A few weeks ago, I watched the highly trending movie, Bird Box. In short, it involved survival of a woman and her children against an unknown force that took the form of their worst fears. If you see it, you die. Every character, including the kids, were constantly on high-alert of the life-threatening situation. Just to set the scenes, each child was only named Boy and Girl to ‘protect’ them from becoming attached should Malorie (main character) die and they were not allowed to hear stories of seeing/playing in the outside world again. Ever. They were to remain blindfolded whilst outdoors at all times. Should they hear a noise, the children were ordered to ignore it and continue with their task no matter how tempted they may be. You can imagine as children, they would be frightened and curious of what the mysterious and deadly entity may be.
After a long, dangerous journey, Malorie and her two children reached a safe-house filled with other survivors. At last, she began to express her love to the children and gave them freedom to be kids again; to play and explore in their new community home. Malorie also gave each child a proper name, honouring people she had lost in her life.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
According to American psychologist and humanistic theorist, Abraham Maslow, human needs can be categorised in the form of a pyramid (as above). He suggested that once a person has their basic needs met (physiological, safety, belonging etc), they can move up the pyramid of needs to ultimately reach self-actualisation/self-transcendence.
It is important to remember though that varying personal circumstances can result in fluctuating between these “stages”. Cultural factors like language and community beliefs can also affect a child reaching developmental milestones.
As stated in the pyramid above, all children deserve and need to feel safe in their environment, food, water and shelter, a sense of belonging and self-esteem. As children mature and their brains develop, their cognitive, aesthetic and self-actualisation needs can be met.
The Importance of Play
For children, being able to have unstructured play time allows them to develop social, cognitive and emotional skills. Play also gives children the freedom to express themselves through re-enactment and creativity. Further more, play time helps in learning and monitoring emotions of themselves and others.
The Stress Response (AKA the fight-or-flight response).
As it sounds, the stress response is simply how we respond to a stressful situation. Physiological changes occur in our bodies to prepare us to either “fight” or “take flight” (run) from a threat. It is said to be an evolutionary defence mechanism to ensure the survival of the human race.
For young children, stress responses to trauma can vary. Some children find it difficult to talk about the event while others repeat the event constantly. Other children may use their creativity to process an ‘alternate ending’. As I saw in the movie, Malorie’s children ’emotionally shut down’ in response to constant danger. There was no time to process emotions. They needed to survive.
Children may not have the capability to fight or run when faced with a stressful situation, which is why it is important that we do our best to provide for their needs like shelter, safety and belonging.
Bird Box in real life – the signs.
In order to help support children in the best way possible, it is important to know what signs to look for.
Signs of trauma/stress in children aged 3-12 years old:
- Shutting down/withdrawing from everyday experiences
- New/increased clingy behaviour towards a parent, carer or a staff member
- Sleeping difficulties and nightmares
- Drawing or re-enacting a traumatic event
- Tantrums, grumpiness or misbehaving at home/in school
- Complaints of unexplained headaches or tummy aches
- Fearful of the traumatic event being their fault
- Regression – reverting to a former/underdeveloped state in terms of speech or going to the toilet
- Forgetfulness or difficulty concentrating
How can we support children who have experienced trauma?
First, it is important to provide a safe environment. Like Malorie and her partner, they did their best to provide shelter from the elements as well as from the dangerous entity. As adults, carers or staff members, it is our duty to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable.
Another way to support a child, is to talk with them about what happened. Being heard can be powerful for a child experiencing distressing emotions. This can build trust and form a safe bond for children to feel secure to face life’s challenges.
If the trauma is severe, or if the child is suffering from a mental illness caused by a traumatic event, another form of support could be seeking the help of a mental health professional.
In Australia, there are many organisations here to help support, educate, treat and fight for children. I have listed them below.
- Early Trauma Grief Centre
- Australian Childhood Foundation
- Australian Childhood Trauma Group
- Kids Matter
- Neuroscience, Psychology and Childhood Trauma (PDF)
I believe the children are our future. Teach them well and let them lead the way. Show them all the beauty they possess inside.Greatest Love of All – Whitney Houston
As always, stay well friends x