The doorway to providing Trauma Informed Care opens when care providers understand a person’s behavioral difficulties as that person’s best attempt to manage profound on-going fears and other difficult feelings held in their nervous system, and often expressed through their emotions, thoughts and actions.
Trauma Informed Care with children is characterized by kindness as well as a resolute commitment to viewing behaviors and symptoms as adaptations, rather than blaming the individual or punishing them for these problems – in the service of helping them develop new abilities and capacities for managing everyday life. Trauma-informed Care is based upon recent findings in the study of how experiences shape a person’s brain and bodily experience.
The hallmarks of Trauma-informed Care are:
- Emphasis on the development of self-soothing strategies for the whole nervous system including both emotions and body.
- Non-judgmental, non-blaming, spirit of engagement. Playful, empathetic, curious, nurturing.
- Emphasis on providing the person with the supports they need to have successful experiences, such as pre-teaching, sensory resources, encouraging relationships, realistic challenges, practice of self-regulation skills, a routine that provides fun, nurturance, mastery, and feelings of safety and hope.
- A constructive response to problem behaviors involving reflection, repair and practice to do better in the future.
- Support to help the person recognize and predict conditions that may overwhelm them, and plan ahead how to avoid a destructive result.
In can be helpful in understanding Trauma-informed Care to contrast it with responses characterized by the attitude that the person “should know better.” That approach tends to follow the principles of delivering justice: A person will behavior better if they suffer for their misbehavior and get rewarded for complying with expectations.
Sometimes the distinction between helpful accountability and unhelpful accountability can seem subtle, but it is very important. Punishing someone for not having a skill they have yet to develop fosters feelings like bitterness, self-loathing, hopelessness and resentment. Providing logical and natural responses to problems helps a person see why learning to do better is important. For example, if my piano teacher yells at me for my mistakes I feel like quitting lessons. If my teacher says, “Well you aren’t ready to play for others yet. If you get the hang of this we can set up a recital for your family and friends. I’ll help you get there.” That may mobilize me to try harder.