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How can I reduce toxic stress?

Today we are going to talk about children who may have special problems with social skills and incorporate some brain science into our conversation.

Social skills are complex and it takes time for children to learn them. For children who have experienced trauma, also known as toxic stress, learning social skills can be really difficult. Trauma can seriously affect the normal process of development, hindering their ability to understand social cues, develop their emotional regulation, perceive the other’s perspective and develop empathy.

Trauma hinders children’s ability to make friends in large part because it affects several areas of the brain. Scientific research shows that trauma negatively affects children’s ability to make decisions and control their impulses. At the same time, trauma can affect their reactivity to stress and emotional situations. Then, children who have experienced trauma can feel emotions (such as being nervous when meeting new people) with more intensity and at the same time may have difficulty controlling their reaction and behavior (fleeing or being abrupt). Do not be surprised that all this can cause social situations entangled.

The optimistic news is that although trauma can affect the developing brain, we know from scientific research that the brain is plastic (which continues to grow and change) for many years through childhood and adolescence. This means that adults can help children who have experienced trauma learn social skills and how to make friends. We have some suggestions here:

  • Use the child’s current skills as a basis

We can cover deficiencies in social skills as we would with academic problems or in learning. If a child has difficulty reading, we first identify the skills that the child already has and use them as a foundation so that he or she can move forward and become a better reader. We can do the same when we teach social skills. For example, if we see that a girl knows how to approach children and invite them to play but then has difficulty sharing and pulls the toys out of others’ hands, we can praise her for approaching new friends in an appropriate way. “I really like the friendly way you have to invite the other children to play with you!”Then we can focus on helping you learn the steps to share with your friends. Then it is important to give you opportunities to practice this new skill when you are around to help if necessary.

  • Understanding emotions

Children who have experienced trauma often have difficulty correctly understanding social cues. Without this essential skill, children have to guess (often incorrectly) what they expect from them. And since their reaction systems may have been affected by the trauma, they may jump directly to the most extreme reaction: “They do not like me; I did something wrong. “Here is an example of what might happen: two children are building a tower of blocks and a child touches and throws the tower unintentionally. The child who knocked her down immediately expresses that she feels with both the language of her body and the facial expression. Unfortunately, the child who has difficulty interpreting these indications gets confused and thinks that the other child did it on purpose. This can result in anger,

Here are some ways to help children better understand social situations with their signs or indications. Start with a connection between emotions and facial expressions and body language: “When we are angry we tense our faces, we wield our hands and our bodies feel warm. You can use photos, books and your own face to demonstrate this connection. Indicate how facial and body expressions and emotions are linked. Then practice this skill in different ways so she can deepen her knowledge. They could even play the detective so that the children look for the sad / angry / happy faces around them.

Another way to help children become better “social detectives” is to name emotions: “I see that you are happy because you are smiling and laughing.” “Your friend is frowning. How will you be feeling? “ The more children understand social cues, the stronger their friendships and social interactions will be.

  • Match the learning of social skills with learning about how to handle disappointment and strong feelings

Making and playing with friends can be emotional! Sometimes things do not go the way we want, sometimes friends offend us or destroy our favorite toy unintentionally. Teaching children how to handle disappointment and various ways to calm themselves when they are upset can help them develop positive ways to handle the ups and downs of friendship. This is even more important for children who have experienced trauma because they may already have difficulty controlling their behavior. See our Pinterest Board for some fun ways to practice these skills.

  • Praise, praise, praise!

If you want to see more of any behavior, “praise it to pieces!” Learning social skills is difficult and as children practice it is important that we recognize even the tiniest improvements. By giving positive compliments (see our blog on how to give specific praise ), children can create a positive image of themselves and their abilities, which leads to a positive association about the experience. And these are essential components to create new pathways in the brain!

  • Teach through books

I love reading books to children as a way to help them understand social-emotional concepts. Books are a fun, attractive and visual way for children to learn to understand emotions and the importance of friendships. In addition, reading books can generate natural conversations about the feelings of the characters and the events leading up to those emotions. This gives them more practice to increase their awareness of social cues and explore new ways to handle problems. And you get a look at what your child is thinking.

  • Do not forget to model

We’ve said it before, but modeling is one of the best ways to help children interact with others positively. You can ask your child to find out what you are feeling by looking at their face and their body language. You can model by sharing and cooperating with your friends and family. And you can talk about your own experiences with friends.

We never want a child to experience traumatic events. But if it happened, we can approach with patience and recognize how the trauma may have affected their social skills. It is important to remember that when children have difficulty getting along with others, it is not that they want to be rude or make others angry or upset. He just does not know how to be properly social. By teaching these skills, we can help you create new positive experiences that will help you now and in the future!

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