Best first response when children witness trauma

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Best first response when children witness trauma

If for parents and for teachers, and caregivers and childcare centers, very often, they’re the ones who are with the children when something traumatic happens. And the first thing that adults need to know is that they need to tend to their own reactions first. Because very often, if something happens, like witnessing a drive-by shooting, or witnessing an auto accident, or a tsunami for instance, everyone’s affected. The parents are affected. They have responsibility to the children and they have responsibility for their own lives. So they have so much stress and you can’t really help a child until you de-stress yourself first. So Dr. Peter Levine and I want to talk about putting the oxygen mask on first, like you do on an airplane if something happens, and then you tend to the child. So the first step is to feel what’s happening with your breathing. If you’re holding your breath, you’re feeling numb. To come into your feet, to start to notice where your feet are. To notice that they’re below you, not by looking at them but actually to feeling where they are and feeling your connection with the earth. Course that wouldn’t happen so much with an earthquake, but with anything else, it works. And then to notice the breath, to let the breath settle and the muscles relax. And in a calm voice, begin talking to the children and letting them know that whatever happened was scary but that it’s over. And to give them with your voice, and with eye contact, the feeling of safety by reminding them that it really is over. And then what happens is very often children is, when they feel safe, they’ll start to tremble and shake and cry. And that discharges the stress. And the parents or the caregivers could just say that’s right, just let that scare come right out of you. Just shake it off. You’re going to be alright. The bad thing is over. And I’m right here with you to keep you safe.

Watch Maggie Kline, LMFT's video on Best first response when children witness trauma...


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Maggie Kline, LMFT

School Psychologist & Therapist

Maggie Kline has been a marriage, family, and child therapist for almost 30 years, and is a retired school psychologist.  After beginning her professional career as a teacher in 1970, Maggie has continued to garner vast experience with children of all ages from pre-schoolers through teens. She uses Somatic Experiencing (SE) with individuals, couples and families in psychotherapy. She also integrates SE with art, dream work and play when helping youngsters recover from trauma. Maggie is a senior faculty member for the SE Trauma Institute, currently teaching on five continents. She has co-authored two books (listed below) with Peter A. Levine which have been translated into 11 languages,  and has also written "It Won't Hurt Forever", which was published in Mothering  Magazine in 2002.  Most recently, Maggie has originated two seminars for professionals who help traumatized children:  "SE for Kids, A Games-Based Approach" and "Conscious Connections, Providing Reparative Opportunities for Healthy Attachment". She has presented her work in schools and agencies, at conferences, and in mass disaster settings such as the Southeast Asian Tsunami and the Oslo Massacre.

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