Recovering After Trauma

After 18 months of brutal campaigning, Americans are waking up to the distressing reality that the country is divided and many of its citizens are facing real danger with more on the way—the self-fulfilling prophecy of fear.

Bullying and trauma are deeply intertwined, and in urban environments and in the media our kids are seeing so much more trauma on a daily basis than ever before. So this seemed like a good time to share this great resource for parents. Because it can help us all, as well.

Five Things to Help our Children (and Ourselves) after a Traumatic Event (from Emotional Geographic)

First: Turn off your television. Do not reinforce the traumatic experience at the emotional or neurological level.

Second: Trauma shatters our experience of safety so we all seek some reassurance that our loved ones are okay, and we want to believe that this will never happen to us.

Third: Trauma shatters our sense of trust and stability. The antidote to this is to attend to your routines.

Fourth: One of the greatest antidotes to trauma and the experience of helplessness is to help. Be active. Reach out.

Fifth: Resolve each day to bring a little more light and a little more love.

Read the whole article at: Five Things to Help our Children (and Ourselves) after a Traumatic Event. — Emotional Geographic

Discussion Questions: Chapter Sixteen

“Brain Science: Cultivate the Positive”

Brain science is proving what the “soft science” of positive parenting has always known. This chapter contains some amazing discoveries that can change your perspective, and improve your family life.

“Day-to-day interactions shape the child’s brain for better or worse. Love shapes the brain positively, while fear shapes it negatively. Children whose needs are not met, or who experience early neglect or abuse, are more likely to become aggressive than children whose needs are fulfilled.” (p. 277)

Q: The deepest, oldest part of the brain—the amygdala or “lizard brain”—is in charge of survival. It is always looking out for danger. Once triggered, fear floods the body. What can parents do to keep babies and children feeling safe and calm, to prevent or manage “emotional flooding?”

“Just up from the lizard brain is the mammalian or limbic brain. This brain is hardwired for connection. Think of mothers and cubs of all species…the playing, the licking, the nursing, the carrying, the purring. All of these physical interactions create a bond and stimulate the right kind of brain growth for mammals…. All kids need love to keep their brains on track.” (p. 279)

Q: What are ways that mothers naturally attach to their babies? What happens to the baby? To the mom? To the relationship?

“Young children…are mostly nonverbal, emotional, and intuitive…. Kids live completely in the now,  feeling their feelings in the present moment…. Many people are uncomfortable with their feelings because they have been taught to devalue and hide their emotions, that they should instead be rational. This has caused much confusion, shame, and harm….” (p. 280)

Q: Parents sometimes talk to their children like little adults, telling them to calm down or behave, and being upset when they don’t “listen”. Does this new information change your understanding of what your children might need, and what might actually calm or help them?

“By now you realize that the root cause of explosive outbursts is the emotional brain hijacking the thinking brain. You also realize that children’s brains are ‘under construction’ and… they are doing the best they can with the brain they have. When a child has a tantrum, this knowledge (along with deep breathing) can help you calm yourself and shift into your own thinking brain for a better outcome for all.” (p. 286)

Q: What helps you respond positively with compassion to your child, instead of reacting with anger? Which tips on the list on pages 286 and 287 are most helpful to you?

“Trauma and painful experiences are stored in the body; if they have not been processed, integrated, and resolved, they may continue to cause trouble. Painful issues from your own past that weren’t resolved, integrated, and healed can trigger outbursts…. You now have the opportunity to defuse the hot buttons, so they no longer blindside you.” (pp. 287 and 288)

Q: With awareness comes choice. Understanding that you have unconscious memories (we all do), can you figure out why certain things your child does might trigger you? What other choices can you make?

“The plasticity of the brain makes it possible for  us to not pass on old hang-ups and traumas to our children, but actually change the wiring of our brains in a positive way…. With determination and new skills, we can create a love-based family and heal ourselves in the process. We can retrain our brains and ‘get over’ negative patterns and wounds.” (pp. 289 and 290)

Q: Since reading this chapter, have you noticed how your own brain reacts, “automatically,” to certain triggers? Has this chapter, or this book, also helped you become aware of how “plastic” your brain is, or your child’s brain?  Have you noticed the “Empathy Reflex” at work, for better or worse? It is never too late to change, once we discover new tools. What will you try next?

This question is always a good one:

Q: What sentence, paragraph, or idea popped out at you, or stuck with you after reading?

Reply in the Comments, below!

Looking for resource links? Click here.

<< Chapter 15 | Chapter 17 >>

Cosmic Citizen Radio on The Big Picture of Bullying

Please listen to this wonderful two-hour interview with Kristen Caven about bullying from a spiritual perspective. Paula Thompson, Andre Radatus, and Christilyn Biek-Larson, the hosts of Cosmic Citizen Radio provide space and time for a wide-ranging conversation about every angle of this social problem.

It is a two-hour interview, but if you would like to drop in and listen for a few minutes, here is a guide to the key moments:

  • 5:30 Interview begins
  • 6:45 Kristen explains why bullying is NOT a subject near and dear to her heart.
  • 10:00 What The Bullying Antidote is and how the book is structured – 3 parts
  • 11:30 What bullying is and how we can understand it: bullying defined, the bullying dynamic.
  • 14:50 Zorgos!
  • 17:30 Racism, Terrorism… how we justify bullying with fear and confusion.
  • 18:45 What’s in the news: “average citizen” shooter in Chattanooga has an abusive family; random racial beating by college students; Boko Haram uses child bombers; what bullying turns into.
  • 22:00 What do we tolerate and what do we nurture? How the extreme fundamentalist, autocratic parenting style has swung to permissive style. Cultural support for and normalcy of bullying.
  • 25:00 Three mainstream parenting practices that unknowingly nurture bullying dynamics.
  • 27:30 ACES study
  • 30:00 Long-term research on punishment in Sweden – the story of how one country changed its story, and how the US rates in UNICEF study.
  • 34:00 Brain Science – we are wired for negativity and need to consciously work on positivity
  • 35:00 No-spank laws and the Declaration on the Rights of the Child
  • 39:00 How the US ranks nationally for childhood wellness
  • 41:30 The great work being done in the US, in schools, to diminish bullying
  • 43:45 Pre-school is key to protecting society from bullying & crime
  • 44:30 How cooperative preschools create good culture; what to look for in schools in terms of bullying
  • 47:00 <an enthusiastic plug for Pixar’s Inside Out!
  • 48:00 My Vision for World Domination…?
  • 50:00 (How this book can help heal adult love relationships as well!)
  • 53:00 Bullying is being mean! If we are compassionate to ourselves, we won’t hurt others/our kids. 
  • 54:00 Gandalf’s intention: “You! Shall! Not! Pass!” Great example of how to stand up against bullies.
  • 56:00 How Paula’s daughter was bullied (note about handout at bottom of this page: https://zorgos.wordpress.com/discussion/)
  • 1:03 Kristen’s response…pecking orders… when bullying begins… how schools respond…what bullying isn’t…testing…
  • 1:08:30 How Kristen was a bully, and what her teacher did.
  • 1:09:30 Christilyn on Halt and Catch Fire “faggot” locker scene – how sexual difference is a “protected” area for bullies
  • 1:13 Kristen compares culture of gay bullying before legal Gay Marriage struggle to Nazi and Slavery propaganda that made killing Jews, enslaving blacks culturally/economically correct. Bringing injustice to light eliminates systemic discrimination.
  • 1:16 good school rules – respect, no labeling
  • 1:18 Dennis Leary quote: “My kid hates one thing: naps.” How racism and hatred are perpetuated.
  • 1:19:45 Chrystilin on how teaching kids how to be obedient teaches them to accept social bullying
  • 1:20:30 Fight, Flight, or Freeze question
  • 1:21: Nazi generation victims of terrible parenting in Weimar Republic – children as “poison containers” – this mindset happening now. How a child’s brain chooses whether to develop survival- or growth- oriented neurons. Feminine perspective is “tend and befriend.” Kids learn there are other options to conflict.
  • 1:28:30 The power of upstanders! Great stories about people with Zorgos who say “knock it off.” (bully guards, mean stinks, pink shirt day)
  • 1:34 How one parent turned her child bully’s life around 
  • 1:36 Caller: a schoolteacher who sees systemic bullying. Thoughts on anti-bullying policies.
  • 1:42 How to look at school bullying programs & policies
  • 1:46 (shout-out to Oakland), and the importance of parents in supporting schools
  • 1:50:30 Bullying is a human rights issue.
  • 1:52:30 Don’t read The Bullying Antidote alone! The work of changing a culture cannot be done alone.
  • 1:53 Quick look at Part 3 of the book – things you can learn.
  • 1:57 parents are more powerful than we know! Parents could turn bullying around in one generation by teaching our kids Zorgos!

Take a Peek Inside a Trauma-Sensitive School

What other schools might see as bullying, San Francisco’s El Dorado Elementary recognizes as children acting out trauma. Check out these excerpts from an ACEs Too High article… that reported an 89% drop in suspensions!

“Many teachers and principals think kids’ “bad” behavior is deliberate, and that the kids can control it. But it’s often not and they can’t – not without help, says Dorado. Their behaviors are a normal response to stresses they’re not equipped to deal with. Throwing a punch makes sense if they’re jumping in to defend their mother from an alcoholic raging father; screaming in fury is a normal reaction to a bully who continuously harasses them. But when the raised voice of a teacher or a counselor who’s criticizing them inadvertently triggers the same response, these behaviors look “abnormal, rude, or inappropriate,” says Dorado. “So, they’re getting kicked out of class and disengage from school. That puts our kids at incredible risk for later problems, including imprisonment.”

Continue reading

Taming the Troubled Brain


Raising kids is a demanding job. When we’re tired or stressed or don’t feel good, our emotions can get triggered and we can do things that can overpower and harm our children. Explosive outbursts – yelling and screaming, for example – frighten children. As a little girl, when my mother lost her temper, yelled, and punished us, it struck terror in my heart – and damaged the love, trust and connection. Later as a mother, when I lost my temper and yelled, I felt guilty. With explosive outbursts everyone feels bad—and kids can take it out by bullying others.

The important question to ask: how can we put the brakes on out-of-control emotions so they don’t explode and damage people? So we can model Zorgos skills to our kids? Let’s turn to brain science to learn why it’s so hard to harness our deepest reactive emotions, and learn two emotional management skills to help us keep our cool.

Brain Science

Deep inside the brain is the amygdala whose job it is to ensure survival. Like a guard dog, it’s always watching for danger and ready to immediately and intensely sound the alarm. Once triggered, the emotional brain floods our body with hormones and chemicals that compel us to fight, flee, or freeze. The amygdala packs an emotional—and physical—wallop, and hijacks the thinking part of the brain! Our stress system goes haywire on red alert. Unable to think straight, we may quite literally be “out of our minds.”

This also happens to children. A child who is experiencing emotional flooding cannot hear you, and cannot be reasonable. Logic does not work during a meltdown or tantrum, so don’t waste your breath. Instead, be patient. Calm yourself. Calm and soothe your child. Be present and connect. Later on, after the storm passes, you’ll be able to talk about what happened. (Adapted from The Bullying Antidote, p. 283)

A Six-Second Grace Period

The intense emotional reactions of the amygdala have a life-or-death urgency. They run ahead of the thinking (cognitive) brain by six seconds. After the alarm sounds, it takes the thinking brain time to activate, evaluate the situation, calm the freaked-out emotional brain and RESPOND. This takes restraint. Do your best to hold off the strong urge to REACT for six seconds. You can harness that strong knee-jerk reaction – the “power-assertive method” — that can harm your child and that you’ll probably regret.

Mindfulness slows down a knee-jerk reaction to a second-by-second awareness of what is going on, inserting a pause that changes impulsive reactions to thoughtful responses. —The Bullying Antidote, page 198

Forget Counting to Ten – EXHALE!

The parasympathetic nervous system quiets the amygdala and tilts body, brain, and mind toward a sense of safety and well-being. It is activated through big exhalations. When you experience the next upset, instead of counting to ten, take a big, deep inhalation, hold it, then exhale gradually while relaxing, focusing on exhaling completely. Do that three or more times. Deep exhalations can harness strong emotions and make time for the rational thinking brain to regain equanimity. So the next time your child is distressed, soothe and calm him/her by connecting, and encourage him/her to blow out the hard feelings.

These emotional management tools corroborated by brain science can restrain the upsetting feelings of parents and children alike. They can strengthen connections and help us move beyond bullying.