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  • Writer's pictureJane

Trauma in kids: here's how you can help

Updated: Nov 12, 2023

Image by Andreas on Freepik
"When we create a culture of silence, we give violence power." [1]

This statement hit hard. The effects of childhood victimization and trauma are far-reaching. Violence is not something that happened to 'someone else's kid' and that 'they' can figure out privately as a family and move on from. The community's latest youth suicide attempt wasn't about seeking attention, just as the most recent meltdown in class wasn't because the kid's 'just a problem kid.' Violence needs to be faced, talked about and dealt with. When we respond to trauma with silence or condemn kids' reactive behaviours rather than ask, "what's up?" we support further violence: violence in the form of long-lasting mental, physical, and social illness and, most importantly, re-victimization. A child who is left to 'deal' without consistent support from a trusted adult will continue to experience the effects of violence throughout their lifetime [2]. In my case, this meant another rape and several abusive relationships.

Image from @rebelthriver on Instagram

First, let's look at some facts from StatCan ... [3]

  • 27% of Canadians over age 15 (28% women/26% men) experienced physical or sexual abuse before age 15.

  • 69% of those physically abused as children said that it was by a parent or step-parent.

  • Only 7.7% of those who were physically or sexually abused reported the abuse to police or child protective services before age 15 (9.6% of women and 5,7% of men).

  • Almost 2/3 of Canadians (65% women/62% men) have experienced "harsh parenting" (neglect, emotional abuse, spanking or slapping) as children.

  • Indigenous people, the elderly, and gay, lesbian and bisexual people were more likely to have been victimized as children.

  • 44% of Canadians had witnessed a parent or guardian act violently towards another adult within their household.

  • 30% of people who were victimized as children report having seriously contemplated suicide as adults (as compared to 10% of people who were not victimized as children)

  • People who had been abused as children were more than six times more likely to have been homeless at some point during their lives.

  • Victims of childhood abuse were twice as likely to report poor mental health as adults and 1.3 times as likely to report poor general health.

  • 69% of victims (73% women/64% men) of childhood abuse experienced abuse again during adulthood.

  • Childhood victimization statistics were consistent among provinces.

StatCan doesn't mention the rate of incarceration for people who have been victimized as children. Although I couldn't find the statistics for Canadians, according to the author and TedX presenter of "Rethinking Trauma: What Youth from Domestic Violence Have to Teach Us," 82% of incarcerated adults in the U.S. are survivors of domestic violence.

My own experience of childhood sexual assault (that was ignored by the adults in my life) got me expelled from school at age 15, landed me in youth protection from age 16-18, with an abortion and suicide attempt at age 17, and then on to couch-surfing from age 18-19. Along the way, it was mainly luck and patient police officers that saved me from a criminal record. Many of my friends who were also victims of childhood trauma are currently dead, suffering from addictions, or in jail. The difference? I had access to some trusted, if not consistent, adults. This didn't keep me from getting involved with abusive men, but it did help me survive - in a relative way (I'm not dead, addicted to anything, or in jail).

Photo by cottonbro studio:

So, what can you do?

What an uncomfortable subject to broach with a kid. I mean ... what if we fuck it up? Will we turn into part of the problem? Will calling attention to the abuse somehow make it worse? But what if we don't address it ... then what? (hint: stats speak)

I've been in both camps, as a kid who needed support and as an adult who provided support. Neither camp is an easy place to be, but the adult has the power to help change the trajectory of a child's life for the better, possibly even save a life [2]. In her TedX presentation, youth counsellor and survivor of family violence Uchenna Umeh [4] explains that kids who can find one trusted adult in their lives may learn to thrive again and avoid re-victimization [4]. Here are her suggestions for identifying and supporting a child in need.

Identifying the signs that a child is at risk and in need of support (beyond physical signs):

  1. If the child often or randomly talks about death and dying

  2. The child relays feelings of shame, hopelessness, and worthlessness (this could be relayed in words, but most likely a demeanour)

  3. Anti-social or reckless behaviour that puts the child or others at risk

What you can do:

  1. Tune in. Please tune in to their frequency and pay attention.

  2. Ask questions. Ask "What happened?" Never ask why. If you suspect the child is suicidal, ask them - mentioning suicide does not encourage suicide, but it can help you help them.

  3. Lean in and listen. Offer empathy and compassion, not judgment.

  4. Keep communication lines open and get help. Relay that they can rely on you for support. See the helpline links at the end of this blog post.

Another quote that caught me during my research for this post was made by TedX presenter and survivor of childhood sexual abuse, Grace Tame [5]. When speaking about the grooming processes involved in sexual abuse, she discussed societal power structures and how they protect perpetrators. She says, "Those who abuse power don't want us to understand grooming because it is a cornerstone of all corruption, from the bottom to the very top of society." And then she said something that grabbed me completely:

"It takes a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to protect a perpetrator."

This statement grabbed me because of how starkly true it is. When we are silent about abuse - when we ignore the signs in a child's behaviour, and when we punish a misbehaving kid rather than tune in and listen - we don't only protect perpetrators, we encourage others to do the same through our example. Our duty as adults is to tune in, ask questions, listen, offer consistent support, seek help and report.

If you enjoyed reading this post, please let me know by liking/sharing it on social media. Thank you for helping spread awareness on how to help child victims of violence.

If you think that you or someone you know is being abused, call (in Canada):

BC: VictimLinkBC: 1-800-563-0808

AB: Family Violence Information Line: 1-780-310-1818

SK: Mobile Crisis 24/7 Helpline: 306-757-0127

MB: Domestic Abuse Crisis Line: 1-877-977-0007

ON: Victim 24/7 Support Line: 1-888-579-2888

QC: SOS violence conjugale 24/7: 1-800-363-9010 (bilingual service available)

NB: Chimo Helpline: 1-800-667-5005

PEI: Island Help Line: 1-800-218-2885

NS: Neighbours, Friends and Families (Abuse and Violence Support Line): 1-855-225-0220 NL: NL Sexual Assault Crisis and Prevention Centre 24/7 Support and Information Line: 1-800-726-2743

Nunavut: Kamatsiaqut Nunavut Helpline: 1-800-265-3333

NWT: NWT Help Line: 1-800-661-0844

YK: VictimLinkBC: 1-800-563-0808

Resource list

[1] "Violence Against Women: The End Begins With Men." Patricia Shea, TEDx

[2] "Rethinking Trauma: What Youth From Domestic Violence Have to Teach Us," Tracey Pyscher, TEDxWWU

[3] "Profile of Canadians who experienced victimization during childhood, 2018" by Loanna Heidinger, StatCan.

[4] "Trauma in Children: what you can do to help," Uchenna Umeh, TEDxAlief

[5] "To stop abuse, we first need to understand grooming" | Grace Tame | TEDxSydney

[6] "How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across a Lifetime," Nadine Burke Harris, TED

[7] "Suicide," World Health Organisation

[8] "Trauma-informed Care," Crisis Prevention Institute.

[9] Domestic Violence From A Son's Perspective," Adam Herbst, TEDx Park City Youth

[10] It's Time to Talk About Psychological and Verbal Abuse," Lizzy Glazer, TEDx Phillips Academy Andover

[11] "You're Going To Be OK: Healing From Childhood Trauma," Katy Pasquariello, TEDx Youth@AnnArbor

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