In our latest Instagram Live session “Helping Children Through Trauma”, we were joined by Robin Blumenthal!
Robin is a trainer, speaker, event organiser and a new author – having written her first book during Covid. Her book, “Where in the Zoo Are You?” is a children’s book, with resources to help children talk about their emotions, including those triggered by traumatic events like a global pandemic.
In the session, Robin discusses children, the effects of trauma, and how we can help mitigate those effects. She spoke about early childhood adversity, the trauma caused by COVID, and other current struggles in our world that children might be dealing with. Robin also covers the important roles of active listening, mindfulness, the power of presence, and various tools that parents, educators, and caregivers can use to help our children feel safe, heard, and valued.
We’ve compiled a list of the most interesting and beneficial tidbits of information from the session for your easy reading…
How do you help children build that resilience, are there any certain ways that you can help them become stronger with this trauma?
I think there are a couple of things. One resilience is helping to see that I have the strength to get through something to kind of bounce back to, to be able to stay at it when it’s hard. That’s resilience when you keep trying through hard things. So one of the things to point it out, when we see that in our kids, the things they do that are resilient, when our kids were doing school online, that was tremendously hard, and to say, “I know that’s hard, but every day you’re logging in and you’re trying” and pointing that out to kids. So I think celebrating the small things is super important in building resilience.
How do you deal with children that aren’t as vocal about their thoughts and feelings?
There is Sarah, the opossum in the story, who just shuts down and is the zookeepers find her there at first, afraid that maybe she’s passed away, but they realised she had just shut down. That’s one of the things that our brain does, sometimes to help us survive is that fight-flight or in this case, freeze. For some people, that’s more of their go-to. And when that happens, we have to give people the space to tell their brains to feel safe again. We talk about how the animals had to keep loving on Sarah and give her patient encouragement while they waited for her to feel safe.
Because with safety, I can tell you “Oh this will be fine. You’re going to be fine, or you’ll do great on this.” But maybe they don’t feel like that. So how do we help a child feel safe? Certainly, it’s about being present with them. I might just stand next to them for a while. It may take several days before they really are able to verbalise what it is that they are thinking or what they were afraid of. So it’s about being present for them when they need it.
It’s quite a big thing to take on if you are a teacher or you’re a trusted adult, and a child entrusted that information with you, How do you have any practical advice or tips for someone in that position?
The natural first thought is “I’m going to help you. I want to help you solve it.” But normally that’s not really what that person really needs. And in that moment, a lot of times what someone needs is they need to feel validated. They need you to say, “Hey, it’s OK” or “anybody would be afraid in that situation. Anybody would be worried” And so it gives us that common thing. So as an educator or somebody who’s listening to a child who’s sharing something very deep affirm them, that however they’re feeling, it’s OK to feel that way.
It’s really hard sometimes because we want to fix it. And sometimes if we realise and we come back and say “yesterday you were sharing about this hard thing, and I don’t think I was there for you. I was trying to fix it, but I’d like you to know that I’d like to try again. Could I listen better this time?” And I think that that’s really powerful for those of us who would like to fix and sometimes forget that really what we need to do is just listen.
What tips do you have for active listening? And does storytelling play a part in that?
I think absolutely storytelling can do that, especially with children and using teachable moments and open conversations. Whether you’re using, you know, the zoo book, you know where in the zoo, where you or any of the books that are on the website, many of them can lead to a conversation. “How would you feel if you were the girl in this story? How would you feel?” And they’re such great insight in that.
What would be your top tips for parents, educators, and caregivers to manage the effects of trauma?
I think that when we are going through any kind of traumatic experience or stress, like what’s been going on for a lot of us with being two years into the pandemic and then what’s happening in the world right now? We can help give our kids as much control as possible. There are things we can’t control. I might not be able to control whether they have to wear a mask at school or whether they can go about life as they once knew it. But what are the things that I can help them feel in control of? Here’s the thing the trick is it doesn’t even have to be big choices. I can say “Would you like to drink out of the Red Cup or the Blue Cup tonight? Would you like to say that this table end of the table or this end of the table?” And when we feel like we have some control over things, it helps us build that resilience and it helps us feel a little less out of control.
I think probably the biggest thing is just opening the conversation. “How are you doing today? How are you feeling?” if that’s over ice cream, if that’s taking a walk, it’s having a bit of time or space. And if you’re a parent like me and you’ve had teenagers, sometimes that space happens at 10:00 or 11:00 at night. And that’s when the kids want to talk. And I always think I don’t have any energy right now, but I had a friend once say, “I think that’s when our kids come, because that’s when we stopped moving and stopped working, and now they feel that space is there for them to approach us.”
So I think is in this world where there are so many traumatic things going on. We need to be more cognizant of where that space is and how can we make that space? Maybe we turn off all our devices and plan to go to bed early, or even though we may not actually get in bed and just give that space so that those, especially the more introverted of us are, the internal processors can feel safe to come and say, Hey, I want to talk to you about what happened at school today or about this trauma or about my feelings.
How can people contact you?
You can follow me on my Instagram page (@robinjblumenthal), you can also reach me through my email address, which is email@example.com, or via my website which is robinblumenthal.org
If there is somebody that needs any resources, I’m happy to help connect people with professionals or community leaders.