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beautiful girl on floor meditatingWe all know that our memory plays tricks on us.  We smell bread baking and we are back in our grandmother’s kitchen engulfed once more in the cozy warmth we associate with her. Or we have a “déjà vu” moment when we feel we are reliving something that happened in the past. These are benign illusions that comfort or amuse us. They do not threaten our stability or mental health.

The tricks played by traumatic memories are more dangerous. Their nonverbal nature makes them difficult to remember or talk about. Instead, they are stored as symptoms of physical or mental distress that over time become habitual and self-destructive. It is not uncommon for children with early trauma histories to perceive themselves as incapable of acquiring the social competencies their peers take for granted. They can’t imagine a day without anxiety, fear, or misunderstanding. It’s “just who they are” (Fisher, 2003).

Helping children move beyond the limits imposed by the traumatic sensations stored in their bodies is not easy. It requires teaching them how to take a step back from the intensity of their feelings, and learn how to observe or witness how they are behaving. Most children acquire this “objective sense of self” as toddlers when they begin to use ‘self-talk’ to direct their activity and get their needs met.

Older children need the support of mindfulness exercises like breathing techniques or meditation to increase self-awareness and create opportunities for change. With enough practice they can learn to “uncouple” common triggers like sadness or disappointment from the crippling terror that is the legacy of an early trauma history.

For more information on how to teach mindfulness techniques to children, see www.mindfulnessinschools.org

For more information about the neurobiology of trauma, see www..janinafisher.com/pdfs/neurobiol.pdf