Children Haven't Changed, Childhood Has
Action Options for:
Children Haven't Changed, Childhood Has --- By: Barbara Oehlberg

Childhood, the essential foundation for wise, empathic adulthood is very changed in America as we enter the 21st century. Despite our reluctance, as adults, to acknowledge it, these combined changes within out society are prompting youngsters to make adaptations, albeit maladaptations, for their self-preservation.

The ability to understand the unseemly maladaptive conduct of youth as survival fortitude, not a character weakness, requires forthright introspective reflection. The personal paradigm shift that can evolve from such intentional contemplation is essential before and inclusive national dialogue will evolve for addressing the root causes of juvenile violence as opposed to the current policy of reacting primarily to these symptoms. It is such objectivity that can unlock the barriers that keep out society and our families from real breakthroughs in making a difference for children and youth.

The insights afforded to youth, and the adults who care about them, by new research that confirms structural brain changes that can result from early childhood stress and traumas, offers hope to us all. Finally, the pieces of the puzzle fit together, resolutions that address the root causes, rather than symptoms only, are within reach. The blaming game played so often by public and private institutions can now be sifted out of community discussions and full focus can be placed on prevention. However, translating these new insights into policy, programming, and public awareness remains incomplete, and often, controversial.

The stunning brain research now available clearly reveals that the opportunity for an attitude and policy shift is imminently essential. The prognosis is clear: we cannot threaten, punish, or shame children and youth out of their maladaptive survival strategies, we will never successfully talk then out of their fears and featurelessness.

We cannot train them into violence-free behaviors--without first healing them into resiliency, trust and hope.

The opportunities for making a difference are extensive. By collaborating and collecting our voices, we can interconnect and reconnect the threads of the fabric of our neighborhoods and communities. Once again, the vision that we can create environments in which all children feel more secure is possible. No one child is safe unless every child feels safe.


Religious Institutions

  • Promote trainings or informational outreaches on topic of trauma and trauma transformations by your own staff and denominational leadership, especially all those serving children and youth in any educational or camp setting.
  • Promote Trainings on trauma for area Parish Nurse and Steven Ministries volunteers.
  • Support April as Child Abuse Prevention Month, including discussions on non-physical discipline.
  • Initiate informative discussions on issue of Restorative Justice.

Child Care Providers & Early Child Educators

  • Initiate/advocate for staff trainings on trauma and classroom healing activities.
  • Reframe behavioral issues into issues of safety for everyone in the classroom
  • Be attentive to the needs for trauma interventions for special needs students who have experienced invasive medical treatments.
  • Consider Restorative Discipline as classroom management tool for responding to the relationship issues of teasing and bullying.
  • Intentionally incorporate repeated, multiple experiences for enhancing emotional intelligence.
  • Enhance conflict management and peacemaking skills by diffusing and healing traumatic memories.

Public and Private Schools

As with early childhood education, the educational strategies and policies used in most school systems today were designed for students who had experienced nurturing, unstressed childhoods. For stressed, anxious students to meet the academic achievement standards now demanded of them, educational reform will have to accommodate the neurological changes generated by their early childhood experiences.

The level of stress and perceived helplessness that accompanies many students into classrooms was exasperated by 9-11. Research clearly shoes that anxious students are not free to access their neo cortex, an essential for the learning process.

Current federal and state policies, intended to elevate academic standards, place these students at great academic risk. In the current focus on all things intellectual accompanied by diminishing resources for counseling, these students are destined to repeat grades and drop out early. The need for alternative delivery systems for symbolically transforming helplessness into resiliency is paramount and elementary teachers are a natural network already in place.


  • Advocate for building relationships between staff and students.
  • Advocate for smaller schools or subdividing large facilities into units or houses.
  • Incorporate local, societal or community issues into the curriculum framework to enhance meaningful relevance for students.
  • Avoid the use of threats as a school or classroom strategy.
  • Provide trauma-specific life interviews for every suspended or expelled student to gain insights into causes, possible resolutions and referrals.
  • Advocate for restorative discipline as school policy.
  • Include students in process of establishing a school safety plan.
  • Advocate for a Buddy Program for all new students or those re-entering following health or remedial lengthy absences or reassignments.
  • Develop a crisis plan that incorporates trauma specific interventions and debriefings with access to ongoing counseling readily available for 24 months.
  • Incorporate classroom-healing activities into pre-school and elementary curriculums as a violence prevention policy.
  • Advocate for integrating trauma transformation into conflict and anger management programs.
  • Advocate for intentional programs and protocols that address student-body unity and reduce social discriminations.
  • Advocate for establishing the arts as integral to all curriculums.

Recreational Programs, After School Programs and Summer Camps

  • Initiate trauma specific trainings for community agencies, institutions or individuals providing after school or summer programming.
  • Advocate for linkages between local government and community agencies for community service opportunities for children and youth.
  • Initiate "town meeting" informational exchanges on creating cross-community linkages for service opportunities by bringing together local print and telecommunication, Jr. Chamber of Commerce, adult service clubs, and local foundations.
  • Initiate support for linkages between schools, community recreational programs and the local arts community.

Health and Medical Systems

The prescription for violence prevention, resiliency and hope requires that the emotional needs for trauma-specific interventions be responded to as forthrightly as the medical responses for physical trauma. A complete protocol for responding to emotional traumas would include all shocking, overwhelming incidences of terror for children, including preplanned medical treatments for proactive or preventive health needs.

  • Advocate for trauma in children trainings for all health and medical personnel.
  • Advocate for inclusion of trauma specific services into the protocols for all medical services to children, especially surgical and emergency.
  • Advocate for family history interviews that incorporate drawing for all children being examined for child abuse, ADHD or ailments for which there appears to be no direct medical cause.
  • Advocate all pediatricians incorporate the new guidelines for physician-patient queries.
  • Advocate for the protocols of providing information on trauma, behavioral cues and transformation activities to the families of young patients upon discharge or completion of intrusive services through ER or other outpatient facilities.
  • Advocate for informational outreach services to the families with children under age 10 when an adult family member or sibling has received intrusive medical care.
  • Advocate for mental health services be integrated into all medical and public health facilities.
  • Advocate for providing trauma-specific services to all ER and EMS personnel and their children as a prevention strategy.
  • Advocate for any of the preceding issues with your local academy of medicine, academy of pediatricians and area medical colleges.

Police Safety Forces and Juvenile Justice

Many, if not most, of the young perpetrators are victims themselves are virtually all have been witnesses to violence at sometime during their childhoods. Understanding the effects of unresolved trauma children/youth can therefore be of great value to safety personnel, especially the sudden, fierce survival reactions to any perceived or real threat by the youngster.

  • Advocate for full community policing with training for all safety forces.
  • Initiate community exploration of programming for Children Who Witness Violence.
  • Extend Witness/Victim services to the children of adult victims that include trauma interventions.
  • Advocate for Witness/Victim services to Juvenile Court and Municipal Courts.
  • Advocate for Restorative Justice to be integrated into Juvenile Court processes.
  • Advocate for all staff personnel within Juvenile Court attend trauma and trauma transforming trainings.
  • Advocate for greater emphasis on comprehensive prevention programs be adopted and endorsed by Juvenile Court
  • Assign a Guardian ad litum immediately to assure the child's needs, based on experienced, are responded to. All Guardian ad Litum appointees receive trainings in trauma and trauma-specific interventions.
  • Assign pre-teen and first-time offenders to Diversionary program, averting the trauma of the time spent in Detention Centers.
  • Establish a protocol that incorporates immediate personal and family histories for all youngsters and the parent(s). This process routine would routine would include the psychomotor activity of drawing to facilitate memory access and include queries regarding witnessing violence.
  • Family or personal histories that indicate the youngster has been abused, neglected, assaulted or has witnessed violence will automatically be followed immediately by trauma-specific intervention services, regardless of the time interval involved.
  • Young, first time offenders be processed on a fast track but with full access to assessment and intervention services based on their needs. Unofficial cases and youngsters entering diversionary program would receive the same intervention and treatment services open to those entering a direct course, with services open to those entering a direct course, with services documented.
  • When possible direct community service assignments to agencies that provide services to victims.
  • Collaborate with local or county Mental Health Board Services to formulate a specific response protocol for children younger than those now served as offenders by Juvenile Courts.
  • Parents of care providers receive defusing and transformation trauma interventions if the need is indicated by their personal and family histories. Child development and family relation classes are provided after the intervention services and include neutral and behavioral changes along with trauma information.
  • Drug and Alcohol services are automatically incorporated, when indicated for youth and family members.
  • Initiate a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) program for children and youth going through the system. CASA appointees need training in neural and behavioral changes resulting for abuse or witnessing violence.

Children's Social and Mental Health Services

  • Advocate for trauma and trauma interventions be included into all staff trainings.
  • Advocate for crisis assessments and trauma interventions be included into the protocols for all children immediately upon entry into custody of shelters.
  • Advocate for trauma and trauma transformation be included in all foster and adoptive parent trainings.
  • Advocate with local Mental Health Boards for greater focus on prevention and healing services for children, including automatic stress assessments for the young children of adults receiving mental health services or substance abuse services.
  • Encourage protocols that would assign a personal advocate for every child receiving mental health services
  • Advocate for mental health services to be available to children directly through schools and community centers.
  • Advocate for a community-wide comprehensive program of mental health services for all children who have witnessed or experienced violence.

© 2005 Barbara Oehlberg
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