All emergency pedagogical interventions in the first days and weeks after the traumatic events have the goal of activating and strengthening coping strategies and the self-healing power of the child in order to support the processing of his experiences and the prevention of trauma related disorders. For this, primarily the resources of the child are developed.
In the following paragraphs, a basic manual for emergency pedagogical handling of psychotraumata in children and youth is presented.
Coping with traumatising childhood experiences essentially depends on how successfully a child can experience and process his own emotions. Adults take on the role model function for the child in how to deal with emotions. They must allow for the child’s emotions, be interested in them, and support the child in processing them.
It is rarely possible to process a trauma without talking about it. Expression creates distance. Therefore
it is important for traumatised children to verbally process their experiences and emotions, to express them and thereby expel them. This is difficult for traumatised children, and it shouldn’t be forced on them. But suppression and denial as defence mechanisms lead to avoidant behaviours, as can be observed in phobias and compulsions. Also depressive disorders can come about as a result of suppression.
When a child is not able to put his experiences and emotions into words, it is important to find alternative creative means of expression. In writing journals, letters, poems, and stories, a child can process and cope with traumatic experiences, emotions, memories, and thoughts. Through painting and drawing, he can visualize and process traumatic experiences. Making music can help him experience inaccessible emotions and as a result can lead to their processing. Likewise, as with painting and music, sculpting and
kneading release shock frozen emotions.
After a trauma, the life of a child goes off the rails. Rituals are therefore an excellent means for coping with a trauma. In the middle of the inner chaos caused by the trauma, they create new order, orientation, and safety in the child’s everyday life and thereby support the healing process. Important rituals for new structuring are bedtime and morning rituals, mealtime/table rituals, afternoon rest, regular nutrition as
well as ruled and rhythmic daily design.
Rhythm is life. Every rhythmic disorder weakens and leads to emotional unwellness. Traumatised children suffer from the disorder of many essential rhythms, which affects their physical and mental health: digestive rhythms, sleeping rhythms, eating rhythms, rhythms of remembering and forgetting, of excitement and relaxation etc.. Every form of rhythm care strengthens life power, the self-healing power, and with it mental health. Therefore, working consciously with the rhythms of the days, weeks, months, and years has proven to be pedagogically important. An everyday rhythmic design can also help children to process the trauma. Musical rhythm exercises, songs, verses, rhythmic games, drumming, rhythmic clapping exercises etc, have a healing effect on traumatised children.
Many traumatised children are cramped and tense. Their fear literally sits in their limbs. They usually have no desire to move. Movement improves physical and mental health. Athletic activity should
therefore be encouraged in traumatised children: swimming, jogging, horseback riding, tennis etc.
The movement arts of eurythmy and healing eurythmy´are as “visual speech” especially well suited
for connecting movement with inner expression. Bothmer Gymnastics can supplement eurythmy with children starting at age 12. Important is that they experience the space of the body and the polarities of above/below, right/left, front/behind. This can help the traumatised individuals to experience centring in the physical body again. Taking walks together or hiking with the child activate circulation and support balanced breathing. In addition, they deepen the feeling of togetherness. Also there is evidence that walking has a synchronising effect on both of the brain halves, which are split by trauma.
Nutrition affects one’s immune system, health, and physical condition. After a traumatisation, one should pay special attention to eating a balanced, vitamin rich, and fresh diet.
The majority of children are not able to concentrate, are forgetful and easily distracted after a trauma. On top of this, they quickly lose interest. Age appropriate concentration, memory, dexterity, and patience exercises can help to support children. Especially suitable have proven: I-Spy images, puzzles, pick-up-sticks, memory games, mandalas, arts and crafts, etc. Thread games also train brain functions and motor skills.
In games and play, children act out and process the events they have experienced. For traumatised children with experiences of helplessness, these activities can slowly help them win back a feeling of control over the events which caused their traumatisation. Often children project their feelings onto stuffed animals or dolls and through this cope with their traumata. Through playing together with their
attachment persons, they can experience trust, safety, and acceptance. Traumatic play stands in opposition to the freeing power of normal play behaviour. The traumatic play knows no development.
It lacks fantasy and re-traumatises. Therefore, it must be interrupted by adults.
Traumatised children are overexcited and require relaxation.Targeted breathing techniques are useful for positively influencing children's unrest and fear states because physiological fear reactions can be reduced by slowing down the breath. Relaxation stories can help to reduce child fears and overexcitement states. Therefore they help in the child’s coping with the trauma.
After a trauma, children can first look towards the future when they have redeveloped a positive self
image and begin to see their own strengths again. For this it is important that the child experiences
himself as resourceful, energetic, and self effective. Problems are tasks to be solved. Surviving a trauma reveals strengths. Catastrophes can also be used positively, when one gives them meaning. In order to increase the self-worth of a child, he/she needs help to help themselves. In schools, responsibility must be transferred (for example: chalkboard duty), independence supported, bodily mastery practiced, and experiencing success made possible. Especially feeling respected and accepted strengthen the child's feelings of self-worth. If a child accepts and tasks and becomes active, the pedagogue must praise and strengthen them, because traumatised children need a pedagogy of encouragement.
Traumatised children have experienced feelings of helplessness and of their own self-inefficacy. This shapes their long term approach to life. It is pedagogically critical to correct this experience. The lack of activity, often seen in children after a trauma, and the helpless withdrawing can make the negative effects of a psychotrauma worse. Therefore the carrying-out of age appropriate projects is necessary for the processing of a trauma. Handicraft, handwork, ecological horticulture, and theatre projects have proven especially effective. Charitable projects, such as taking on responsibility for others, can also help in the processing of stressful experiences.
Traumatised children have formative, profound experiences of powerlessness and feelings of helplessness behind them. They have forfeited the hope of a designable life.They are also fixated on the past due to their intrusions and flashbacks. Such children need new hope for the future. They must be introduced to future planning in small steps. Suitable examples of this include joint planning of a meal or an upcoming party or trip.
Cultivating religious feelings can orient traumatised children and offer safety and security. Besides this, prayers (grace, evening prayer) can serve as rituals that help to build a rhythmic daily structure. Religion and spiritual roots are strong protection and resilience factors which work against traumatisation.
Joyful moments increase the readiness of an organism to be healthy. Joy, empathy, and positive memories lead to coherence of the heart rhythms as well as to an increase in the production of immunoglobulin A. Experiencing joy strengthens the immune system of traumatised children and activates their self-healing
powers. Joy heals!