A child or young person who has experienced trauma may be anxious or stressed and behave in unpredictable ways. They may suddenly get angry at you or the family pet, break or throw toys or damage things around them. Stimulating lights, chaotic mess, overcrowding and excessive noise can add to this anxiety and overwhelm their senses.
At times, it may feel as though there is nothing you can do to defuse the situation. Creating a calm home environment is a practical and relatively easy way you can help a child or young person in your care feel more secure. The calmer and more secure they feel, the less likely they are to act out and engage in destructive behaviours.
To you, clutter and domestic mess may seem cosy and homely. Constantly tidying up may also be low on your list of priorities, especially if you have several children in your care. But to a traumatised child, mess can mean stress. And if they’re stressed, you’re stressed too.
A little mess has a habit of quickly building up to overwhelming proportions. So, it’s worth taking a little time throughout each day to keep control of mess. Get toddlers and primary aged school children into the routine of putting away their toys when they have finished playing. Make it easy for them by having designated places to put the toys – a basket for the plush animals and a box for blocks. It’s also important that you secure items after use that could potentially turn into a weapon, such as metal scooters.
Soothe through soft sounds
Although it’s not possible to eliminate all noise, you can do a lot to minimise unnecessary noise and auditory stimulation. Keep the television off unless someone is actually watching a suitable program, and don’t leave the radio blaring all day. For especially sound-sensitive children, eliminate noisy toys that have no volume control and replace them with quiet activities like books, arts and crafts and wooden toys.
To help a child calm down or sleep, choose one of the many music recordings especially made for soothing babies and toddlers. Gently singing or humming is a wonderful way to connect with them as well as calm them. They won’t judge you if you’re out of tune.
Encourage stressed-out teenagers to take a break from noise and overstimulating screen time by listening to soothing music or an age-appropriate meditation. Try some simple yoga poses and deep breathing exercises with them.
Create a calm corner
Not the same as a time out space, the calm corner is a positive space where they can feel safe, chill out and just relax. It’s a designated quiet area where a child or young person can escape from noise or other situations that may overwhelm them.
You don’t need a lot of space – just a corner with some soft lighting, cushions to lie or sit on, some cuddly toys and a rug. Place some quiet activities like books, or paper and pencils in the space (no electronics or television). If your child is sensitive to sound, keep some noise-blocking ear muffs for them to grab.
Of course, tidying up the mess and creating a calm environment is not going to eliminate all the effects of trauma that a child or young person in your care may have experienced. But it is an essential foundation that will help your child cope and make you less stressed.