Everyone has a range of tolerance of things that go wrong in a normal day. Traffic, misunderstandings, mistakes and conflict cause us to react and bring us to the brink of our tolerance. We can also find ways to moderate our feelings by doing something we enjoy or sleeping or doing something physical that gets the body moving and oxygen flowing. If something is bad enough that a person has difficulty handling the event, the body reacts as if it is in danger. The pulse beats faster, the individual is fearful, anxious, has extreme emotions, and can’t think as well. That person is focused on surviving. If someone lives in an environment where there are often situations that are above their tolerance, the body will stay in a near constant state of danger. Even after a person is out of a dangerous environment, it takes a long time for the body to calm down and move back into a normal range of tolerance.
If you are caring for a child that was in an environment like this, normal behaviors that you might see because of this bodily sense of danger are:
- Sleep Disturbances
- Delayed physical and mental development
- Poor Focus
The body tries to create a way to handle the overwhelming feelings of danger so you might also see children do one or more of these things:
- emotional numbing
- Self-soothing behaviors such as thumb sucking, rocking, or self-harming
Adults who grew up in dangerous environments might find that they are often:
- Short tempered
- Humiliate others
- Appear disinterested
- Lacking emotions
- Not trying to solve problems
- Lacking eye contact
In their own adult way, this is how an adult with trauma may deal with their own perceived threats of danger.
As you might imagine, adults and children with trauma in their lives living together might have a hard time staying calm. As an adult, the task falls to you to try to stay calm yourself in order to help the child calm himself and bring the body out of the perceived danger zone. Draw from your beliefs, your values, your support system to help you keep calm and slow to react. There are wonderful apps for mindfulness and meditation to work pauses into your day so that you parent in a relaxed body. You will find if you can slow your reactions, and relax your muscles in a tense situation that you feel better about yourself, and your child and others around you will feel calmer in your presence.
Rhoton, R. (2017). Transformative care: A trauma-focused approach to caregiving. Arizona Trauma Institute. Phoenix, AZ.