Traumatic Response: First-Aid

One of the first things that we must do in responding to our children and students’ trauma is what I term holding another’s heart. Again, this holding of the heart requires an attentiveness to the physical and emotional heart. Dr. Levine and Kline, (2007), provide a step-by-step guide that proves helpful in holding our students’ hearts.

(Levine & Kline, 2007, pp. 101-105)

  1. Check your own body’s response first
    “Take time to notice your own level of fear or concern… The time it takes to establish a sense of calm is time well spent. It will increase your capacity to attend fully to your child.”
  2. Assess the situation
    “If the child shows signs of shock (glazed eyes, pale skin, rapid or shallow pulse and breathing, disorientation, overly emotional or overly tranquil affect, or acting like nothing has happened), do not allow her to jump up and return to play.”
  3. As the shock wears off, guide your child’s attention to his sensations
    “Softly ask your child how he feels ‘in his body.’ Repeat his answer as a question-“You feel okay in your body?’-and wait for a nod or other response. Be more specific with the next question: ‘How do you feel in your tummy (head, arm, leg, etc.)?’ If he mentions a distinct sensation, gently ask about its location, size, shape, colour, or weight (e.g. heavy or light). Keep guiding your child to stay with the present moment with questions such as, ‘How does the rock (sharpness, lump ‘owie,’ sting) feel now?’ If she is too young or too startled to talk, have her point to where it hurts. (Remember that children tend to describe sensations with metaphors such as ‘hard as a rock.’)
  4. Slow down and follow your child’s pace by careful observation of change
    “This may be the hardest part for the adult; but it’s the most important for the child. Allowing a minute or two of silence between questions allows deeply restorative physiological cycles to engage. Too many questions asked too quickly disrupt the natural course… This process, [the release of energy], cannot be rushed… Keep your child focused on sensations for a few more minutes just to make sure the process is complete. Wait to see if another cycle begins or if there is a sense of enough for now. If your child shows signs of fatigue, stop. There will be other opportunities to complete the process.
  5. Keep Validating your child’s physical responses
    “Resist the impulse to stop your child’s tears or trembling, while reminding him that whatever has happened is over and that he will be OK. Your child’s reactions need to continue until they stop on their own. This part of the natural cycle usually takes from one to several minutes… crying and trembling are normal, healthy reactions!
  6. Trust in your child’s innate ability to heal
    As you become increasingly comfortable with your own sensations, it will be easier to relax and follow your child’s lead. Your primary function, once the process has begun, is to not disrupt it! Trust your child’s innate ability to heal… Your job is to ‘stay with’ your child, creating a safe container… to avoid unintentional disruption of the process, don’t shift the child’s position, distract her attention, hold him too tightly, or position yourself too close or too far away for comfort. Notice when your child begins to re-orient to the environment. Orientation is a sign of completion.
  7. Encourage your child to rest even if she doesn’t want to
    Deep discharges generally continue during rest and sleep. Do not stir up discussion about the mishap by asking questions…If a lot of energy was mobilized, the release will continue. The next cycle may be too subtle for you to notice, but the rest promotes a fuller recovery, allowing the body to gently vibrate, give off heat, go through skin colour changes, etc., as the nervous system returns to relaxation and equilibrium.
  8. The final step is to attend to your child’s emotional responses
    Later, when your child is rested and calm-even the next day-set aside some time for her to talk about her feelings and what she experienced. Begin by asking the child to tell you what happened… Help your child to know that those feelings are good and that you understand… Let the youngster know that whatever she is feeling is OK and worthy of your time and attention…

After we have done our job as frontline responders when trauma manifests itself in our classroom, we have the task of mitigating any further damage. Mind you this mitigation is distinct from the role of trained therapists who will take a deeper and more focused approach at systematically arranging proper activities to reset a traumatized child’s nervous system. However, we can aid this process through various types of play.

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