How to talk to your kids about Syria, by Sarah Williams, Child Psychologist

Sarah Williams is a child psychologist at Refugees As Survivors (RASNZ). She is currently working with the Syrian children and families arriving in New Zealand who seek the support of RASNZ during their 6-week orientation at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre.

World Vision spoke to Sarah about how to speak to Kiwi children about the crisis in Syria and about refugees, and about the new Kiwis arriving here from the Middle East. 

1. Speak honestly, but use language they understand

Firstly, ask your child what they know about the situation. Listen to how they are making sense of what they know or what they have seen in the media.

Any discussion with children needs to be adjusted for age and level of understanding but it also needs to be honest. Children trust their parents to help them understand what happens in the world around them.

With younger children use situations they might understand – leaving one’s home, leaving possessions behind, fleeing without saying goodbye, feeling scared, trying to find a safe place. Talk to them about people in Syria needing to quickly leave their home and travel to another country to be safe due to the war.

With older children we can talk about what it means to be a refugee, the complexity of the Syrian situation, persecution, and the difficult journey to seek refuge in another country.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

https://www.worldvision.org.nz/news-blog/blogs-2017/may/how-to-talk-to-your-kids-about-syria

Some notes on Attachment and “Childhood Fears”, compiled by Moira Eastman

A response to our previous post on “The Fear of the Dark” in children… see the following link…

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2017/05/28/the-fear-of-the-dark-by-john-cowan/

 

I must admit that I have a different understanding of children’s fear of the dark.

When I was a child–I was born in 1940 in Australia–the Second World War had started, and one of my earliest memories is that I KNEW that, after dark, Japanese soldiers–the enemy– were behind the garage. We had an outside toilet, built on to the end of the garage. I was terrified to go outside to the toilet at night. I’m amazed that no-one ever asked me what I was afraid of or why I was afraid. they thought my fear was irrational

But my understanding of these ‘irrational fears’ of childhood has been altered by my understanding of attachment theory.

I am posting some notes on my current understanding of children’s fear of the dark.

Bowlby on the attachment behavioural system

‘Once we postulate the presence within the organism of an attachment behavioural system regarded as the product of evolution and having protection as its biological function, many of the puzzles that have perplexed students of human relationships are found to be soluble. . . An urge to keep proximity or accessibility to someone seen as stronger and wiser, and who if responsive is deeply loved, comes to be recognised as an integral part of human nature and as having a vital role to play in life. Not only does its effective operation bring with it a strong feeling of security and contentment, but its temporary or long-term frustration causes acute or chronic anxiety and discontent. When seen in this light, the urge to keep proximity is to be respected, valued, and nurtured as making for potential strength, instead of being looked down upon, as so often hitherto, as a sign of inherent weakness. (Bowlby, 1991, p. 293 of postscript to Attachment Across the Life Cycle)

Attachment involves four distinct but interrelated classes of behaviour

[57] ‘Bowlby (1982) defined attachment in terms of four distinct but interrelated classes of behaviour: proximity maintenance, safe haven, separation distress, and secure base. These behaviours are readily observable in 1-year-old infants in relation to their primary caregivers (usually mothers). The infant continuously monitors the caregiver’s wherabouts and makes any adjustments necessary for maintaining the desired degree of proximity, retreats to her as a haven of safety in the event of a perceived threat, is actively resistant to and distressed by separations from her, and uses her as a base of security from which to explore the environment. Infants often direct one of more of these behaviours toward individuals to whom they are not attached. Importantly, it is the selective orientation of all these behaviours toward a specific individual that defines attachment. (From Hazan et al. 2004) .

Infant attachment behaviours: behaviours that maintain proximity to the mother

Bowlby noted that infants all around the globe manifest five behaviours that help keep the mother and infant together. They are: crying, sucking, clinging, following and smiling. The first four are also common to other primates. Only chimpanzee infants also smile.

What turns on attachment behaviours? Clues to an increase in danger

There are natural clues to an increase in danger. Infants have evolved to recognise these clues. They do not have to learn them from experience. They are:

  • darkness,
  • being alone,
  • separation from the mother,
  • sudden loud noises,
  • looming figures,
  • unfamiliar environment,
  • the presence of strangers,
  • change in temperature,
  • being sick.

In the past, children’s responses to some of these clues (or cues) to danger—such as fear of the dark—have been considered to be the ‘irrational fears of childhood’. But in hunter-gatherer societies they were clues to increased danger and this increased danger provokes attachment behaviour in the infant and therefore the need to be close to the mother or mothering person.

  • Function. ‘Many aspects of infant and child behaviour and mother-infant interaction seem irrelevant to the modern world, and can only be understood in terms of the evolution of humans in an environment very different from the modern city.’

These fears used to be seen as ‘the irrational fears of childhood’. They make sense only when seen as functional in the environments in which humans evolved.

The environment of evolutionary adaptedness

‘The environment of evolutionary adaptedness’ refers to the environment to which the human species has become adapted through evolution: that is an environment similar to that in which current day hunter-gatherer societies live.

The solution to fear of the dark

Bowlby discovered that the only thing that can ‘terminate’ attachment behaviour such as fear of the dark is closeness to the attachment figure.  So what is required is not explanations to a young child about how there is nothing to fear, but be close, be available.  This is what removes his/her fear.

 

 

Moira Eastman has her own website, essentialmother.com  and is particularly interested in attachment.    Moira works at Mothering Business and studied Sociology of education at Monash University, Melbourne.

She is a member of the group “Mothers at Home Matter”, a UK based group.  “Mothers at Home Matter”  – PO Box 43690 London SE22 9WN
www.mothersathomematter.co.uk – is about redefining values, re-honouring the name “mother” and highlighting children’s developmental needs. It is about understanding the impact of economic forces on the family – mothers and fathers – and campaigning for change. The full aims of the organisation are on their website (see address above). “Mother at Home Matter” are not affiliated to any political party or faith group.

 

The Fear of the Dark, by John Cowan

Imagination is a wonderful thing – except when you are three years old in a dark room and you can hear something scraping against the window. If the sun was shining, even a toddler would work out that it was just a branch moving in the wind but, after dark, and especially after a couple of hours of peppery television, it’s not surprising if monsters and bogey men are more likely explanations.

Of course, fear of the dark is irrational and silly, but I have too many silly irrational fears of my own to go mocking anyone else’s phobias. Many kids suffer from it, but there are a few things you can do to lay their fears, and the children themselves, to rest.

 

 

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

http://www.theparentingplace.com/behaviour-and-discpline/the-fear-of-the-dark/

How To Improve Your Child’s Mood With Colors, by Sandi Schwartz

little girl covered in colorful paint

For thousands of years, color has been thought to have power over our emotions. Artists, interior decorators, fashion designers, and advertising agencies utilize the meaning of different colors to influence human behavior and attract customers. By considering the lessons of these experts, how can we as parents use the science of color to guide our children’s mood? Does the color we paint their rooms really affect how happy they feel or how soundly they sleep?

History of color psychology

Several ancient cultures, including the Egyptians and Chinese, used color for healing purposes as far back as 2,000 years ago. This type of therapy is called chromotherapy, light therapy, or colorology, and is still used today as a holistic or alternative treatment.

It is believed that color therapy uses the visible spectrum of light and color to change a person’s mood and their physical and mental health. Each color is part of a specific frequency and vibration that can affect certain energy, or chakras, in our body.

Practitioners also believe that certain colors entering the body can activate hormones causing chemical reactions that ultimately influence emotion and help the body heal. Red, for example, is used to stimulate the body and mind and to increase circulation. Orange heals the lungs and increases energy levels. Blue treats pain, while indigo cures skin problems. Finally, green relaxes patients who are emotionally unbalanced and yellow invigorates those suffering from depression.

How color impacts mood

Psychologists have found that color can influence how we feel and can even cause physiological changes in our body. Keep in mind, however, that there are different interpretations of color’s impact on emotions depending on culture and circumstance.

Research shows that certain colors can increase blood pressure, metabolism, and adrenaline. Other studies have found that certain colors can improve sleep habits, boost memory, and enhance academic performance. One study discovered that seeing the color red before taking a test can hurt performance. Students who were shown a red number before taking the test scored more than 20 percent lower than those shown a green or black number.

Just as color influences our mood, it can also be used to describe how we feel. A study reported in the journal BMC Medical Research indicated that people with depression or anxiety were more likely to associate their mood with the color gray, while happier people preferred yellow.

Researchers at the University of California determined that young children chose bright colors to represent positive feelings and dark colors for negative feelings. They were even able to identify how specific colors made the children feel: red is for mad, blue is for sad, yellow is for happy, and green is for glad. Color can therefore be a very helpful tool in accessing children’s emotions instead of relying on them to tell us how they feel.

Institutions like the American Red Cross, St. Jude’s Hospital, Boston Children’s Hospital, and Scholastic incorporate this ability to connect feelings to colors as a way to better understand the emotions of young children. So if our children tell us they feel gray or blue, are seeing red, or feel green with envy, we will know what they are talking about can guide them through their emotions.

What each color means

Over time, studies have shown how different colors impact us in unique ways. Warm colors, such as red, yellow, and orange, stimulate emotions ranging from comfort and warmth to hostility and anger. Typically, warm colors make us feel happy and cozy. Bold shades of warm colors also help stimulate our mind and energize our body.

On the other hand, cool colors, like blue, green, and purple, relax us, but can also make us feel sad, especially if they are too dark. Despite their soothing nature, cool colors are not always welcoming and can leave people feeling removed and distant. Here’s a bit more about the impact and symbolism of colors:

Red

  • Excites and energizes the body, increases heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration
  • Creates alertness and excitement
  • Encourages creativity
  • Increases appetite
  • Can increase athletic ability, causing people to react with greater speed and force
  • Associated with increased aggression, an inability to focus, and headache
  • May be disturbing to anxious individuals

Pink

  • Evokes empathy and femininity
  • Creates a calming atmosphere
  • Can become irritating over time, leading to anxiety

Yellow

  • Associated with positive feelings of happiness and motivation
  • Encourages creativity
  • Soft, subtle yellows promote concentration
  • Bright shades stimulate the memory and increase metabolism
  • Too much can lead to anger and frustration

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

How to improve your child’s mood with colors

Being Left Out Hurts: Moms, Stop ‘Social Engineering’, by Lisa Barr

LO

I heard a disturbing story recently from a friend, and I can’t seem to get it out of my head. It went something like this … the camp buses were leaving for an overnight camp in the Midwest, and one Mom somehow had access to get on one of the buses before departure. She literally managed to rope off (save) an entire section for eight 11-year-old girls. She stayed on the bus while the “Chosen 8” boarded and sat in their “designated” seats. Another girl, a new camper, got on the bus, who was the same age, and asked if she could join “those” girls. The Mom responded: “I’m sorry, but it’s reserved” and then she got off.

The clique had been formed and there was no room for “intruders.” (I’ll get to that Mom a little later…)

The new girl, let’s call her Sarah, had been given three simultaneous messages: 1. You are not invited. 2. You are not good enough. 3. This is “The Group” — and you are not part of it, so don’t even try.

One of the main reasons I started my blog GIRLilla Warfare ( www.girlillawarfare.com) was because of the overabundance of Middle School war stories that I had been hearing from so many moms. Same story, different players. And I hate to say this, but the root of this particular social evil, is usually (sadly) initiated by a group of Moms. One of our GW writers pointed out in another blog, that those Moms decide who is IN and who is OUT. It is political, and it is what we at GIRLilla Warfare call “Suburban Social Engineering” which ends up causing many children deep, unnecessary pain.

Don’t get me wrong. Many kids choose to be with whom they feel most comfortable, and that’s totally acceptable. It’s the piece in which the Moms not only helicopter but also patrol kids’ potential friendships that I’m focusing on here.

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

Fear and Anxiety – An Age by Age Guide to Common Fears, The Reasons for Each and How to Manage Them, by Karen Young

Fear-and-Anxiety-An-Age-by-Age-Guide-to-Fears-Why-and-What-to-Do

It is very normal for all children to have specific fears at some point in their childhood. Even the bravest of hearts beat right up against their edges sometimes. As your child learns more about the world, some things will become more confusing and frightening. This is nothing at all to worry about and these fears will usually disappear on their own as your child grows and expands his or her experience.

In the meantime, as the parent who is often called on to ease the worried mind of your small person, it can be helpful to know that most children at certain ages will become scared of particular things.

When is fear or anxiety a problem?

Fear is a very normal part of growing up. It is a sign that your child is starting to understand the world and the way it works, and that they are trying to make sense of what it means for them. With time and experience, they will come to figure out for themselves that the things that seem scary aren’t so scary after all. Over time, they will also realise that they have an incredible capacity to cope.

Fears can certainly cause a lot of cause distress, not only for the kids and teens who have the fears, but also for the people who care about them. It’s important to remember that fears at certain ages are completely appropriate and in no way are a sign of abnormality.

The truth is, there really is no such thing as an abnormal fear, but some kids and teens will have fears that are more intense and intrusive. Even fears that seem quite odd at first, will make sense in some way.

For example, a child who does not want to be separated from you is likely to be thinking the same thing we all think about the people we love – what if something happens to you while you are away from them? A child who is scared of balloons would have probably experienced that jarring, terrifying panic that comes with the boom. It’s an awful feeling. Although we know it passes within moments, for a child who is still getting used to the world, the threat of that panicked feeling can be overwhelming. It can be enough to teach them that balloons pretend to be fun, but they’ll turn fierce without warning and the first thing you’ll know is the boom. #not-fun-you-guys

Worry becomes a problem when it causes a problem. If it’s a problem for your child or teen, then it’s a problem. When the fear seems to direct most of your child’s behaviour or the day to day life of the family (sleep, family outings, routines, going to school, friendships), it’s likely the fear has become too pushy and it’s time to pull things back.

So how do we get rid of the fear?

If you have a child with anxiety, they may be more prone to developing certain fears. Again, this is nothing at all to worry about. Kids with anxiety will mostly likely always be sensitive kids with beautiful deep minds and big open hearts. They will think and feel deeply, which is a wonderful thing to have. We don’t want to change that. What we want to do is stop their deep-thinking minds and their open hearts from holding them back.

The idea then, isn’t to get rid of all fears completely, but to make them manageable. As the adult in their lives who loves them, you are in a perfect position to help them to gently interact with whatever they are scared of. Eventually, this familiarity will take the steam out of the fear.

First of all though, it can be helpful for you and your child to know that other children just like them are going through exactly the same experience.

An age by age guide to fears.

When you are looking through the list, look around your child’s age group as well. Humans are beautifully complicated beings and human nature doesn’t tend to stay inside the lines. The list is a guide to common fears during childhood and the general age at which they might appear. There are no rules though and they might appear earlier or later.

Infants and toddlers (0-2)

•   Loud noises and anything that might overload their senses (storms, the vacuum cleaner, blender, hair dryer, balloons bursting, sirens, the bath draining, abrupt movement, being put down too quickly).

Here’s why: When babies are born, their nervous systems are the baby versions. When there is too much information coming to them through their senses, such as a loud noise or being put down too quickly (which might make them feel like they’re falling), it’s too much for their nervous systems to handle.

 

(To read more of this article, please follow the link below…)

heysigmund.com/age-by-age-guide-to-fears/

“The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog”, by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz. A Book Review and Analysis by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp

Dog

I found “The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog” a fascinating read and would recommend it to anyone who is interested in child psychology or who works with traumatised children… or even if you just have a general interest in how our minds (and the developing minds of children in particular) respond to trauma.  The full title of this book is “The Boy Who was raised as a Dog and Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook, What Traumatized Children can Teach us about Loss, Love and Healing” and the authors are Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D, and Maia Szalavitz.

One of the things I liked about this book was that, despite saying that traumatic events can “leave indelible marks on the mind [and the]…impact of PTSD [Post Traumatic Shock Disorder] is actually far greater on children than it is on adults” [p.2], the overall tone is positive and hopeful, both for children who have been affected by PTSD as a consequence of  severe abuse and/ or neglect or due to witnessing horrific events, as well as for adults affected by PTSD.   Bruce D. Perry, a child psychiatrist and Senior Fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy (USA and Canada) is the “voice” of this book, which he wrote together with Maia Szalavitz, an award winning journalist who specialises in science and health.  Perry compassionately and respectfully acknowledges the immense importance of “The Forever Years” (childhood) and the importance of investing in and creating a serious strategy of therapy for children  affected by trauma.

As a “lay person” (non-psychiatrist) I found “The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog” clear and self-explanatory.   On page 21 there is an excellent description of how our human brain develops: …“there are four major parts of the brain: the brainstem, the diencephalon, the limbic system and the cortex.  The brain is organised from the inside out, like a house with increasingly complicated additions built on an old foundation.  The lower and most central regions of the brainstem and the diencephalon are the simplest.  They evolved first, and they develop first as a child grows.  As you move upward and outward, things get increasingly more complex with the limbic system.”

fg 2

Source: “The Boy who was raised as a Dog,” appendix, figure 2, p. 248.

The younger a child is when a traumatic event occurs, Perry says, the greater the affect on the lower and most central regions of the brain.  This, he explains, is “developmental trauma” (as opposed to inherent anxiety or stress disorders caused in utero or by genetics).  Trauma in early childhood causes “altered receptors” or heightened sensitivity to “threat”: an over-exaggerated “fight or flight” reaction, based on triggers which the person may not even  be consciously aware of themselves and which, in others who have not undergone similar trauma, would probably not cause such a reaction.  A clear indicator, Perry realised,  was that children with this “heightened sensitivity” had, even when calm and resting, an accelerated heart rate at a level significantly above that of their non-traumatised peers of the same age and gender.

The responses of traumatised children, Perry explains, can be to create more “chaos”, as this has been their “norm” in the past and brain pathways of accepting chaos as normality have been set up.  Adults who undertake social work or foster care, for example, should be aware of this.  “The responses of traumatised children are often misinterpreted.   …new situations are inherently stressful… attempting to take control of what they believe is the inevitable return to chaos, they appear to “provoke” it in order to make things feel more comfortable and predictable.   …we tend to prefer the “certainty of misery to the misery of uncertainty.”  This response to trauma can often cause serious problems for children when it is misunderstood by their caregivers.”  [p.55].

Following from this, Perry says that he and his colleagues recognised that “…the nature of a child’s relationships–both before and after trauma– seemed to play a critical role in shaping their response to it.  If safe, familiar and capable caregivers were made available to children, they tended to recover more easily, often showing no enduring negative effects of the traumatic event.  We knew that the “trauma-buffering” effect of relationships had to be mediated, somehow, by the brain.”  [p.66]

This is where the amazing capacity of our human brains to “heal” and create “new pathways”, even years after traumatic events which have occurred during early childhood (during the first, early stages of brain development) comes into play.

“…we tend to care for our children [and, interestingly, for ourselves as adults] the way we were cared for ourselves during our own childhoods, [so] a good “brain” history of a child begins with a history of the caregiver’s childhood and early experience.” [p.83].  Our “Forever Years”, then, are also effected by the “Forever Years” of those caring for us when we are young.  The diagnosis “failure to thrive” in a child ” (discussed on p.88) can stem from a parent or parents not having  thrived themselves during their own childhood years.   In extreme cases, even  when other, basic needs (such as for food, shelter and clothing) are met, if a carer is emotionally “distant” a child may fail to gain weight or be delayed in other ways (such as speech or other developmental milestones).  This is purely a “nurture” (or lack of nurture) issue, and nothing to do with anything innate in the child.  Perry talks about how until recently, doctors were “...unaware of the damage that neglect alone can do to the brain.  They assumed that something so clearly visible on scans had to be evidence of a genetic defect or intrauterine insult, such as exposure to toxins or disease; they couldn’t imagine that early environment alone could have such profound physical effects.” [p. 129].

6600

Neurologists say that the sizeable difference between these two brains of two different 3-year-olds has one primary cause: the way that their mothers treated them. Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D./Ch Source: http://www.medicaldaily.com/chilling-brain-scans-show-impact-mothers-love-childs-brain-size-243328

“Fortunately the positive cycle is every bit as cascading and self-amplifying as the vicious cycle,” Perry says, [p.121] and while emotional scars may always be present, the intervention of a loving, understanding environment can reprogram reactions and triggers.  This is enormously positive  when considering the effect on  future social interactions (including romantic relationships) for traumatised children as they grow into adulthood and becomes parents themselves.  The more relationships are positively retained and jobs and parenting situations are handled in constructive ways, the stronger and more confident the “traumatised child now adult” will become, which in turn further aids healing of old, emotional scars.

Perry doesn’t just put this forward as a vague hypothesis, however.  Throughout “The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog” he gives concrete examples through case studies of real patients he has worked with (obviously, these children’s names have been changed to protect their privacy).   Each is an example of a child suffering from severe trauma, including the “boy who was raised as a dog,” who gives the book its title.  Through his work, Perry says, he and his colleagues “…only gradually came to understand how the sequential development of a child’s brain is affected by trauma and neglect.  It only gradually dawned on us that this understanding could help us find possible treatments. These insights led us to develop what we call the neurosequential approach to theraputic services for maltreated and traumatised children. [p.125].

I love the “neurosequential” approach Perry and his colleagues take, along with the immense positive ramifications it has for the children they are working with.  The nuerosequential approach works on the basis of assessing which areas in a patient’s brain have sustained damage or neglect from past experiences, and then addressing these one by one.   “We would use enrichment experiences and targeted therapies to help the affected brain areas in the order in which they were affected by neglect and trauma (hence the name neurosequential).  If we could document improved functioning following the first set of interventions, we would begin the second set appropriate  for the next brain region and developmental stage until, hopefully,… [the patient] would get to the point where his biological age and his developmental age would match.”  [p.139].

Just as our brains develop sequentially, then, neurosequential therapy is aimed at addressing “loss” in development (caused by abuse, neglect or trauma) in a sequential manner.  Perry uses the example of a boy called Connor (not his real name), now aged fourteen, who had suffered from severe neglect as a baby.  “In Connor’s case, It was clear that his problems had started in early infancy, when the lower and most central regions of the brain are actively developing.  These systems respond to rhythm and touch: the brainstem’s regulatory centres control heartbeat, the rise and fall of neurochemicals and hormones in the cycle of day and night, the beat of one’s walk and other patterns which must maintain a rhythmic order to function properly.” [pp.139-140].  For Connor, “treatment” began with massage therapy, as early neglect had left him with an aversion to touch which was affecting his ability to even make eye contact with others, and hence affecting his social relationships.

Perry goes on to describe the “levels” or “layers” of neurosequential therapy, each of which respond to and attempt to address a deficit caused by trauma earlier on.

White Layers

Touch

kangaroo-careTouch is, of course, our earliest form of validation and security from our carers.  This is the reason for the importance placed on giving newborn babies “skin to skin” contact and the psychological benefits of this can be seen throughout life.  (See previous articles on this blog about the importance of positive touch in early childhood and throughout life, by following the links below).

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/infant-massage-nurturing-touch-and-self-care-for-the-caregiver-by-erin-e-sonnier-from-nurtured-child-nurtured-you

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/03/03/touch-as-nutrition-by-john-tuite/

Music and Movement

Many of us parents take our preschoolers to “Music and Movement” groups thinking that that’s just “what you do” and that it gives us a chance to socialise with other parents and connect with and focus on our children in a child-centred environment.  All of this is true and the benefits of music to our babies and children has been well documented.  (Again, there is a link to follow below if you would like to read an article about the benefits of music to our kids).

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/5-ways-in-which-kids-benefit-from-learning-a-musical-instrument-by-justine-pierre/

After reading “The Boy Who was raised as a Dog”, I came to realise that, beyond being merely “beneficial”, music and movement are essential in brain development, affecting crucial areas such as language acquisition and breathing and heart rate regulation. Music and humanity have been linked since the dawn of time, with every culture having songs and rhymes for children passed down from generation to generation.  They are part of the fabric of who we are.

Play Therapy

mi1_675Perry describes how “play therapy” is used in treating traumatised children and in particular talks about Sandy (not her real name), a three year old girl who witnessed her mother being raped and stabbed to death, before having her own throat slit and being left for dead.  Sandy was alone with her mother’s body in their apartment for eleven hours before being discovered, taken to hospital and having the wounds on her neck treated. [p.33].   Perry discovered that Sandy had a need to role play the scene which had traumatised her again and again.  This involved  Perry himself lying on the ground, in the role of Sandy’s mother, while Sandy attempted to “wake” him and “feed” him, which she had done with her mother during the eleven hours after the brutal attack on them both.  [p.52].  “While she did this [role play] , I had to do exactly what she wanted: don’t talk, don’t move, don’t interfere, don’t stop.  She needed to have total control while she performed this reenactment.  And that control, I began to recognize, would be critical to helping her heal.”  Over the course of manyPlato-play+blue months, Sandy began to alter this re-enactment and, on her own, changed it to a scene where Perry would read her a story book, thus reverting to a positive memory of times with her mother before the attack.  This is not to say that Sandy wasn’t scarred by her extremely traumatic experience.  But “play therapy” in this way enabled her to process what had happened and move towards healing.  Perry says that, with ongoing therapy and encouragement, Sandy went on to lead a satisfying and productive life, despite her horrific early  experience.

The importance of “play” is something for all parents and carers to be aware of.  A particularly useful article on “Attachment Play” (especially beneficial to children being fostered or adopted, who may have attachment issues or disorders, but also beneficial to our children generally) was recently published by Marion Badenoch Rose, here on the “Forever Years”.  (To read it, please follow the link below):

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2016/03/21/an-introduction-to-attachment-play-by-marion-badenoch-rose/

Some other articles on the importance of play can be found at the links below:

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2016/04/10/the-remarkable-power-of-play-why-play-is-so-important-for-children-by-karen-young/

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/09/08/let-the-children-play-outside-by-greenlife-matters-the-nursery-and-garden-industry-new-zealand/

https://theforeveryears.wordpress.com/2015/05/08/help-my-toddler-cant-play-without-me-by-janet-lansbury/

Interaction with Peers

kidsplaying-on-playgroundPerry says the next step in neurosequential therapy is being able to aptly interact with peers.  This is a big step, as adults make allowances and try to protect or help a child who they see as having “issues”, but successful peer interaction (and acceptance of and by peers) is necessary to be able to function throughout the rest of life, with implications for all future relationships.  Perry discusses the case of Peter (not his real name) a seven year old boy who was adopted at age three from an orphanage in Russia.  Due to early lack of stimulation and neglect during his time at the orphanage (where intentions were good, but there were simply not enough adults to go around, meaning that Peter and the other three year olds there were fed and changed, but spent all day in cots), Peter, who was an intelligent boy, showed behaviour which was young for his age and, inspite of loving and patient behaviour from his adoptive parents at home, this caused him to be rejected and marginalised by his peers… which in turn led Peter to having angry, bewildered outburts (which only served to further ostracise him from his classmates).

Mandela“The behavior of his classmates was predictable.  What was happening was a small version of what happens all across the planet in various forms every day.  Human beings fear what they don’t understand.  The unknown scares us.  When we meet people who look or act in unfamiliar, strange ways, our initial response is to keep them at arms length.  At times we make ourselves feel superior, smarter or more competent by dehumanizing or degrading those who are different.  The roots of so many of our species’ ugliest behaviors– racism, ageism, misogyny, anti-Semitism, to name just a few– are the basic brain-mediated response to perceived threat.  We tend to fear what we do not understand, and fear can so easily twist into hate or even violence because it can suppress the rational parts of our brain.”  [p.225].

The biggest predator of humans is humans and we have, therefore, a built in fear of other people who seem “different”.  Perry says, “...Peter was intellectually advanced, but socially clueless.  I realised that if he was going to catch up, he was going to need the help of his peers.” [p.226].

choose-wiselyWhat followed was an amazing (and yet simple) exercise in understanding.  Our fear reaction so often kicks in, but the empathy reaction can take longer to activate (in children or adults), but, it has been shown, empathy once activated is stronger than the fear reaction.  To get Peter’s peers “on side” in his healing, Perry (with the permission of Peter, his parents and the school) came along to his class and spoke about the brain… at a level at which seven year old children could understand.

Dr. Bruce D. Perry (author of "The Boy who was raised as a Dog", "talking about the brain".

Dr. Bruce D. Perry (author of “The Boy who was raised as a Dog”, “talking about the brain”.  Source: http://davidsmithsegarra.com/born-love-dr-bruce-perry/

I talked about how they were exercising their “ABC” muscles [of the brain] in school and about the importance of repetition.  I described how they had many other similar kinds of “muscles” in the brain that also needed certain kinds of attention to grow big and strong.  I talked about how the brain develops and what makes everyone’s brain work, emphasizing how the brain changes.” [p.228].

Perry then went on to explain how Peter had had a different and more difficult start in life than the other children in his class.

An orphanage in Eastern Europe. Source: National Geographic.

An orphanage in Eastern Europe. Source: National Geographic.

“When he was a little boy, he spent every minute of every day for the first three years of his life in one crib.  …  Peter was born in another country where they did not know very much about the brain.  … Peter never had a chance to walk around, to play with friends, to get a hug from any loving grown-ups.  His brain didn’t get very much stimulation.  … his new parents came… [then] Peter’s amazing brain started to learn so many things.  Even though he had never heard English, he learned English in just a couple of years. … every day in school, Peter learns things from all of you.  He watches how you do things, he learns from playing with each of you and he learns from just being your friend.  So thank you for helping Peter.  And thanks for letting me come and talk about the brain.”  [pp.228-229].

Perry says that, in the weeks that followed, the children’s “natural goodness” came to the surface and they “included him, protected him and, ultimately, provided therapeutic experiences that helped Peter catch up…. adults have much more influence over the process [of helping children understand those who are different] than they may believe.  When children understand why someone behaves oddly, they give him or her more slack…” [p.229].

tribal-fear-altruism

In Conclusion

The Boy Who was raised as a Dog” has many more examples of the amazing capacity of the human brain to recover from early neglect or trauma, including the story which gives the book its title.  Perry also worked with the children from the WACO Texas cult and talks about his experiences with them in this book.  While Perry’s patients are extreme examples of trauma or abuse, he says an estimated 40% of children will experience some level of trauma before they reach adulthood [p. 233] and that some of our current practices of therapy and childcare are actually causing more harm than healing [p.235].  He advocates for an “infant and child literate society” [p.239] and a nurturing of empathy– which is why we at “The Forever Years” love this book, which fits in so well with our own ethos, of viewing the world “through the eyes of a child”, an ethos which Perry certainly puts into action when treating children who have suffered from trauma or neglect.

Related Links:

Life After Stress: The Biology of Trauma and Resilience

http://www.lastwordonnothing.com/2012/08/02/what-americans-dont-get-about-the-brains-critical-period/

https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/529-baby-brain-map

http://nancyguberti.com/5-stages-of-human-brain-development/

Ab Collage 11

Paris attacks: How to explain the horror to children, by Sally Peck

paris-girl_3502479b

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - NOVEMBER 16:  A young girl lights candles to honour victims of the Paris terror attacks at Alliance Francais Manila on November 16, 2015 in Manila, Philippines. 129 people were killed and hundreds more injured in Paris following a series of terrorist acts in the French capital on Friday night.  (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – NOVEMBER 16: A young girl lights candles to honour victims of the Paris terror attacks at Alliance Francais Manila on November 16, 2015 in Manila, Philippines. 129 people were killed and hundreds more injured in Paris following a series of terrorist acts in the French capital. (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images) *** BESTPIX ***

As parents, there is a constant temptation to shield our children from bad news. But sometimes, and in particular with acts of terrorism, bad news is unavoidable – it’s in on television, it’s on social media, and it’s on our minds.

Like most people, I’ve been carefully following the news from Paris. My family has close ties to France, and my children’s ears perked up when news of the attacks came on the radio.

How to talk to children

For guidance on how to talk to my children about the attacks in Paris, I rang Gemma Allen, a senior bereavement counsellor at Winston’s Wish, Britain’s leading charity for bereaved children, who offers the following tips for talking to children about terrorist attacks.

Sad child on stairs

Children may have already heard the news Photo: Alamy

Here’s what she told me:

Language matters: For children of all ages, the most important thing is to reassure them that they are safe. Don’t get into the political context with primary-aged children. That may come up in conversation with older children, but the importance at any age is offering the reassurance that they are safe.

For pre-school children, use concrete language: don’t say “This person went to sleep” or “We’ve lost that person” – because that could instil fear or anxiety in that child about going to sleep. And what does lost mean? They’re lost at the shops? Be accurate and mindful of the impact of your language.

Age-appropriate conversations: For pre-school, think about how much exposure they’ve had. Maybe they’ve overheard the news, so the conversation could be quite brief: acknowledge what has happened, and say that lots of people have died as a result of a really bad incident. You can say that we don’t know why this has happened.

Two minutes silence to remember those killed in the Paris attack

Acknowledge what has happened, and say lots of people died as a result of a really bad incident Photo: Eddie Mulholland/The Telegraph

As the parent or teacher or carer, the most important part is to offer reassurance: this is very unusual, there are lots of safety checks in place to protect us. Use age-appropriate language, and be aware of what your child understands: do they really know what “died” means? It’s usually not until the age of 5 or 6 that children understand that death is permanent.

With primary school, the majority will understand what “dead” means. So it may be that you can add details – you may be able to sit down and watch the 6 o’clock news together.

The perpetrators: You should talk about a bad action or behaviour – not bad people. Ms Allen explains: “A lot of our work is with families bereaved through murder. With children, you must be careful about the language: people aren’t bad – it’s something bad that they’ve done – this helps prevent anxiety in children, and fears that ‘bad people’ are coming to get them.”

Paris terror suspects: (Clockwise from top left) Abdeslam Salah, Bilal Hadfi, Ahmad Almohamad, Omar Mostefai, Samy Amimour and Abdelhamid Abaaoud

Don’t call the suspects “bad men”

Social media awareness: Secondary school aged children will have come across news about the Paris attacks already on social media. Remind them that some of the things they have read there may be incorrect. Have a conversation with your child about what they think has happened. Talk about the images they’ve seen – these can be more powerful than words. If they see an image, and haven’t had a conversation with someone they trust, they will build up these images something that is so big that it’s unmanageable for them; you don’t want a child to start fantasising that someone is going to come after them.

Promote peace: As I explained to my children, who are primary and pre-school age, the facts of what had happened, I tried to shift their focus towards the coming together of the people of Paris, and the work people around the world to keep everyone safe.

A memorial to the victims of the terror attacks outside the French embassy in Mexico CityFocus on the coming together of people in solidarity  Photo: AP Photo/Marco Ugarte

Shield them: From certain politicians’ dangerous reactions – for example, by sayings that terrorists were carrying out “an organised attempt to destroy Western civilisation,” Jeb Bush granted these men more power than they have. This hysteria is exactly what the people carrying out these acts want. And it is exactly this sort of hysteria that we, as parents, need to protect our children from.

(To read more of this article, follow the link below…)

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/mother-tongue/12000620/Paris-attacks-How-to-explain-the-horror-to-children.html?utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_medium=Social&utm_source=Facebook&fb_ref=Default&fb_source=message

Dyspraxia, Dyslexia and an Anxiety Disorder: Living with and Loving our Special Son, an interview by Kirsteen McLay-Knopp with Kirstin, a kiwi Mum

Family FYKirstin kindly allowed me to interview her about life with and for her son Toby, who has recently been diagnosed as having severe dyslexia and mild dyspraxia (a developmental disorder which affects fine motor skills and can present as problematic for children undertaking tasks such as writing and tying shoe laces).  As well as this, Toby, age 9, has been diagnosed as having an anxiety disorder.

“When he was little, Toby never crawled, he just shuffled along on his bum,” Kirstin recalls.  “Apparently that can be an indicator of dyslexia.  Then, once he started school, it became clear that Toby had major difficulties with reading and writing.  We asked the school whether he had dyslexia, but they said he didn’t.  By Year 4 Toby was playing up and causing major disruption in class.  We know now that it was because he couldn’t understand and he wasn’t receiving the help he needed, but the school didn’t recognise this at the time.  Toby was usually punished by being sent out of class… which, of course, was exactly what he wanted.”
Kirstin and her husband felt certain that there was more to Toby’s behaviour in class than just “naughtiness”.  Finally, they made the decision to change schools.  At the new school, Toby’s learning difficulties were identified within a week.
“It was such a relief to have professionals say that there were issues behind the behaviour and learning difficulties,” Kirstin recalls.  “You often feel these things in your heart as a parent, but it’s really great to know for sure, it means you can move forward.”
Toby’s dyspraxia and his anxiety disorder also affected his brain-bowel co-ordination.  Kirstin says that knowing this makes it easier to understand him having “accidents”.  “Not knowing and thinking that this shouldn’t be happening, that a kid his age should be getting toileting cues, sometimes made us harder on Toby than we should have been,” she says.  “Understanding is the key, then you can look at strategies for moving forwards.  With help from support organisations, we’ve now been able to put measures in place to help Toby in this area too.  The advice of other parents who have “been there” is invaluable, as is the reassurance offered by professionals with experience working in this field.”
Kirstin says now that it is apparent what the issues are, measures can be put in place to help Toby cope.  “His anxiety disorder means Toby gets stressed if, for example, there are lots of other kids around making a noise,” she says.  “He now knows when he needs to go off for quiet time by himself, which helps him get “back on track” and his teachers accommodate that too.  As parents, his Dad and I have had to learn to be more patient, as our stress rubs off on him and his anxiety disorder makes him more sensitive to everything.  Lots of children are like this anyway [pick up on parental stress], but with Toby it’s magnified.”
“Toby has always been Toby with his own special personality, which we love,” Kirstin says, “so there’s a degree to which his diagnosis hasn’t affected our family too much, we’d already lived with who he was for 8 years before receiving a professional diagnosis.  But it just feels good knowing that there is a reason for behaviour which otherwise can seem quite random and frustrating at times.”  Kirstin says children with dyspraxia don’t cope well with spontaneity or changes from routine.  “I heard one Mum say that with dyspraxic kids you can be spontaneous… so long as you give them three weeks notice first!”
Dyspraxia and dyslexia can be genetic, as can childhood anxiety disorders (which may or may not carry on into the adult years), Kirstin says.  “My brother had dyslexia, but it wasn’t picked up until he was in High School,” she says.  “Teachers and others are more aware of these conditions and attuned to how they present than they were some years ago.”
Toby is now in Year 5 at Primary School and, thanks to extra support and a teacher aid, has recovered most of the reading he had fallen behind on.  “It can be hard for him,” Kirstin says, “his little brother, who is two years younger, finds reading easy and Toby takes this and other things very personally.  We try to encourage him by stressing how far he has come in the last year or two and being honest with him about the fact that he was not receiving the right support for who he is before.  We recently went to an Intermediate School Open Night and I was so thrilled that Toby was excited about the future… in the past the thought of big changes like this could bring out his anxiety… he’s even been known to make himself throw up as a result of becoming anxious, like at the start of a school marathon.  We used to find homework very, very difficult too.  Toby hates writing, but fortunately some strategies which are used for children with dyspraxia and dyslexia have been put in place to help with this.  As Toby’s confidence grows in any particular area, his anxiety levels are also better able to be managed.”
Kirstin says she and her husband hope that in the short term future Toby will “integrate into Intermediate School without too much difficulty.  Things have certainly gotten so much better with him since he has been diagnosed and also as he’s gotten older.  For the long term future we just hope that things won’t seem so hard for him and that he’ll find something he really enjoys and can work at.”
Kirstin says it’s really important for parents who feel their child might have issues affecting their learning, to talk with others and not feel shy or embarrassed.  “People often don’t want to think that their child is ‘different'”, she says, “especially in the case of ‘hidden disabilities’ such as Toby’s… it can be easier, sometimes, to bury your head in the sand and ignore what you know in your heart.  In our case, we had a gut feeling and we didn’t let up until Toby received the appropriate support.”
Photograph above: Toby kayaking with his brother and Dad, thanks to Kirstin and her family for supplying this 🙂