Respond to a child with trauma informed LOVE

At the beginning of the summer, I made plans to take some kiddos to CiCi’s Pizza and SkyZone.  I had been promising one of the 9-year old boys that if he was good three Sundays in a row at church that I would take him to CiCi’s.  (What is it with that place?  It’s just about the grossest pizza I’ve ever had….BUT I remember LOVING it as a teenager….we used to go every Monday night after swim meets and I sooooooo looked forward to it.)

This child’s behavior was on point….for more than three Sundays in a row (HUGE DEAL! Read more on why below.)…..but on the day that I was supposed to take him, I was made aware of a shooting that had happened at his house two days prior and that he had been present (one hour after I had been there… I honestly think God’s angels have kept me safe more times than I could even fathom…..I mean y’all, I have definitely put myself in some precarious situations….all over the world), the timing got thrown off a bit and the friend that was supposed to be going with me wasn’t able to go because of that time change.  I was advised not to go into the neighborhood alone at night and I knew that it was wise counsel.  BUT, I also knew that this kid deserved a respite. From the neighborhood, from trauma and to be reminded how LOVED he is.  By me, by others and especially, by Jesus.

I ended up having four kids that night….my Goddaughter and her friend, the 9-year old boy and his friend.  I didn’t know exactly who all would be with me that night, but God did….and He provided.  [I really don’t know how I thought I was going to be able to do it by myself……I can be a little overly ambitious sometimes…. I definitely needed another set of eyes on the kids.]  God sent the ED of the Dream Center to help out and hang with the kids.  Hallelujah. 

When I’m with this 9-year old, I have to take deep breaths. He is HIGH energy and has EXTREMELY selective hearing.  He’s very intelligent and very observant, but he gets overwhelmed in any sort of conflict (even those that are self-inflicted) and isn’t sure how to process things. And it was no different at CiCi’s or Sky Zone.  

There were a few melt downs. And situations where he pretended he couldn’t hear me. And maybe a little too aggressive jumping on the trampolines at Sky Zone. But, for as much as this child has gone through, his behavior on that Friday night was amazing. 

For those few times where his behavior really grated my nerves, I reminded myself of the Wednesday he had. [And that this was not an isolated event. This child lives in a chaotic home. It’s the norm for there to be all kinds of craziness in his life.] So, that Friday night, I would take a deep breath, remind myself of his situation and then respond, as I felt the Holy Spirit leading me to do.  I made sure that he felt safe when he was with me, that he knew he was loved (even though he was grating my nerves), that I had expectations for his behavior and that he had the power of choice. [ok, so I say I did all these things, but I’m sure I failed miserably….let me correct myself and say “I tried”.]

Not long after this night, I started a seminary class on counseling in trauma and addictions. I became acutely aware of the impact of trauma and stress on a child (see previous posts on ACEs) and how important it is to respond with trauma-informed counseling approaches.

And then I began to think about how important it is that we respond to these kids who are constantly assaulted with and by trauma with trauma-informed LOVE. This is what Jesus did. He loved unconditionally.  He did not condone poor behavior or choices BUT He did welcome people to him and He modeled how we should withhold judgement of others. His patience meter was off the charts. Jesus was the perfect model of trauma-informed LOVE.

Crazy, loud behavior grates my patience.  I have to recognize that some of it is cultural.  And, some of it is behavior responding to current or past trauma and stress.

What’s important to me is that I don’t re-traumatize a child. I want each child to grow in the knowledge that Christ loves them and so do I. I constantly tell him that. That I love them all.  That Jesus loves them all. So, that’s become my approach with all of the kiddos. I do correct behavior (y’all, show up to our church on a Sunday morning and I promise you’ll hear my voice from blocks away), but I always tell the child how much they are loved. And I commune with the Holy Spirit before any words come out of my mouth to that child. I pray that the child hears what the Holy Spirit wants he/she to hear. So, my approach with each child isn’t the same….except to tell them that they are loved.  I don’t think I could tell them that too much.

I follow Jesus’ lead and respond with trauma-informed LOVE.

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