Making It Real!

A Guide to implementing trauma-informed care in child-serving settings

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Here are some more examples of how our language shapes our thinking which shapes our actions:

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“We had a girl named Megan who was cutting to be manipulative. She was doing it to get discharged and go to a place like detention where she wouldn’t have to work on her issues.”

What are the assumptions behind this statement? How does it differ from this statement?

“Megan has been working on some difficult issues recently. This has brought up some painful feelings and she has begun cutting for relief. Sometimes she doesn’t even want to work on her issues and wishes she were in a place like detention where she wouldn’t be in treatment.”

Same facts, different assumptions, leading us to different responses.

Or, consider a staff member talking about a child who says mean things: “There is nothing you can do about Jesse. We have tried everything. Jesse just likes making other people feels bad. He admits it. It makes him happy to hurt others.”

Someone describing the cutting of a foster daughter: “she just wants the foster mother to feel sorry for her.”

Do you agree that the phrase “feel sorry for her” connotes an illegitimate need, something that she shouldn’t want or need? Doesn’t it imply that she is trying to get some kind of unwarranted or excessive response? Also, this phrase implies that we should resist feeling sorry for her- and by extension resist coddling her, fussing over her, or being sympathetic. Yet some cuddling and caring may be just what she needs.

We make these casual comments constantly in our many discussions about the kids. Yet by each comment we are expressing a theory, an understanding of why they are doing these things. And at times it is a theory that blames the child and implicitly accuses him or her of doing the behavior deliberately to annoy us.

When we make these comments we forget that the child is doing the best she can, that her fears and needs are legitimate to her, and that she is using the only means she has to meet them. She will only be able to change when she feels safety within committed relationships, and when she gradually learns new skills.

Try monitoring the conversation where you work, and see what assumptions are expressed in the casual comments about the children. Click on “comment” to let me know what you discover.

it is important to stop and challenge ourselves. One comment can lead to an entire attitude that will infect our response to the child and interfere with the child’s healing.

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