As a behaviorist, I have spent many years studying the behavior of young children. My passion drives my desire to know as much as possible about each behavior I see and the child exhibiting that behavior. In a more practical sense, my job as a behaviorist is often to modify, reduce or eliminate problem behaviors in young children. Regardless of the behavior, my starting point is always the same, and that is to attempt to uncover the cause and/or purpose of the child’s behavior. I believe that all behaviors have a root and it is with that information that we have the best chance of making significant and lasting change in that child’s behavior and their life.
In my years of work, some of the most heart wrenching cases I have seen involved children who were victims of some form of trauma or abuse. These children are often referred via some government agency for assessment and evaluation of their behavior. I often learn that the behavior that the child is being referred for is “totally out of character” and didn’t happen until the trauma occurred. I have also noticed that many of the behaviors that teachers and caregivers alike report with the most frequency are those behaviors seen in children who have experienced trauma.
“Children suffering from traumatic stress symptoms generally have difficulty regulating their behaviors and emotions. They may be clingy and fearful of new situations, easily frightened, difficult to console, and/or aggressive and impulsive. They may also have difficulty sleeping, lose recently acquired developmental skills, and show regression in functioning and behavior.” (The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. Downloaded from: http://www.nctsn.org/trauma-types/early-childhood-trauma/Symptoms-and-Behaviors-Associated-with-Exposure-to-Trauma)
Research shows that today’s children experience more trauma and instability in their home lives than children did in the past. Whether it is homelessness, abandonment, or various forms of abuse, many children don’t experience strong, loving, respectful child-adult relationships. Not being able to develop a secure attachment to their primary caregiver is often a characteristic of children seen in early intervention. Children who have not developed a trusting relationship with a primary caregiver often will have difficulty developing a trusting relationship with a teacher, caregiver, etc. Early interventionists may be in a position to assist caregivers to develop strategies that promote trust. Early interventionists may need to help other caregivers be that secure attachment that many children never got.
There are a variety of strategies like trauma-infused caregiving and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy that have been helpful to caregivers. Trauma-infused cognitive behavioral therapy “is designed to reduce negative emotional and behavioral responses following child sexual abuse, domestic violence, traumatic loss, and other traumatic events. The treatment—based on learning and cognitive theories—addresses distorted beliefs and attributions related to the abuse and provides a supportive environment in which children are encouraged to talk about their traumatic experience.” https://www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/trauma/
Children require gentle handling, nurturing and guidance in order to thrive. As adults, it is up to us to adapt to the child of today, and give them the love and guidance they deserve.
Amanda M. Tuck
GU Certificate in Early Intervention ‘15