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Understanding trauma can help build wellness and resilience

sad girl standing in the treesTraumatic events happen to people of all ages, including very young children. By recognizing the signs of trauma and providing trauma-focused solutions, we help children build the resilience that enables them to heal and recover, moving towards wellness.At kidsLINK, we have a 150 plus-year history of working with trauma. The very first children cared for here had been traumatized by a devastating fire, left orphaned and in need of the safety of a home and love. Our legacy, left to us by the School Sisters of Notre Dame, is one of building resilience and overcoming trauma.

When a child is traumatized

Trauma can involve a single experience or events endured or repeated over time.

A child can be traumatized by many things: an automobile accident, an injury to themselves or a caregiver, physical or sexual abuse, witnessing violence in the home or community, the death or loss of a loved one or a natural disaster, such as a fire, hurricane or earthquake. Even adult actions that leave a child feeling powerless can be traumatic.

The aftermath of a traumatic event can cause terror, fear, feelings of helplessness and acute physical reactions. And the effects of trauma can quickly get in the way of a child’s ability to learn and develop physically, emotionally and spiritually.

We know that trauma can affect the brain, mind and behaviour of even the youngest child.

Research shows that trauma can damage a child’s ability to learn, form relationships and function in society. Children who have been traumatized may experience depression, anxiety, withdrawal, difficulty eating and sleeping, emotional upset and behavioural changes. They often have difficulties at school, and may be fearful or aggressive when dealing with adults or other children.

When traumatized, children may see themselves, others and the world with a view that incorporates the trauma. It can affect the way they act and react to almost everything, including treatment.

By being trauma-focused and separating trauma from other mental health issues, we are able to treat and intervene more effectively. We believe it is essential to be trauma-focused and aware from the very onset of working with a child and family. If not, unknown factors may trigger the child’s reactions or behaviours. A playground swing or a bicycle may set in motion a child’s traumatic experience. Even exposure to something like eyeglasses, certain words or a colour may alter the way a child behaves because children who have experienced trauma are constantly at risk of being re-traumatized.

By being trauma-focused we are sensitive to trauma-related issues throughout the treatment. We use that information to design a treatment program that takes into account the specific vulnerabilities of the child and family.

Taking steps to recognize the signs of trauma and help children build resilience

At kidsLINK we offer Trauma Focused Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. This evidenced-based treatment approach is helping to build a unified and shared methodology on how to assess and treat trauma, providing consistency in all our programs.

What has happened to this child or family?

While traditional treatment addresses a child who is exhibiting behavioural problems by asking, “What is wrong with this child or family?” kidsLINK’s trauma-focused approach recognizes that a child’s behaviour is often a way of coping with painful situations or past trauma.

The question is: “What has happened to this child or family?”

One child. One narrative. Overcoming trauma…one child at a time.

For 11-year-old Jesse, taking a trauma-focused approach meant recognizing that the behaviour he exhibited was not simply unfounded defiance and aggression. This behaviour was Jesse’s way of taking control, the lasting effect of a traumatic event in his home, which had left Jesse feeling powerless and alone.

With the support and encouragement of kidsLINK’s therapists and staff, and working closely with family members, Jesse was able to work through the difficult task of developing his own trauma narrative. Through this narrative, Jesse was able to explore the trauma and uncover misunderstandings regarding the event. By having willing family members involved, there was an opportunity to assume responsibility, greatly lessening the burden Jesse had imposed upon himself.

Jesse’s parents are also learning new ways to maintain discipline at home and how to communicate effectively with Jesse in light of the trauma. As Jesse and his family move forward, they’re building their resilience, learning effective ways to handle stress and making better choices for family wellness.


kidsLINK defines

“Trauma is an emotional wound resulting from a shocking event or multiple and repeated life threatening or extremely frightening experiences that may cause lasting negative effects on a person, disrupting the path of healthy physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual development.”

Trauma-informed Resources

kidsLINK defines “resilience”

“Resilience is the ability to show positive adaptation, handle stress, overcome disadvantage, recover from trauma and use opportunities to grow and learn in the face of adversity.”

(Adapted from Masden

Resilience Resources

kidsLINK defines “wellness”

“Wellness is an interactive process of becoming aware of and practicing healthy choices to create a more successful and balanced lifestyle.”

Wellness Resources