Relationships between trauma-sensitive educators and traumatized children must include both nurture and challenge. When should educators lean more into nurturing? And, when is it better to challenge? Read the post below to better understand answers to these questions. You’ll also learn how to lend a hand for traumatized youth to encourage young children to move from dependence to independence.
Trust and regulation difficulties are common, especially early on in relationships with students who have experienced too much stress for too long in their earliest years of life. Children or teens may show patterns of withdrawal or instead, be overly clingy. Others may engage in push/pull patterns. Educators may feel like a student is saying, “I need you. Get away from me.” Often, youth feelings may be too much or not enough. Many students who have been traumatized have difficulty soothing their own distress and may not trust others to help them with their big feelings. Others shut down in their reactions instead.
Beginning Relationship Patterns
In the beginning, adults often need to responsively meet the needs of traumatized youth as quickly as possible. Similarly, you will likely need to rely on coregulation when students are distressed. Think adult noticing, adult going towards, and adult doing their best to figure out how to comfort and help the child or adolescent get regulated. As this repeats predictably over time, youth will experience being dependent on adults to meet their needs in safe, nurturing ways. Trust develops. Likewise, patterns of regulation become established too.
Readiness for More Independence
As kids develop within the dance of relationships, they can become ready for more independence. Expect this change to be gradual and nonlinear. Some days, a student may come to an educator, seeking comfort or help. Other days, the adult will still need to notice and go to them to offer nurturing assistance. Eventually, educators can help challenge youth to be more independent as they grow in their capacity for self-regulation.
Deciding Between Nurture and Challenge
When should educators nurture students? And, when should they challenge youth to grow instead? It’s not always easy to decide, and you will misjudge it sometimes. Keep in mind that any person’s capacity for independent regulation changes from moment to moment. It’s influenced by other demands, one’s physiological wellness (or illness), and whether someone is tired, hungry, lonely, upset, or stressed. Generally speaking, the goal is to move from dependence towards independence, but it’s a process–marked by steps forward and steps back along the way.
Lend a Hand by Saying,”I’m Here When You’re Ready”
Here’s one idea for starting the move toward independence when a young student who has experienced trauma is ready for it. Imagine the little ones is in distress. Perhaps they move away from you or crawl under something instead of coming to you for connection. Consider trying to go partway towards them but not all the way. If they’re under a table, for instance, you might sit on a stool near them instead of going underneath. Then, lend a hand by holding out your hand while saying, “I’m here when you’re ready.” Wait for them to take steps to come the rest of the way to you. Eventually, they can take your hand if they want to. These powerful moments are a metaphor for how relationships (and expectations within them) change as youth heal and grow. Both people share responsibility for working together toward healthy growth.
In conclusion, remember that all people, adults included, need relationships with others throughout the lifespan. Complete self-regulation or independence is never the goal. Rather, folks establish a personally and culturally influenced rhythm that goes back and forth between nurture and challenge, connection and separation, as well as dependence and independence. Healthy relationships create space for it all.
To Learn More…
To learn more about how to navigate the path from dependence to independence within trauma-sensitive relationships at school, sign up to attend Ms. Jen’s level III training. Specifically, educators will learn how attachment patterns impact relationships at school. Furthermore, they will explore interventions that help both students and staff heal from overwhelming stress responses. Join us or connect with Ms. Jen to learn how to bring this training to your teams by emailing email@example.com. Or, find upcoming opportunities on my events page.
Remember, relationships first!
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