10 Signs A Setting Or Professional Really Is Trauma-Informed

You may be a bit weary of being told that a setting, therapist, or other professional is trauma-informed, only to discover they aren’t! Are your expectations unrealistic or is something else going on?

From working with trauma for around 30 years and studying all the trauma greats for about 20 years and applying all of this in my work as a Coach, Healing Together Trainer and more, I can truly say that I AM trauma-informed (and I’m always working to keep improving on this)

So, here are my 10 signs of what you should reasonably expect from somewhere or someone who claims to be trauma informed:

1.You don’t need to explain to them how and why your child is traumatised because it’s enough that you’ve told them that your child is – sometimes it can be useful for a setting or professional to have some background information. Especially if you know particular sounds, sights, smells, tastes, situations, words, and behaviours in others trigger your child’s trauma.

But you should not need to endlessly detail and explain everything about why your child reacts, and does or doesn’t do things.

The professionals should understand that your child will need endless compassion, understanding and unlimited connection with safe adults. As your child experiences everything as potentially traumatic, the passage of time and intellectually knowing they are safe is not enough.

2.They allow you and your child to be their guides as to what feels OK and what definitely doesn’t or might not – trauma informed professionals should feel comfortable to be endlessly guided by you and your child as to what feels safe and unsafe.

The professionals should fully and truly see you as the experts and be there to listen to and follow your guidance, whilst offering support and any additional expertise and resources they have.

3.They don’t expect to see progress but are full of patient aspiration and wonder about your child – being trauma informed means being with the child where they are rather than having expectations that by now they should be able to do or not do things, as this can feel like additional pressure and failing.

Holding a real belief in your child is helpful and will enable them to reveal what they are really able to do along the way.

4.As individuals or as a team they prioritize grounding their nervous systems throughout the day, every day – those who are truly trauma informed understand that the calmness in their body and emotions is a vital element to supporting every child, especially those with trauma.

In a setting or during individual work this should look like the adults putting in regular pause and breathe breaks for themselves and knowing that they will need to keep scanning themselves to see if they’ve got a bit too much fight / flight or are shutting down.

Professionals should be clear that emotions and energy move all the time and that they need to be constantly coming back to a grounded safe state. This should not be some add on fancy scheme, but part of their daily work life as it’s the foundation of safety for the children.

5.They spend time with your child on your child’s terms, doing things they like to do to build a relationship at your child’s pace – being trauma informed means knowing that children with trauma have had complex often scary experiences with relationships. This means that anyone in their daily life will need to regularly spend some one-to-one time with them so that the child has that ongoing experience of safe connection with them.

6.They always speak to you, your child and about your child with true compassion – being truly trauma informed means that professionals never speak in a critical or negative way to you or your child.

At a deep level, they know that your child and you are always doing your best and need kindness and compassion. Safety may mean adjustments, but these are done in collaboration with your child, and with you.

This compassion should be limitless with no bottom line or final warning!

7.They understand that the physical and emotional environment they offer your child needs to be simple, quiet, and consistent – settings and professionals should have a clear understanding of what needs to be offered in the physical and emotional environment so your child can begin to feel safe. Things to look out for are classroom walls covered in pictures, corridors full of posters and a lack of simple, neutral quiet spaces. And a sensory room that’s NOT full of stuff.

8.They prioritise offering and creating sensory breaks with and for all the children in the setting and are guided by how many your child might need – a child with ongoing trauma often experiences the incoming sounds, sights, smells, touches, energy, and tastes of daily life as completely overwhelming and intense. (Although in some cases, children need extra stimulation as they are in a state of sensory shut down).

Trauma informed professionals should be clear about this and naturally provide regular simple breaks with offers of breathing for all the children and other simple grounding techniques.

This should not be a big deal or an add on, but part of daily life in all settings – your child’s feelings about what’s offered need to be observed and respected.

9.They really care about your child and are able to not take your child’s behaviour personally – although it can feel really personal when a child targets a professional who has been endlessly kind and supportive to them. As the child switches to rejecting them, being aggressive towards them and seeming to throw all the kindness back in their face (this often happens when ANY change or transition is looming).

The professional needs to be able to feel the ouch moment and ground themselves so they can offer the child calmness, compassion and emotional safety and connection. Which means the setting needs to be providing every adult who works there with emotionally focused, trauma informed supervision!

10. They are absolutely clear that your child is always doing their best even if they did just scream “fuck off” in their face and throw a chair at them – when the adults are crystal clear that a child will be experiencing multiple internal and external trauma triggers all day and night, it will feel and become natural and comfortable to come back to focusing on how hard life feels for the child.

This is the most basic, hard to do and ESSENTIAL component of being trauma informed… Seeing beyond the behaviour to the child’s pain and fear.

These 10 signs may not all be there in a setting or a professional, but number 10 has to be. Along with a real, endless openness to learn from your child, from you and the huge expertise there is around how trauma presents and what can be helpful.

I work with many parents who become exhausted by endlessly advocating for their child and wondering if they are maybe asking too much or being unreasonable or over-protective. (Professionals sometimes say or imply this!) And these parents get worn down by the frustrations of having to once again explain that: “Yes, my child’s trauma was in the first 6 months of their life and yes, they are now 12, but it is STILL the underlying reason behind their behaviour and complex needs.”

Trauma informed shouldn’t be an add on, it should run through the professional and the setting at every level. We know better now so we must all do better by every child.

Jane Evans is an International Parenting Coach, Childhood Trauma and Media Expert and Published Author.

Jane brings her knowledge, her professional and life experience into her roles as a renowned TV and Radio Expert, author of four children’s’ books, her TED Talk, and her international speaking and coaching. She makes the why behind people’s behaviours, simple to grasp, and provides solid, practical solutions so everyone has the opportunity to live well beyond their anxiety and other limiting beliefs and behaviours

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