When a child experiences trauma, their brain will automatically set itself to high alert status. No longer is there a need for a real life/death situation in order for the primal brain stress response system to be activated. Subconsciously, this brain is ALWAYS scanning for “threat”, and because the stress response system is hyper-vigilant, it can find “threat” in even the most innocent of situations.
Some of the non-life/death triggers include:
- Hungry, tired, sick, anxious, overwhelmed, scared, insecure
- Singled out, called on, put on the spot, cornered, questioned
- Made uncomfortable, embarrassed
- Asked to do something the child is not confident doing, or doesn’t know how to do
- Denied something the child really wants and/or thinks they need (when and how they THINK it should happen)
- When the child doesn’t know or understand what’s happening, (unexpected, unplanned or changed events)
- Not having a voice, not being heard, not being allowed to explain or tell their side of the story, not having choices, not being allowed preferences
- Not being responded to quickly, compassionately, and appropriately
- Sensory overloaded, chaotic, busy, loud, overwhelming situations
- ANY real or perceived threat to the child’s sense of well being, their sense of happiness, their sense of safety, or their sense of autonomy.
That’s a LOT of opportunities for the subconscious (primal) brain to send the child hurling into fight, flight, and/or freeze behaviors. As the adult in charge, it is important to remember, this is not a conscious choice. While many of these behaviors may be what we would consider “learned behavior” we must remember the primal brain is using these behaviors for a reason.
Re-framing our thoughts on inappropriate behavior helps us respond with a more compassionate approach. Behavior is a clue. It is ALWAYS A CLUE to what the brain and/or body needs that the child cannot otherwise articulate. While wrong behavior must be stopped immediately, it is a symptom of a deeper problem. For behavior change that lasts, we must solve the clue, and fix the root.