Intermountain - Caring Solutions, Strong Families, Healthy Communities

Finish Strong Part II – Here’s How You Can Make A Difference

By Todd Garrison, Executive Director of ChildWise

I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

That’s the theme for elevating the well-being of our children. And it’s not someone else responsible for this, it’s you and me.

I have trained literally thousands of people from all walks of life on the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Yes, it can be difficult research to hear, especially if you’ve personally experienced ACEs. But almost 100% of the time, the people I present to are motivated by the research. I often hear comments like, “Wow! This is eye opening! I understand my (fill in the blank – self, brother, spouse, boss, teacher, etc.) so much better!” These comments are often followed by, “What can I do now?”

That’s what I love about my work. It motivates people to change the way they think about “bad” kids or difficult adults. It motivates them to want to be part of the solution. It changes the conversation in their heads from, “What’s wrong with that person?” to “I wonder what’s happened to that person?” This new way of thinking might even start with that person you see in the mirror every day. It’s a shift from judgment to compassion. And compassion is the beginning of restoration.

I beg you to learn about the ACE Study and its implications. It will change your life, and those around you. Knowledge is power but it is also a responsibility. Once we know something different, we must do something different. Becoming trauma-sensitive is not complicated, and it’s not something you simply check off after you read a book. It is a new way of thinking, a journey not a destination. It’s simply knowing and understanding how childhood adversity and toxic stress can effect brain development, child development, and in fact, human development… and responding to people with that new understanding.

Know this… adversity is not destiny. Not for you, and not for others. Yes, toxic stress in childhood may have serious implications on health and behavior that can last a lifetime. But it doesn’t have to. By using some simple but powerful trauma-sensitive approaches with children and youth, we can be a positive change-agent in their lives that can also last a lifetime.

Here are some simple things you can do. This isn’t rocket science, and we don’t need to overthink this.

  • First, keep the mindset of “it’s not what’s wrong with you, it’s what happened to you.” I go through my day assuming everyone I encounter has had some adversity in their childhood. Think differently. Compassion is the beginning of restoration.
  • Be who you needed when you were younger. The most powerful element to mitigating toxic stress in a child is a healthy, consistent, nurturing adult relationship. You can be that person for a kiddo.
  • Help a child master a skill or look for what they’re good at. We all want to feel valued and competent, but many kiddos don’t. Instead they are often reprimanded for what they’re not good at. Find something good in every child and shine a light on it.
  • Help children learn how to cope (regulate). Kiddos that experience toxic stress often have no control over their behavior. Their brain has been hard-wired for anxiety and danger. Find the video “Just Breathe.” It’s something we can all benefit from, but if you teach this to all children, just watch the anxiety melt away. What’s good for one child is good for all children. Don’t try to single out which kiddos have ACEs. They are often invisible (see part 1 of this series)
  • Let kiddos know what’s going to happen next. Being wired for danger can make kiddos worried about what’s going to happen. So have a schedule posted hour-by-hour (or shorter) and explain every step as you go. When they know the quiz will take twenty minutes, and after that we’ll all jump up and down just for fun, it can help a child relax and focus on the quiz.

These are just a few ideas that can help build resilience in kiddos. Check out: www.ResilienceTrumpsACEs.com.

Once you embrace this new way of thinking and responding, start building resilience in children and others. It’s a natural progression. It will help you and those around you finish strong, especially the children and youth.

I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

Todd Garrison has worked in fund development and project development at Intermountain for over 14 years. In 2010 he helped launch ChildWise Institute, a non-profit founded by Intermountain, to help create safe, supportive families and communities for our nation’s vulnerable children through awareness, education and advocacy. He now serves as the Executive Director of ChildWise.

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