Last time I wrote about a few lessons my dad taught me as he was going through the last stages of Alzheimer’s disease with an application to living with traumatized children. Here are a few more of those lessons:
Avoiding power struggles with traumatized children
“Why do I need to take these pills? I don’t need them!!” Rather than fight my father who does not understand why he needs pills and is very angry I say, “Let’s take a break”. I know that I can always change his mood with a cookie. We sit down with a cookie or brownie and talk a bit. After a few minutes he is in a calmer place and I slip him his pill. What a difference a little break makes. You may not want to use sugar with your children like I do with my father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s but the idea of taking a break is sound. Why try to reason with a child that is not operating out of the reasoning part of the brain? We know that kids recovering from trauma go to the survival part of the brain for fight or flight when they get stressed. Once they calm you may be able to talk with them and get them to comply. At least the processing part of the brain is available.
Children recovering from trauma go quickly to survival brain
My mother was out with my father who has Alzheimer’s. He tried to get out of the car because he was angry. She stopped at a gas station for help and while she was in the station he got out of the car. A kind lady picked him up because he was stumbling in the parking lot. She took him to the grocery store because that’s where he said he was going. When mom came back to the car he had disappeared. After calls to 911 and a visit by the fire department and the police my father and mother were reunited.
When I got out of a meeting at work I discovered five frantic calls on my cell phone from my mom saying she lost my dad. I raced home to help and thought I was quite calm considering the events of the day until I found my coffee cup in the refrigerator. When we are traumatized we go to the survival part of our brain and don’t think clearly. This made me think how futile it is to try to talk with a child in survival brain. Children that have experienced trauma quickly go to a state of alarm and terror when they are stressed. Best to wait until they are calm before you talk with them because, like me, they could look normal but not really have access to the more complex parts of the brain to think things through. I am thankful that I do not have to operate in survival brain many times everyday like children recovering from trauma.
P.S. Everyday I miss my dad, his whole life he loved me unconditionally.
If you would like to read more about Family Christian Counseling Centers approach to dealing with traumatized children please click on the link.