When Trauma Is Ongoing

Helping preschoolers

When we think of preschoolers who experience trauma, we might think of a child who has gone through a tornado or house fire, a car accident, or witnessed a violent event. These are all one-time events, even though the consequences of these events might last a long time. What about preschoolers who deal with trauma on a regular basis? I’m thinking of a preschooler who is dealing with a serious chronic health condition or has a family member with a continuing health condition. Some preschoolers live with the ongoing trauma of living with a parent who has an addiction or substance abuse disorder. Other examples are preschoolers who live with a parent or sibling who has mental illness or those who live in a household in which there is domestic violence and emotional abuse. These preschoolers live in a constant state of fear because their trauma is ongoing.

As preschool teachers at church, we may not be formally educated in working with preschoolers who experience ongoing trauma, but we can have an understanding of things we can do to help this child in the time he is in our care at church.

  • Make Mission Friends a safe place for the preschooler. As an adult, 3 friends have told me that they love Girls in Action (GA) because as a child, GA was a safe place for them to be. It was a place where they knew they were loved, and they could be away from the trauma for a short time each week. I think our Mission Friends classes can be that safe place for preschoolers. Preschoolers need to feel loved at church. We can provide a nurturing atmosphere for preschoolers.

  • Understand the preschooler’s behavior. Studies have shown that living with trauma effects a child’s development and actually makes changes within the brain. If there is a preschooler who is dealing with ongoing trauma, he may show regressive behaviors such as thumb sucking, bathroom accidents, or baby talk. The preschooler may not be able to concentrate on 1 activity for as long as others his age. When you note behaviors such as this, respond in ways to help the preschooler rather than responding out of frustration.

  • Pay attention to non-verbal messages you give to the preschooler through your body language and facial expressions. Do you stand above the preschooler and talk to him with your arms crossed in front of you? Or do you sit beside him to talk with him at eye level? Preschoolers pick up on non-verbal communication.

  • Provide a predictable schedule. The preschooler finds comfort in knowing what will happen next. Following the same schedule helps the preschooler know that things are in control. If there will be a change to the schedule, let the preschooler know beforehand so he can be prepared for something new.

  • Most importantly, make sure Mission Friends is a time when the preschooler hears about God’s love and feels His loving care through you. Say Bible thoughts about God’s love and care, such as Do not be afraid. God is with you wherever you go (see Josh. 1:9). In a time when the preschooler feels he has no control over the trauma in his life, we can give him the comfort of knowing that God is always with us.

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