WHAT DOES A TRAUMA-INFORMED CHURCH LOOK LIKE? PART 3

*I started this series as a response to a question I got via email. If you missed the beginning, click here.

At the end of the first article, I said a few words about teens. I’d like to continue with more on the topic today.

Let’s not excuse behaviors, Let’s Understand Them

If you read through my first two articles, you may be thinking trauma-informed means excusing behaviors and doing everything to make the child happy. That is not what it means. We don’t excuse behaviors. We nip them in the bud. A trauma-informed church, school, or co-op, uses the IDEAL Approach. Instead of letting a behavior escalate, it is dealt with immediately. Directly. Efficiently. And leveled at the behavior, not the child.

For all interactions with your kiddos, use the IDEAL response as a guide. The IDEAL Approach is among the best tools for parenting, teaching, or supervising kids who have had trauma:

I: You respond immediately, within three seconds of misbehavior.

D: You respond directly to the child by making eye contact. Get down on their level (or look up for some teens).

E: The response is efficient and measured. Use as few words as possible.

A: The response is action-based. Lead the child through a re-do.

L: Your response should bed leveled at the behavior, not the child.

Applying the Ideal Approach to Teens

When Dr. Karyn Purvis and her team from the TCI Institute of Child Development, trained staffers from Methodist Children’s Home in usingTBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention), the youth (aged 11-18) experienced remarkable changes. Several of the staffers remarked that Dr. Purvis didn’t let the kids get away with anything. This may be because when you start talking about focusing on relationships instead of behaviors, some people get the idea that you are going to excuse behaviors while you float on rainbow clouds and eat ice cream.

What Dr. Purvis did is respond immediately to behaviors with a redo or whatever fit the bill and went back to connection quickly. (For more information on how to respond, read our “Instead of” Tips.) One of the most important things that trauma-informed organizations do is make sure staff/volunteers are present. It’s a mistake to take a group of teens who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome and let them hang out unsupervised. Adults need to be present and participating in order to be a co-regulator for the teens and stop a meltdown before it starts (no guarantee that the teen won’t meltdown anyway, better to have an adult present).

I asked three of my adult boys about this topic this morning. They agreed they shouldn’t have been unsupervised at youth type events. They also agreed hanging out with other teens with proper supervision was super healthy for them.

Social Camouflaging

Social Camouflage, is a way of learning social nuances, that help, to fit in, and function in this world.

The natural camouflage teens perform is to do the thing when the adult isn’t looking and then stop when the adult is. This is when you hear the “Yes, sir,” or “Yes, m’am” types of responses. These kids who were behaving badly suddenly act good. We adults know the pattern (most of us). What we must understand is teens who have had trauma or have a capital letter syndrome don’t camouflage. They don’t behave one way in front of adults and another in front of peers. They just are. And. This. Gets. Them. Into. Trouble.

Why does the inability to camouflage get teens into trouble? Usually because they watch a peer performing a dangerous feat or breaking the rules and they follow suit even after the adult appears. These teens who can’t camouflage don’t turn off the behavior. Some don’t have cause and effect thinking. Some don’t have a break pedal. They will keep performing the behavior until someone gets hurt (usually themselves). This is why kids who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome need adults to be present and participating.

The Inability to Regulate happens at home too

It’s not just when these kids get with a group of people they endanger their lives. They do it alone. As I said, many lack cause and effect thinking. They dysregulate alone. There are stressors everywhere. It’s not the other kids. It’s their own inability to regulate. It’s their inability to process stimuli. These kiddos are impulsive. So, if the idea has crossed your mind that these teens are just misbehaving for you, it’s not true. When you replace behave with regulate, it makes more sense. These teens can’t regulate no matter where they are. If we are going to minister to them, we have to become co-regulators.

Want to read more about co-regulation? Click here.

Just a reminder teens CAN sometimes be toddlers in larger bodies. If you begin to picture them that way, co-regulation becomes a little easier to swallow. You have the opportunity to be their pre-frontal cortex until it has time to mature!

Want some free trauma-informed e-course for your church?

What Does a Trauma-Informed Church Look Like? Part 2

I started this series in a response to a question via email. As I said in part 1, I know the answer is complex . It’s not a one-size fits all answer. There are some aspects you can see in a trauma-informed church. There are some things you can feel. There are some words you will hear. There are also some practices that will be followed by all leadership in a trauma-informed church.

It starts with trauma-informed training

I’m one of those people who will chase you down the hall and tell church leaders that they need trauma-training. I’m also one of those people who get the door slammed in their face (metaphorically). Leaders for some reason don’t want to invest in training. They also don’t want to ask their staff and volunteers to go through training. I know. It’s a huge time commitment. It is. It’s also an investment.

The parable of The spilled milk

Let’s say you put an open gallon of milk on the table in your kitchen. You hope it won’t spill. You pray it won’t spill. You light a candle and pray it won’t spill. Then it spills. You sop up the mess and tell the child who knocked it over not to do that again, then you leave the gallon again. It gets spilled again. You tell the child again not to knock the milk. The child knocks it again. You tell the child again. What’s the real problem? The adult didn’t take responsibility to put the cap on and put it away.

I see the the same thing happen in churches, homes, schools, and homeschool co-ops. They pray the milk won’t be spilled. In other words, they hope and pray that kids who have had trauma or capital letter syndromes won’t have meltdowns. The kids do. The adults tell the kids to stop. There are behavior charts, stickers, lectures, and Bible verses hurled at them. They meltdown again. They can’t regulate. What needs to happen? The adults, leaders, and parents need to cap the milk by becoming trauma-informed. When leadership is trauma-informed and begin to lead with this in mind, the milk wont’ spill as often.

Start with the Five Bs

The Five B’s Affected by Trauma

  • Brain
  • Biology
  • Body
  • Beliefs
  • Behavior

Brain – Children from hard places have altered brain development and an overactive amygdala. It’s as if the child is being chased by a bear all the time.

Biology – Children from hard places have altered neurochemistry.

Body – This could include learning delays, developmental delays, and sensory issues (which may be mistaken for willfulness and defiance). The child may be frustrated and disconnected.

Beliefs -Abuse says, “You don’t matter.” Neglect says, “You don’t exist.”

Behavior – The child may have an altered ability to self-regulate in response to stressors.

“If a child has had trauma, it’s as though his brain has a bunch of loose wires that don’t connect. If I were back in computer programming, I could imagine that for every if-then statement, I would get an error message: ‘Does not compute.’”-

How to Have Peace When Your Kids Are in Chaos

Understanding the effects trauma has on child (or adult) is a start. Some of the church leaders who have emailed me want their churches to be trauma-informed to better serve the needs of the kiddos (and adults) in the body. Some of you are running into the same sorts of road blocks I do. Time. Money. Leaders don’t want to ask their volunteers to have to invest more time, to come out one more night a week, to watch videos, or host a conference. So the milk gets spilled again and again. And the children get reprimanded for being dysregulated because they CANNOT do what’s expected of them.

For those who want Trauma-informed churches, schools, and co-ops

If you want to start the conversation with your church leaders, teachers, or homeschool co-op, you can begin with the printable resource on How Trauma Affects Kids. Go start the conversation with some facts and go from there.

Want to continue the conversation? Hop on over to our podcast page and listen to the series on the Five Bs Affected by Trauma. These are coffee break podcasts, no longer than fifteen minutes each. Share them with the people who serve your kiddos.

If you’re interested in the free e-course- Five Things , click on the graphic below:

What Does a Trauma-Informed Church Look Like? Part 1

A question I received via email in response to 3 Steps Every Church Can Take To Become Trauma-Informed is “What does a trauma-informed church look like?”

That’s a great question with a complex answer. I’m going to tackle it anyway.

First and foremost, trauma-informed churches are more about relationship than they are about proper behavior. As I said in the article linked above, trauma is a buzzword. Churches are hopping on the bandwagon and saying they are sensitive to attenders who have had trauma, all the while, making sure everyone’s behavior measures up. I’m going to focus on kids here because that’s what I’m trained in (mostly through experience).

Trauma-informed churches don’t expect kids to regulate (behave).

Most churches who are trauma-informed say that relationship trumps behavior. Acknowledging the idea is a great start. Do they follow through?

At- risk children can easily feel alienated and cornered, alone against the world. Feeling that way, it almost guaranteed that they will come out fighting, manipulating or fleeing. Then the only adult attention they receive is endless scolding and punishment. Soon this dysfunctional dynamic becomes a habit, and the the children learn to seek familiar and available attention by acting out. What a scary and miserable way to live!

The Connected Child

When a child can’t stay in a seat for worship, is the behavior a detriment to the relationship? In other words, will the child be put in time-out, shamed, sent back to parents, berated, or fill in the blank? Does sitting in a seat, being in an environment that produces sensory overload, or the inability to regulate due to stressors cause a break in the relationship? Is the child put on the chopping block and asked to measure up to a standard before he is accepted? This is not what a trauma-informed church looks like.

The concept of “being good” in church.

I totally understand the concept of “being good” in church. When I my kiddos were younger and I sang in the choir. I had to be at church early for warm-ups. With hubby out of town or at work, all seven of my kiddos had to sit on the front row while I was up on the risers with the choir. I got pretty durn good and shooting looks at my kiddos that meant “behave or else!” I grew up in an era when everyone had to be respectful to adults, especially those in the ministry no matter how we felt about it. If I got in trouble at church or school, I was sure to get double trouble at home. No explaining away my behavior. No excuses. Kids submitted to authority or suffered the consequences. If you grew up like I did, it may be difficult to shift gears to a new way of thinking especially in a spiritual or religious setting.

A new way of thinking about behavior.

Things have changed. Science has discovered many ways that trauma effects kids. I have written many articles about that, for the sake of brevity, let’s say – Kids who have had trauma cannot behave, not – will not behave. When Sunday school teachers, children’s church workers, youth leaders get that scientific fact firmly placed in their belt of truth, we will see more effective ministry for kids who have had trauma. If we want our churches to be trauma-informed, we’ll be the adults that say, “It’s up to us to figure out what works to build relationship with each child.”

Start with talking to the parents (or whomever brings them to church).

Trauma-informed churches ask foster parents, adoptive parents, parents of kids with capital letter syndromes what the kiddo needs to feel safe and what helps the child regulate. Trauma-informed churches put needs of kids who have had trauma on the list right next to severe allergies. If one child cannot have peanuts and another goes into overload if the music is too loud, skip the peanuts and have some noise reducing headphones. It looks like an away room with headphones, adults to help a kiddo regulate, and someone to connect with even if there has to be a correction first. Especially if there has to be a correction first.

If you need help with how to train your staff on correcting, try the “Instead of Tips” here and download a printable resource here. Trauma-informed churches have a system set up that everyone can follow. All of the staff and volunteers use the same approach which give another layer of felt-safety to the kiddos. If you’re interested in an e-course to accompany the graphic, make sure you get on our email list to get the link when it’s live.

A short word on Teens

If a group of teens comes to the after-school program at your church and you know they have had various levels of trauma, make sure you have trauma-trained staff to supervise. This usually means more staff, more supervision, and more structure.

It’s a fallacy to think when teens who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome will be able to regulate just because they have large bodies. The truth is most of these kiddos are half their physical age emotionally. Teens with large bodies and little ability to self-regulate in response to stressors can quickly spiral out of control.

I’ll continue this line of thought in one of my articles.

Five Things You Can Do to Help an Adoptive/Foster Family Part V

This article is the last in a series

Ever wonder what you can do to support adoption/foster care? Maybe you don’t feel as if you can take a child into your home. Maybe you already raised your children and you aren’t ready to start over. It may be that you have a heart for adoption,but it’s not time for you to walk the adoption road, a few more things may need to fall into place. The good news is, you don’t have to adopt/foster to support it. You can support those who do and it’s not terribly difficult.

 External religious worship [[b]religion as it is expressed in outward acts] that is pure and unblemished in the sight of God the Father is this: to visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need, and to keep oneself unspotted and uncontaminated from the world.” James 1:27

*If you missed the beginning of this series, you can find it here.

5. On the other hand, don’t be fooled by a child’s superficially, engaging behavior.

Some children with attachment, self-regulatory issues will behave horribly in public. Some will look like angels and leave you wondering WHY mom doesn’t feel like coming out in public anymore. Take your cues from Mom and Dad. Something is not right. That quiet or gushingly cute, exuberant child may be malicious and hateful to her new parents at home. She is in survival mode. She has learned the angles and may have had to act that way to get by in her early life. It’s a survival mechanism she has to unlearn so she can really be part of a family and have authentic relationships, not superficial ones.

sometimes

Look at mom for an accurate picture. Is she haggard? Slurping her second cup of coffee an hour into the field trip? Do her eyes keep darting towards the child as if she is unsure of what the child is going to do? Does she have the worry hunch? Is she too perfect looking, hair, make-up, clothes, as if she is covering up, hiding herself? Or better yet, ask her and be firm, wait for an honest answer. If you can’t or she won’t talk, set up a coffee date. Go out of your way to make it easier for her. Walk a mile with her. Hear her. Pray for her. Sometimes the best thing you can do for adoptive parents is listen. Don’t correct. Don’t interject. Just listen. Support them in prayer and acknowledge that you don’t have all the answers. They don’t need all the answers, they sometimes just need some validation that they are doing a good work and others support and care for them (and their children) in this adoption journey.

Five Things You Can Do to Help an Adoptive/Foster Family Part IV

Ever wonder what you can do to support adoption/foster care? Maybe you don’t feel as if you can take a child into your home. Maybe you already raised your children and you aren’t ready to start over. It may be that you have a heart for adoption,but it’s not time for you to walk the adoption road, a few more things may need to fall into place. The good news is, you don’t have to adopt/foster to support it. You can support those who do and it’s not terribly difficult.

 External religious worship [[b]religion as it is expressed in outward acts] that is pure and unblemished in the sight of God the Father is this: to visit and help and care for the orphans and widows in their affliction and need, and to keep oneself unspotted and uncontaminated from the world.” James 1:27

*If you missed the beginning of this series, you can find it here.

4. Don’t judge the parents by the child’s behavior.

Good parents who have successfully parented bio children are suddenly labeled the ‘bad’ parent at church, school, field trips, if the adopted/foster child has behavior issues.

These behavior issues can be a lack of brain development. Both abuse and neglect can halt brain development causing a child to freeze developmentally while his peers soar past him. A child from a hard place is typically half his physical age emotionally. An eight year old will acct like a four year old. The child may have no self-regulation skills whatsoever. He may grab food off someone else’s plate, kick, hit, yell, get kicked out of Kid’s Church, steal hot chocolate (in bulk) from the church kitchen (true stories, I don’t make this stuff up).

Brain development

These behaviors show a lack of self regulation, not a forever problem. Some adults may try to wish these away, saying things like, “He’s a good kid, maybe you are just too hard on him.” The problem is,this glazing over the behavior or blaming the parent doesn’t heal the child, it hurts him. These behaviors are a result of his past, something that happened on someone else’s watch. In order for the child to heal, his brain needs to develop in areas it hasn’t. He needs to gain some upstairs brain skills. The child can do this through attachment. Yes, attachment grows the brain.

Here’s the catch, parents are correcting which is difficult when a child is not connected. The child needs time and reason to trust. Don’t assume the parents aren’t working on it. Don’t assume because the child continues in these behaviors that he isn’t being parented well. He may be catching up in attachment, development and being truly parented for the first time.

It’s time for adoption talk link up! Join us!

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