Half of All Kids Are Traumatized

leadRe-Posted from The Atlantic
Half of all kids are traumatized and nearly a quarter experience two or more stressful childhood events, setting them up for worse physical and mental health later in life.

by OLGA KHAZANDEC

When a child sees a parent die, experiences severe poverty, or witnesses neighborhood violence, it can leave a permanent mark on her brain. This type of unmitigated, long-term “toxic stress” can affect a person’s cardiovascular health, immune system, and mental health into adulthood.

“If you have a whole bunch of bad experiences growing up, you set up your brain in such a way that it’s your expectation that that’s what life is about,” James Perrin, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told me recently.

A new study in the Journal of Health Affairs finds that nearly half of all children in the U.S. have experienced one such social or family-related trauma.

Here’s how the report authors found that number, according to the release:

For the study, [Johns Hopkins University family-health professor Christina] Bethell and her colleagues analyzed data from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health, a survey of parents of 95,677 children under 17 from throughout the United States. The survey included questions about nine adverse childhood experiences as reported by parents: extreme economic hardship, parental divorce/separation, lived with someone with a drug or alcohol problem, witness or victim of neighborhood violence, lived with someone who was mentally ill or suicidal, witnessed domestic violence, parent served time in jail, treated or judged unfairly due to race/ethnicity, and the death of a parent. The survey includes myriad data on family and neighborhood environments and parental well-being in addition to children’s schooling and medical care, and contains some data about child resilience.
The study found that 48 percent of children have experienced one of these childhood traumas, and 23 percent experienced two or more. But kids in some states fared worse than others. New Jersey had the lowest percentage of children with two or more traumas, at 16 percent, while Oklahoma had the highest, at 33 percent. Here’s a map showing the general ranking of the states:

Percentage of Children Who Have Experienced at Least Two Traumas, Compared to the National Average

Prevalence of kids who experienced at least two traumas, compared to the U.S. average (Health Affairs)
Children exposed to at least two traumas were 2.5 times more likely to repeat a grade or to be disengaged with their classwork, compared to those who had no such experiences. They were also much more likely than the others to suffer from chronic health problems, such as asthma, ADHD, autism, and obesity.

This was true even after adjusting for race, income, and health status. Put another way, this means that even if a child is born into the best of circumstances, just two hyper-stressful events can send him on a downward development spiral.

Doctors and teachers can mitigate the negative effects of these experiences by providing kids with emotional support, the study authors note, as well as with “neurological repair methods, such as mindfulness training.” The authors also recommend “trauma-informed” medical care for these children—a type of treatment that takes their turbulent home lives into account. For example, for a traumatized child between six and 17 years of age, it might be helpful to learn techniques such as “staying calm and in control when faced with a challenge.”

That’s good advice for any of us, but for nearly half of American children, it might be an essential, life-saving strategy.

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Family Lives On Foundation supports the lifelong emotional well-being of children whose mother or father has died. Our Tradition Program provides opportunities for intentional remembering, creating a safe haven for grief, communication, and celebration. To enroll in the program as a family in need, donate, volunteer or for more information visit the Family Lives On Foundation website or Facebook Page or follow us @familyliveson Twitter Account or @familyliveson Instagram. To check out our 30-second PSA click here: The Family Lives On PB & J PSA.

Family Lives On’s Tradition Program is a free (to the family enrolled), direct service for children that supports their bereavement process. The program takes place within the child’s daily family life, helping children continue the traditions they celebrated with their deceased parent.

8 Important Things that Children Never Forget.

smiling cute kid_thumb[3]Re-Posted from Parent and Child Magazine

My twin daughters, Anna and Emma, are 16 years old, but they still love to relive and retell stories from their early childhood. Emma often asks to hear about how she greeted everyone with her first word, “cookie,” rather than with “hello.” Anna recounts the time she was struck with a shovel full of ice and had to go to the emergency room. “I remember being there!”; she says. “I remember lying on the bed and hearing you go, ‘Ohhh!’ The doctor was a woman, and everyone came to visit me.” She was only 2 at the time! What will your child remember from her earliest years? And what meaning do these specific memories have for your child?

For one thing, memories connect our pasts, our present, and our futures — and they connect us to one another. Our children’s memories can also lend insight into their rich inner lives, and can help them develop what Eric Neisser, founder of the Rutgers Special Education Clinic, calls “the extended knowledge of oneself across time.” Knowledge of oneself is power, and you acquire it by looking inside and at your external experiences. It is one of the ways we find meaning in our lives.

What Children Remember

Jerome Bruner, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, suggests that retelling events is a means for children to use narrative to reconstruct their life experiences. Bruner considers storytelling the most powerful way that people organize experience. The youngest “reminiscers” rely on others to help them create a description of the past. The language that accompanies visual imagery and experiences makes them that much stronger in our minds.

Several years ago, I embarked on a study with a colleague at the Early Childhood Education Center at the University of Vermont to capture children’s salient memories. We wanted to find out what the 5 year olds remembered at their school. We hoped to gain insight from them in order to make school a better place for our students. We wanted their memories to be part of the history of our school and to convey what had challenged them and what had brought them joy. We hoped the memories would include some of what the childrenÂ’s parents and teachers held dear. What we discovered about childrenÂ’s memories was even more profound.

We explained to the children that we wanted to help them make stories (visual memoirs) of their years at school before they left for kindergarten. We asked them how they thought they could tell a story in pictures that related what they remembered about life at school. Initially, the children met outside under a shady tree, and their teacher read stories about adults recalling moments from their own childhoods. Then everyone shared memories from school with one another.

Over the course of the project, the children spent time talking about the past and drawing the things they would “never forget.” We went on walks and took cameras with no film in them so children could practice looking at objects, places, and people through a viewfinder. Soon, the children were ready to do some photography. Throughout the process, we were constantly reflecting on the stories they spoke about.

Two hundred and eighty-eight drawings and photographs later, we noticed certain themes running through the memories the children had represented in images. We searched for common threads and patterns, and what we found became the title of the project: Children Remember Important Things.

8 Important Things

In the end we culled eight areas of memories that make an impression on young children. Here’s what children will never forget:

Being dropped off at school. The most frequent memory that children reported was the experience of being dropped off at school each morning. Many children had rituals they shared with their mothers and fathers. For example, Collin remembered this: “Mommy and I would say goodbye with a hug and say, ‘I love you more than anything.’ Then, Mommy would kiss the birds on the door to the center.” In many cases the children wanted their portrait taken saying goodbye to Mom or Dad in their particular way.
Their natural environment. Children generated stories, memories, and rich conversations with one another about classroom pets, gardens, the nearby woods, and the fountain on the University green, where they enjoyed playing freely. They also mentioned places where they sought refuge from storms. The children dramatically retold stories about changes in the weather, the excitement of big winds and rainbows, and the nervous, surprised, even frenzied emotions those changes produced.

Jumping, swinging, climbing. Children often focused on the experiences of active play, such as running, jumping, swinging, climbing, and playing hockey (which is a major pastime in Vermont and a source of real-life superheroes). A typical morning greeting among these children was, “Hey! Want to be on my team today?” Some of these memories included working and playing together and the necessity of having order, rules, and leaders.

Being good at something. The children conveyed a desire to capture images of things they had created. These memories highlight a sense of competence with processes and representation. They wanted to be viewed and known by others as being “good at something”: sewing, papermaking, block-building, painting, sculpting with clay, writing, or playing favorite games.

People I like, and who like me. Friendships are important developmentally, but it was deeply moving to listen as children described having connected with others who shared their interests, who they looked forward to spending time with, who they trusted, and who they imagined would always be part of their lives. They wanted to photograph not only the people they loved, but also the people they knew liked them in return and the people who had been kind to them.

The babies and toddlers. The children wanted to leave a legacy for the younger children they had grown fond of, or, in some cases, for the younger siblings that they would be leaving behind. They remembered eating with them, watching them grow, and understanding what they like to do. Five-year-old Finley put it most eloquently: “I want to take of picture of Rowan so he’ll remember me when I’m gone.”

Being part of the community. There were a lot of feelings the kids wanted to express about the connections they formed with people in the community. This included teachers, people on the campus who had shared food with them, people who allowed them to visit special places, and the bus drivers they were friendly with.

Places and structures. Places were often unforgettable to the children. They documented buildings and destinations that represented areas of meaning for them: the first potty they used, the cribs they slept in, and the slides in the toddler room they ventured down.
Strengthen Your Child’s Memories

Talking with your child — especially thinking out loud about what is happening, what you are doing, and why — goes a long way toward building language skills, which play an important role in remembering. We can also help by narrating as we play with children, thereby offering them a context in which to remember the lessons that play can offer.

It’s also beneficial to revisit favorite books repeatedly and to tell stories from your own life. One of the important things we offer children when we talk reflectively with them is the process of making connections between the moment they are in and previous experiences.

Looking at photographs, home movies, and past schoolwork provides opportunities for talking about what these moments represent. You can ask your child, “What feelings did you have then? How do you feel about it now? Why was this moment important?” We save so many things that our children make at school — drawings, writings, collages, photographs, and more. This adds tremendous value to the children’s experiences. It’s also helpful to write a brief anecdote that your child shares with you on the back of drawings and photographs to aid in keeping the events in our minds and reminding us of the context.

We can learn so much from understanding what moments, events, places, and people are important to young children. We should be mindful of how we say goodbye to our children and give time to creating rituals and traditions. We should find ways to ensure that our children have opportunities to spend time in nature and connect with a variety of important places that they can revisit throughout their lives. Supporting our children’s early friendships — and the enjoyment they feel from being social with other people — is an important way we help them to know and remember that they are loved.

Share your feelings and your point of view as well. Telling stories about yourself is more than just interesting to your children — through your stories, they learn that you believe it is important to give voice to memories, impressions, feelings, and events that may otherwise be held inside and eventually forgotten. They learn how to recount their memories and, more importantly, that you care and expect them to talk about their lives and what matters to them the most.

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Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations.  To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

 

Grief doesn’t magically end at a certain point after a loved one’s death. Reminders often bring back the pain of loss. Here’s help coping — and healing.

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Re-Posted from Mayo-Clinic In-Depth

By Mayo Clinic Staff

When a loved one dies, you might be faced with grief over your loss again and again — sometimes even years later. Feelings of grief might return on the anniversary of your loved one’s death, birthday or other special days throughout the year.

These feelings, sometimes called an anniversary reaction, aren’t necessarily a setback in the grieving process. They’re a reflection that your loved one’s life was important to you.

To continue on the path toward healing, know what to expect — and how to cope with reminders of your loss.

Reminders Can Be Anywhere:

Certain reminders of your loved one might be inevitable, especially on holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other special days that follow your loved one’s death.

Reminders aren’t just tied to the calendar, though. They can be tied to sights, sounds and smells — and they can ambush you. You might suddenly be flooded with emotions when you drive by the restaurant your partner loved or when you hear your child’s favorite song. Even memorial celebrations for others can trigger the pain of your own loss.

What to Expect When Grief Returns:

Anniversary reactions can last for days at a time or — in more extreme cases — much longer. During an anniversary reaction you might experience:

Sadness
Loneliness
Anger
Anxiety
Trouble sleeping
Fatigue
Pain

Anniversary reactions can also evoke powerful memories of the feelings and events surrounding your loved one’s death. For example, you might remember in great detail where you were and what you were doing when your loved one died.

Tips to Cope with Reawakened Grief:

Even years after a loss, you might continue to feel sadness when you’re confronted with reminders of your loved one’s death. As you continue healing, take steps to cope with reminders of your loss. For example:

Be prepared. Anniversary reactions are normal. Knowing that you’re likely to experience anniversary reactions can help you understand them and even turn them into opportunities for healing.
Plan a distraction. Schedule a gathering or a visit with friends or loved ones during times when you’re likely to feel alone or be reminded of your loved one’s death.

Reminisce about your relationship. Focus on the good things about your relationship with your loved one and the time you had together, rather than the loss. Write a letter to your loved one or a note about some of your good memories. You can add to this note anytime.

Start a new tradition. Make a donation to a charitable organization in your loved one’s name on birthdays or holidays, or plant a tree in honor of your loved one.

Connect with others. Draw friends and loved ones close to you, including people who were special to your loved one. Find someone who’ll encourage you to talk about your loss. Stay connected to your usual support systems, such as spiritual leaders and social groups. Consider joining a bereavement support group.

Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions. It’s OK to be sad and feel a sense of loss, but also allow yourself to experience joy and happiness. As you celebrate special times, you might find yourself both laughing and crying.

When Grief Becomes Overly Intense:

There’s no time limit for grief, and anniversary reactions can leave you reeling. Still, the intensity of grief tends to lessen with time.

If your grief gets worse over time instead of better or interferes with your ability to function in daily life, consult a grief counselor or other mental health provider. Unresolved or complicated grief can lead to depression and other mental health problems. With professional help, however, you can re-establish a sense of control and direction in your life — and return to the path toward healing.

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Family Lives On Foundation supports the lifelong emotional well-being of children whose mother or father has died. Our Tradition Program provides opportunities for intentional remembering, creating a safe haven for grief, communication, and celebration. To enroll in the program as a family in need, donate, volunteer or for more information visit the Family Lives On Foundation website or Facebook Page or follow us @familyliveson Twitter Account or @familyliveson Instagram. To check out our 30-second PSA click here: The Family Lives On PB & J PSA.

Tradition and Rituals. Good Stuff from the People who Have Done the Research.

With the Back to School rush starts Tradition Season.

The Back to School Rush Starts ‘Tradition Season’.

The Power of Rituals in Life, Death, and Business

Experimental research by Michael I. Norton, Francesca Gino, and colleagues proves multiple benefits of ritualistic behavior.

Harvard Business School 03 Jun 2013 Research & Ideas

by Carmen Nobel

All over the world, people in pain turn to rituals in the face of loss—no matter if it’s the death of a loved one (dressing in black, for example), the end of a relationship (burning old love letters), or the crushing defeat in a Little League baseball game (graciously shaking hands with the winning team). But what’s the point?

Behavioral scientist Michael I. Norton became interested in mourning rituals after reading Harvard University President Drew Gilpin Faust’s This Republic of Suffering, which describes elaborate ways that parents, spouses, children, and friends dealt with the massive loss of soldiers during the American Civil War. It got him to wondering whether rituals were merely a traditional part of the grieving process, or whether they truly alleviated grief.

“We see in every culture—and throughout history—that people who perform rituals report feeling better,” says Norton, an associate professor in the Marketing unit at Harvard Business School. “But we didn’t know if the ritual caused the healing.”

What followed was a series of experiments in which Norton and fellow HBS Associate Professor Francesca Gino found that rituals indeed alleviate and reduce grief, even among people who don’t inherently believe in the efficacy of rituals. Further experiments showed that ritualistic behavior also enhances the experience of consuming food—including food as mundane as a carrot. Future experiments will delve into whether rituals affect productivity and morale in the workplace.

A sense of control

Norton and Gino teamed up to conduct a series of grief experiments, which they describe in the paper “Rituals Alleviate Grieving for Loved Ones, Lovers, and Lotteries,” forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

In one experiment, the researchers set out to determine whether rituals led to an increased sense of control, and whether that sense of control served to alleviate grief. To that end, they asked 247 individuals (recruited from Amazon.com’s Mechanical Turk marketplace) to write about either the death of a loved one or the death of a relationship. Some participants were asked to include a description of a ritual they performed after suffering the loss; others were not.

Norton and Gino were surprised to discover that the majority of the recounted rituals were neither religious nor communal. Rather, they were personal, private, and occasionally angry—but in a controlled way. “We observed some amazing rituals,” he says. “One woman wrote about gathering all the pictures of her and her ex-boyfriend, taking them to the park where they met, and tearing them up-she made a point of saying ‘even the ones where I looked good,’ which I loved.”

After the writing exercise, all the participants completed a questionnaire, using a numbered scale to recall how much they felt out of control after the loss, as well as the extent to which they still grieved the person. Those who had described a personal ritual also reported feeling both more in control and less aggrieved after the writing exercise, indicating the power of merely reflecting on ritualistic behavior.

Inducing grief for the sake of science

To find out whether it was possible to assuage grief by performing seemingly meaningless rituals designed by someone else, Norton and Gino conducted a laboratory study in which they induced grief-inducing loss and assigned a ritual that they made up.

The experiment, however, did not involve inducing the loss of a loved one, Norton notes wryly. “As it turns out, we couldn’t randomly assign people to break up with their significant other,” he says. Rather, to create instant grief, the researchers held a series of sessions in which 9 to 15 college-aged participants learned that one of them, picked at random, would receive $200—a significant windfall for the average student. In each session, the winner took the money and left the room. And just like that, the rest of the participants were left with a sudden sense of loss.

“With consumption, rituals seem to work because they increase your involvement in the experience.”

The researchers then split the newly disappointed participants into two groups: The “ritual” condition group performed a series of ritualistic tasks including drawing a picture about their current state of mind, sprinkling salt on the drawing, tearing up the drawing, and silently counting to 10. The “non-ritual” condition participants only drew a picture. After the experiment, the ritual group reported feeling more in control and less bummed out about the $200 than the non-ritual group.

Importantly, the researchers found that the rituals had a positive effect regardless of whether the participants held preconceived notions about ritualistic behavior. “That was a crucial question for us,” Norton says. “We thought that people who habitually use rituals might get a benefit. But these results show that regardless of your belief, if we induce you to perform rituals, you feel better.”

Rituals enhance consumption

Just as there are multitudes of grief rituals all over the world, so too are there innumerable rituals related to feasting, ranging from cultural (a Japanese tea ceremony) to personally quirky (eating all the green M&Ms first). “Given that there are so many rituals associated with food, we next explored whether rituals could even make food taste better,” Norton says.

In a series of experiments conducted along with University of Minnesota marketing professor Kathleen D. Vohs and doctoral candidate Yajin Wang, Norton, and Gino found that rituals indeed have the power to make food seem tastier and more valuable. Their research findings are presented in the paper “Rituals Enhance Consumption,” forthcoming in Psychological Science.

“We made the rituals deliberately silly,” Norton says. “With rituals like wine-tasting and tasting menus, some of the enjoyment is about pageantry and great service. We wanted to strip those factors away and focus on the rituals themselves.”

In one experiment, participants were asked to eat a chocolate bar. Half performed an assigned ritual, breaking and unwrapping the bar in a particular way before eating it. The other half just ate the bar unceremoniously. On average, those in the ritual group reported the candy more enjoyable and more flavorful than the non-ritual group.

A follow-up experiment showed that participants in the ritual experience actually thought the chocolate bar was worth more money than those in the non-ritual group-thus showing the retail marketing potential for food-related rituals. The Hershey Company, for example, capitalized on the power of personal food rituals with its 1990s ad campaign for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: “There’s no wrong way to eat a Reese’s.” Nabisco has used similar tactics in advertising Oreo cookies.

To see whether they could achieve the same effect with something less exciting but more nutritious than a chocolate bar, the researchers repeated the experiment with the least thrilling food they could imagine: carrots.

Sure enough, participants who performed a series of gestures before consuming the carrots reported more enjoyment than those who just ate them. (Norton notes that parents have been employing this technique for time immemorial—ritualistically pretending that a spoonful of pureed peas is, say, “a plane coming in for a landing” in order to make it more appealing to babies.)

Another experiment showed that observing a ritual is not nearly as powerful as performing a ritual.

Participants who prepared a glass of powdered lemonade in a ritualistic manner (stir for 30 seconds, wait for 30 seconds, and so on) enjoyed consuming it much more than those who merely watched someone else prepare the lemonade.

“With grief, the ritual leads to a feeling of control,” Norton says. “With consumption, rituals seem to work because they increase your involvement in the experience.”

Employee morale and productivity

Later this year, the researchers plan to study how rituals affect productivity and morale among teams in the workplace—think trading high-fives at the beginning of a meeting. Norton believes that their grief findings may apply to

corporate competition. “When teams lose a big sale, maybe a ritual will help them get over that loss,” he says.

More broadly, they are sussing out the specific factors that classify a behavior as ritualistic rather than obsessive. “The line between rituals and other behaviors is very blurry,” Norton says. “If you tear up a picture of your ex, that may be a helpful ritual. If you call your ex every day for a month and yell at him, you may need a different kind of help.”

About the author: Carmen Nobel is senior editor of Harvard Business School Working Knowledge.