and serial killers have a past, some had horrific life experiences. But not many people feel empathy for them. Understandably so, but the the facts remain the same. I was maaried to an abusive husband who blamed his temper on an abusive and cruel stepfather and there was his mother who turned her head when the atrocities were inflicted on her children. My ex knew what was at the root of his pain and anger yet was never encouraged nor allowed himself to hold accountable the ones who allowed this to happen to him. It just became his excuse. I feel once I recognize what is casuing me to not mesh well with others or to behave in ways that cause damage to my relationships, then it is up to me to change something. Reasons are a good place to begin. Excuses are just ways to avoid accountability. Thanks for bringing this subject into the light.

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    1. I have no idea if she or her family ever recieved what they needed. It was such a different time in education and society. So often people were expected to self sustain, pull themselves up. The self help movement hadn’t yet taken hold either. There was so much people did not know about mental health. We all have reasons why we do what we do and I think the new levels of awareness on some of these things have, hopefully, cause a lot of us to take necessary steps now where we couldn’t when we were younger. But…accountability can’t be taught either. It’s easy to blame others for our crappy behaviors, but that isn’t the end reality. There are cycles to be broken and although things that didn’t used to be available to us either through parents or teachers are well available now, it does take self awareness to make those next steps. But self awareness is also something else that can’t be taught unfortunatelu. Support structures are such a basic need in being held accountable *now*, past aside, and getting what we need so that hurts are no longer perpetuated.

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  9. Thank you so much for sharing this! Your kids at home and school are very lucky to have you caring for them!

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