See the smile of this precious girl? Who would know that behind that smile there may be a wounded heart?
Sometimes we think of at-risk kids as those who have been obviously abused or neglected. However, research now shows that some very common things can cause trauma to a young child. See if you know a child who has experienced any of the following:
- Prenatal Stress or Harm—medical complications during pregnancy, the mother in abusive relationship or in poverty, or the expectant mother abusing drugs or alcohol.
- Difficult labor and delivery—long or difficult labor, needing a caesarean section, or other emergencies at birth.
- Early medical trauma or intervention—illness, injuries, or needing medical help for a problem.
- Abuse—physical, mental, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse.
- Neglect—lack of food, good care, or appropriate attention.
- Trauma—loss of someone close through death or other circumstances, loss of home or other important possessions, or witnessing violence in the home or community.
Reading through this list shows us that almost everyone has experienced one or more of these risk factors. Traumatic experiences like these can affect children mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. A child who is vulnerable may look like any other child on the outside, but inside she may be frightened, act out emotionally, struggle with concentrating, and feel that she is unworthy of being loved.
So what can you do? Here are a few tips that can help all children, but especially those who have experienced difficulties in life:
Establish routines during your time with the child. Routines and consistency help a child feel safe.
Manage transitions between activities. Let the child know that he has 2 minutes to finish up. Or have a signal like a clapping pattern that will let him know it’s time to move to the next activity.
Find ways to build a child’s sense of worth. Compliment her for good work or behavior. Give appropriate touches, such as high fives or a pat on the shoulder. Tell the child often that she is valuable because God made her and loves her. Her worth does not depend on what she does or how she acts. His love for her is based on who He is.
Finally, listen, comfort, and point that child to God. Pray with and for him. God can heal wounded hearts!