Perhaps the first time you were afraid was before you overcame the fear of a new animal, like right before you realized dogs were friendly. Maybe it was the first time your parents or caregivers dropped you off at childcare for a whole day and you cried because strangers, although friendly people, surrounded you. These first fears were manageable, and overcoming them prepared you for your encounter with a more unpleasant feeling, stress.
Stress is different from those first fears. You might have experienced a little stomachache or the sensation of touching a cold object with your hands. Tears may have flowed as you became frustrated with the outside world and felt, what you would later call it, overwhelmed. This might have happened after your parent’s bitter separation. Eventually you recovered from the stress of these serious events and felt safe again. The protection and guidance of caring adults helped you cope with these incidences. This is, most likely, what prevented you from experiencing traumatic stress, the challenge our Therapeutic Preschool students often experience.
If you are one of our students, you are under the age of five, have experienced some form of sexual or physical abuse, or domestic violence, and you might live in a community struggling with violence and poverty. Like other children, you have experienced those first fears and some stress. But you have also felt confusion, helplessness, and what you will one day call trauma. The last time you felt safe seems like a long time ago. You startle easily. You feel overwhelmed by new and unknown emotions. You feel tired. Your stomach hurts often.
Concentrating on games is hard, images of your trauma keep coming back and you're unsure if they're real or part of a bad dream. You don't know whom to trust. It seems like adults are always angry. You want to feel protected so at times you act aggressively. You try to talk about how you feel, but you lack the words and don’t know how to express yourself. Learning becomes difficult because your mind is bombarded with negative thoughts, nightmares, and recurring fears of being in danger. The traumatic stress soon becomes tiring, frightful, and very confusing. Your caregivers are worried. They want to help you. They know there's nothing wrong with you, but a lot has happened.
At Family Resources, we understand trauma is what happens when your ability to cope is maxed out. In children, this can have a long-term impact on health and mechanisms to cope with stress. We also understand that children can and do recover from trauma. As one of our students you participate in therapeutic play, daily check-ins on feelings, yoga, and in a specialized curriculum designed to help you express and recognize your emotions. We also engage your caregivers and encourage them to participate in our services, such as counseling. We understand affording childcare can be a great challenge. That's why if you have a history of trauma, you can attend our Preschool free of charge.
You can help us make children feel safe again by learning more about trauma, spreading the word, and supporting Family Resources.
Written by Dany Diaz Mejia