Childhood Sexual Abuse In The Black Community

Childhood Sexual Abuse In The Black Community

Last week I was speaking with a young Black girl who had just turned 13 and was arrested for hitting her mother. This young girl was very, very angry. You could see it in her body language, in her terse answers to my questions, the scowl on her face and her overall negative attitude.

I asked her why she was so angry. She responded, “I don’t know”.  She seemed angry at the world. She had been suspended twice from school for fighting, but this was the first time she had ever been arrested. I was afraid it wouldn’t be the last if she didn’t learn how to address her anger.

I continued with my assessment and when I got to the questions about sexual abuse, she told me impassively that she had been raped at the age of seven by her mother’s then boyfriend.

Bingo. I knew that at least in part, her anger was tied to that traumatic experience. She went on to tell me that the boyfriend was now in prison and that she felt like she was left unprotected by her absent biological father and her neglectful mother.

I was shocked and angered when she told me that after the rape, she only received two weeks of counseling. Two weeks of counseling does nothing for almost any issue, let alone something as tragic as childhood sexual abuse.

I am almost positive that she was offered more than two weeks of counseling, or at the least referred for more counseling and her mother didn’t follow through. I can’t be certain, but from my experience it’s often the parents who just want to “move passed” the situation and downplay it’s potential affects on their child.

I asked this young girl if she thought the sexual abuse she experienced affected her in any way. She replied, “no”. Of course at 13 she is too young to understand the subconscious affects of sexual abuse. She’s too young to understand that all that anger she has inside of her that is already disrupting her life can most likely be attributed to her past.

Survivors of childhood sexual abuse are more likely to deal with a host of mental health problems including anger issues, depression, eating disorders, guilt, shame, anxiety, relationship problems, dissociation patterns, repression and self-blame.

This young girl is just one of the 61% of Black girls who have experienced sexual abuse  at the hands of men they know and should be able to trust according to a study done by Black Woman’s Blue Print .

Robin Stone, author of No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal From Sexual Abuse (2004) says that one out of four Black girls will be sexually abused by the age of 18.

Most of the sexual abuse comes from within the family and friends circle. Many go unreported. For every every Black woman who reports a rape, at least 15 do not according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2009).

22-29% of child sexual abuse victims are boys, many who often don’t report it due to fear, shame and confusion. Untreated, these boys often go on to have a plethora of behavior problems, many of which lead to future problems in school, run-ins with the law and relationship problems.

There are many, many reasons sexual abuse in families happen in secrecy including families wanting to keep it a secret (out of shame. to protect the victim and/or perpetrator) and sadly because of the historical stereotypes of Black women being seductive or sexually aggressive, even at young ages. It makes it hard for society to see them as innocent victims in many cases.

Talking to professional Black women I know personally, I was shocked to find out that many of them had experienced childhood sexual abuse at the hands of uncles, older cousins or other males they knew. Most did not tell anyone as a child.

This trend to not talk about childhood sexual abuse period has to change, especially in the Black community where it appears that our collectivist culture, fear of stereotypes and history itself, makes us reluctant to discuss and address sexual abuse with the intensity that it deserves.

There is so much to talk about when it comes to childhood sexual abuse, especially in the Black community. If you want to know more you can start by reading an older post I wrote about childhood sexual abuse and if you’re interested in learning more about sexual abuse in the Black community I wholeheartedly recommend Robin Stones book, No Secrets, No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal From Sexual Abuse.

Families need to talk about and not be afraid to address childhood sexual abuse. As Corey Booker said on a totally different subject, but it rings true here as well, “Your silence and amnesia is complicity.” .

 

 

#orlandostrong

Orlando_Strong_1

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks undergoing two courses in trauma therapy, not realizing that an incredibly traumatic event would hit the city I live in.  What happened in my city of Orlando in the early morning hours of 6/12/2016 was an unimaginable tragedy.

I woke up that morning and saw all the commotion on the news and in my disoriented state, I was trying to figure out part of the world this tragedy had occurred in, not realizing that it was happening in my city, just fifteen minutes from where I live.

Just hours earlier I was on my way home from a night out on the town, not far from where the shooting happened, when I saw all the rescue vehicles headed in the opposite direction.  I had no idea that they were going to what would turn out to be the largest mass shooting in recent United States history.

This touched me. It hurts me, not just because so many people got killed, but that it happened in my backyard. It makes me angry. It touched everyone in the city somehow someway. I had never been to Pulse night club, but knew people who did.  My nephew knew two of the victims that got killed.

My sister, the Fire Marshall for the City of Orlando got called to that horrific scene and was shaken by the cell phones ringing on the bodies still inside of the club.

I watched on Facebook as many people I knew; fellow therapists and friends, shared pictures of people they knew and loved who were now gone.

Later that day, I was standing in line at the convenience store when the person in front of me found out that one of her friends was among the dead and right there in front of everyone she broke down in sadness and anger.  I was caught off guard. I had just gone out to buy some milk and there I was face to face with the impact of such a senseless crime.

I did the best I could verbally to console her so that she could get herself together enough to drive home, but it was an instant reminder of the many families and friends that were impacted by this man-made disaster.

Thinking about this tragedy, the nonsense of it all, the loss of life and the amount of trauma that will affect not only the surviving victims, but also the victims’ families, friends, first responders and the residence of the City Beautiful disheartens me.

This was a hate crime no matter how you slice it. Hatred of Americans, hatred of homosexuals, hatred of religious freedom, etc. We can’t let hate win.

No one should have to go through this. I could go on and write about gun control laws, terrorism, homophobia, religion or even post-traumatic stress disorder since this is a mental health blog, but I won’t.

I could go on about how the killer himself was probably struggling with his sexuality and hated that so many people could live freely and comfortably in their own identity, but I won’t give him that much of my energy .

What I want is this: for everyone to take some time to visit with and get to know someone of a different culture, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, age, whatever.

Get to know people who may seem different from you.

A few months ago I went to a gay nightclub for the first time just because it was the closes club in walking distance in downtown Minneapolis in negative ten degrees weather and I had a blast! It was something I thought I would never do and was initially uncomfortable with, but I had so much fun I went again the next night.

Stop being xenophobic!

Also take a moment and show love to those you love. My nephew just today told me that if he had not ran into me that Saturday night he had plans on going to that same nightclub and could have been among the dead or injured. Tomorrow is not promised for any of us.

There’s a lot of #prayfororlando going around, but besides praying, do something. If you can’t give blood or contribute to the GoFundMe  platform, then at least learn to embrace other human beings and end xenophobia, racism, sexism, religism and any other B.S. that contributes to hate.

On an end note, I am very proud of the way my city, my country and my world are banding together to show support and love for both the LBGTQ community and Orlando as a whole. That’s what love is and that’s the way it should be at all times, not just during times of tragedy.

Psychological Truama: A Brief Overview

Psychological Truama: A Brief Overview

Psychological trauma is sometimes hard to understand. Because of this, many people who have suffered from it do not realize how it affects their lives. More sadly, many parents who have children that have undergone psychological trauma, do not realize the importance of getting them help because they do not realize the damage that has been caused.

They believe that children are resilient and will get over or forget something traumatic that happened to them when they were one, two, three or four yeas old. Depending on the child, the traumatic event and what protective factors were or weren’t available to the child after the event, that child may suffer psychological damage for life.

Psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of an event in which the individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed or the individual experiences a threat to their life, body or sanity.

A traumatic event creates an overwhelming feeling within a person where they are not able to cope and are left to feel as if they will be killed, seriously injured or psychologically damaged. The person may feel overwhelmed emotionally, cognitively and/or physically. This type of situation is common with abuse, entrapment, helplessness, betrayal, pain, loss and/or confusion.

Trauma is a very broad definition and includes responses to powerful one time events such as natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and crime, deaths, and even surgeries.  It can also include responses to repetitive events such as combat, urban violence, concentration camps and abusive relationships.

The key component in trauma is feeling helpless and endangered. No two people will experience the same traumatic event the same. As a matter of fact, what may be traumatic for one person may not be at all traumatic to the next.

For instance, earlier this week I did crisis counseling with four female inmate workers who were out clearing road debris when a man came out of the woods with a machete and chased them back to the van. The man was apprehended, but the four women were brought to me to be evaluated.

Out of the four women, three appeared to be handling the situation relatively well, even able to laugh and joke about the incident while also describing it as terrifying.

One woman however, was obviously more shaken up. She sat nearly stone faced with tears in her eyes, not saying a word during the counseling session. I quickly learned that she was the last woman to make it safely to the van and was the one whose life was most in danger. She also has a history of mental health problems which may make her predisposed to developing signs of trauma which include:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief.
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings.
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame.
  • Feeling sad or hopeless.
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Avoidant behavior

Out of the four women, she is the one I most worry about and the one I will observe closes during the days to come to see how she processes this trauma and to help walk her through it if needed.

That is the interesting part of trauma and why trauma is defined by the experience of the survivor.  We can’t say one event will cause trauma and another will not or that one person will be traumatized by this experience while another will not. Trauma is too broad for such simple explanations.

 

“Big T” versus  “Little T”

It’s hard to go through life without being traumatized in some way. Most of us have experienced some type of event that has affected us either consciously or subconsciously. It could be the divorce of our parents, being bullied in school, seeing a pet die when we were young.

Many of us don’t even know we walk around caring these traumas with us or how they affect our lives.

For instance, a man whose favorite pet died when he was five may never like pets for the rest of his life and grow angry and anxious when his kids ask if they can have a pet.

These types of traumas are called “Little Ts” or “Little Traumas”. They do not have the severe impact that  “Big Ts” or “Big Traumas” usually have such as flashbacks, avoidant behavior, severe anxiety and nightmares that lead to a diagnosis of PTSD. Still, “Little Ts” can unconsciously disrupt our lives.

Most men I’ve worked with in anger management don’t even realize why they are so angry, why they hit their wives or bully their children. It’s only after some intense introspection that most of them can identify traumatic events in their childhood such as being bullied by their own father, watching their father beat their mother or watching their mother go through abusive relationship with one man after another, that they realize the reason they carry around so much anger.It’s once we deal with the root causes of their anger that they began to truly heal.

I myself as a child watched as my father often abused my mother. I never had any nightmares, flashbacks or anything that would make it a “Big T”. I never felt that my own life was in danger, but I did feel like my mothers’ life was.

Still, one of the affects it had on me was that for many years I thought that’s what love was. That if you loved someone you fought, made up and then fought again. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned I was wrong. For many years, that “Little T” of watching my parents fight had me living in a world where fighting verbally and physically meant love.

A woman I counseled with was claustrophobic and afraid of the dark. She had no ideal why until one session we processed the fact that her older siblings used to play a game where they would lock her in a closet when she was very young. They thought it was funny, but she was tormented. She never viewed that as a traumatic event until years later, sitting across from me crying.

Trauma doesn’t have to be a negative word. Often times the way we respond to trauma, the way it changes us, the way we adapt to a traumatic event, is natural given the coping skills, circumstances and knowledge we have at the time.

The topic of trauma is too broad to cover in one post. I’ve actually been on a radio talk show discussing trauma twice within the last two months and will likely be on a third time because it is such a huge topic.

My bottom line for this post is to help others realize that you don’t have to go off to war or survive some horrific event to suffer from the affects of trauma. Even “Little Ts” can rob us of our full quality of life and “Big Ts” can devastate us.

Once we recognize this, we can change it through self help, the help of loved ones and even professional help if needed and reclaim the joy and full life we deserve.

 

 

 

Too Scared To Talk: Children with Selective Mutism

142005745The other day I was speaking to a mother who was describing her son’s symptoms to me. She reported that he had difficultly and sometimes just couldn’t speak at all in various social situations, especially at school and around strangers. He had been tested for Autism and that was ruled out. She was very frustrated with her son, but also felt bad for him because she could tell that he was also in distress. She just couldn’t understand why her son would suddenly become mute in social situations when he was such a funny, outgoing and talkative kid at home.

After listening some more, I realized that her son did not have an autistic spectrum disorder as she still believed, but that he had what is called Selective Mutism.

Selective Mutism is the inability to speak and communicate in social settings, but the ability to speak in settings where the child feels comfortable, relaxed and secure.  Many parents think their child has absolute control over this, hence their frustration, but Selective Mutism is an anxiety related disorder .

90% of children with Selective Mutism also have social anxiety or social phobia. While many parents initially think their child is faking or playing games, Selective Mutism is very painful and debilitating to the child.

Children with Selective Mutism have a real, paralyzing fear about speaking and therefore this totally impairs their ability to develop social relationships or to participate in social situations.

Not every child expresses Selective Mutism in the same way. While some children are totally mute in social situations, others can only manage to whisper while some will remain perfectlu still, seemingly unable to speak or move, while less severe children can manage to speak totally normal to a select few individuals in social situations.  This type of anxiety goes well beyond the normal range of shyness seen in other children.

A very select few children with Selective Mutism don’t appear to be shy at all. They actually do a very good job trying to mime their way through social situations.  In these children, Selective Mutism may be a symptom of something else, such as the child initially being mute and never grasping communication and are basically stuck in the nonverbal stage of communication.

Why Does A Child Develop Selective Mutism?

Most children who have Selective Mutism have a genetic predisposition to anxiety. This means that it is inherited. Almost from infancy on, these children may show severe separation anxiety, moodiness, frequent tantrums, inflexibility, show extreme shyness and have sleep problems.

Some children with Selective Mutism may have Sensory Processing Disorder (DSI), which basically means they may be sensitive to sounds and lights, and that they may perceive environmental and social cues differently than most people. They become easily frustrated, angry, confused, withdrawn or act out because the signals they are receiving from their brain are alerting them to danger and fear causing them to have anxiety.

Up to 30% of children with Selective Mutism also have a speech, language, processing or learning disorder which can increase their anxiety and inability to communicate effectively in social situations.

There is no evidence that abuse or trauma causes Selective Mutism, which is different from Traumatic Mutism.

In Selective Mutism the child can usually speak normally at least in situations where they are comfortable. In Traumatic Mustism, a child witnesses or experiences a tragedy so devastating that they can’t comprehend it, they stop speaking altogether in every situation suddenly.

Selective Mutism can progress to the point where the child stops speaking and becomes totally mute, but that is usually gradual and when negative reinforcements cause the child to slowly start limiting the places and people he/she feels comfortable talking to.

Diagnosing Selective Mustism

Most children are diagnosed with Selective Mutism between the ages of 3 and 8. Most of these children have already exhibited severe symptoms of anxiety. If a child stops speaking for more than a month than the parents need to take the child to a doctor.

Here is the diagnostic criteria for diagnosing Selective Mutism. Note that this criteria shouldn’t be the only criteria used to diagnose or rule out Selective Mutism since each child and case is different:

DSM-IV-TR (2000):
1. Consistent failure to speak in specific social situations (in which there is an expectation for speaking, e.g., at school) despite speaking in other situations.
2. The disturbance interferes with educational or occupational achievement or with social communication.
3. The duration of the disturbance is at least 1 month (not limited to the first month of school).
4. The failure to speak is not due to a lack of knowledge of, or comfort with, the spoken language required in the social situation.
5. The disturbance is not better accounted for by a Communication Disorder (e.g., stuttering) and does not occur exclusively during the course of a Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Schizophrenia, or other Psychotic Disorder.
Associated features of Selective Mutism may include excessive shyness, fear of social embarrassment, social isolation and withdrawal, clinging, compulsive traits, negativism, temper tantrums, or controlling or oppositional behavior, particularly at home. There may be severe impairment in social and school functioning. Teasing or goading by peers is common. Although children with this disorder generally have normal language skills, there may occasionally be an associated Communication Disorder (e.g., Phonological Disorder, Expressive Language Disorder, or Mixed Receptive- Expressive Language Disorder) or a general medical condition that causes abnormalities of articulation. Mental Retardation, hospitalization or extreme psychosocial stressors may be associated with the disorder. In addition, in clinical settings children with Selective Mutism are almost always given an additional diagnosis of Anxiety Disorder, especially Social Phobia is common.

Many parents, teachers and even professionals do not understand Selective Mutism because research is so limited. Many think the child is being defiant, controlling, that they are just shy and will grow out of it, or that they have some other disability such as autism.

Children with Selective Mutism tend to want friends, they are just too anxious to develop friendships easily while children with autism tend to not care to have any friends at all.

When considering seeking treatment for a child with Selective Mutism, parents should be careful not to find a professional who believes that Selective Mutism is behavioral and about the child being defiant or controlling. These type of professionals tend to try to use punishment and forcing the child to speak as treatment, which consequently increases the anxiety of the child and worsens the condition.

Good professionals who understand Selective Mutism will focus on making the child feel comfortable, decreasing anxiety and helping the child learn coping skills to deal with anxious feelings. This is often done with a combination of therapy and medication and as a collaborative approach with the professional, parents and the school.

Dealing with a child with Selective Mutism can be frustrating, but understanding what Selective Mutism is and is not helps decrease the frustration.

For more information and help, go to http://www.childmind.org

It’s Not All Your Fault

1132x1600_12879_Bat_your_eyes_girl_2d_illustration_girl_sad_woman_portrait_picture_image_digital_artRecently I was talking to a 27-year-old female who had been arrested for the first time on various drug charges. Emotionally she was a wreck. I could tell she was really a good person on the inside, but emotionally she obviously wasn’t as stable as she could be and I immediately sensed that her childhood was filled with some type of neglect or abuse.

Why was I able to sense that? Because from my years of working with people, especially teenagers and women who have been abused and/or neglected as children, I’ve noticed that a large majority of them present very similar including being angry, shy, depressed, manic or lacking boundaries coupled with other cues such as body language.

This young lady was at some points crying, then angry, then laughing, and then crying again. Her life was “a mess” as she put it. She had two children, was in an unstable relationship (like all the other relationships she had been in), couldn’t seem to get her life together or in her words, “do anything right” and she had started smoking crack cocaine, a secret she kept from her family until she got arrested.

She couldn’t understand why she couldn’t get her life together. Why every time things would be going good, she would do something to mess it up. She was living almost in constant chaos and was using drugs to escape it. She had never been diagnosed with anything before and blamed herself for not being able to stop herself from making bad choices over and over again.

And then I asked her if she was ever abused before. I already knew the answer, I would have been shocked if I was wrong, I was hoping I was wrong, but I was right. She started crying and told me she had been molested repeatedly from the age of 8. Her childhood from that point on was filled with abuse, neglect and abandonment. No wonder now as an adult her life was “a mess”.

One of the things that happens to children and even adults when we experience abuse, neglect, trauma, abandonment or anything that is so mentally and emotionally painful that we can’t make sense of it, is that it doesn’t get fully processed and it becomes clutter in our minds, thoughts and emotions.

Our emotions and thoughts become fragmented with a lot of unprocessed feelings and those unprocessed feelings are what eventually will cause us to express ourselves in unhealthy ways, especially if we aren’t naturally resilient or have great social-emotional supports. However, even if we are naturally resilient and have great supports, chances are that fragmentation will still affect the way we think, feel and interact with other people.

That is what was going on with this young lady and until I explained to her how the trauma and pain from her past was affecting her future, she had no idea that at least some of what she was going through wasn’t totally her fault. Deep inside she is holding on to feelings of rage, insecurity and hurt from all the abuse, trauma and abandonment. All that unprocessed, raw emotion has to come out somewhere consciously or unconsciously. In a lot of people it comes out  in the form of rage towards themselves or others.

They may cut themselves, or do other things that demonstrate a lack of love for themselves such as being promiscuous, abusing drugs or alcohol and getting into abusive or neglectful relationships over and over again just to name a few. Some may even attempt suicide. Drugs, sex, self-mutilation and even suicide may be used as ways to try to control the rage they have inside.

They may turn their rage outwards and inflict hurt on others by being abusive, bitter, and pushing people away sometimes to the point where they wake up one day and realize they are totally alone and will blame other people for abandoning them even when they were the one pushing them away.

On top of that, they become so used to hiding their real feelings and emotions that they have difficulty communicating and expressing themselves in a healthy way. In return, they often end up feeling misunderstood and often blaming others for everything that doesn’t go right. Their psychological defenses will leave them blind to their own role in their interpersonal difficulties.

When someone has all this stuff going on in their conscious and subconscious mind, there’s no wonder their lives are continuously in chaos. Almost nothing they do will fix it if they remain unaware and blind to how their past is influencing their present. If they aren’t willing to try to change and get help, then it’s very unlikely that their lives will ever be all that it could have been.

Change Starts With Insight

Sometimes the toughest part of therapy is insight building, which means getting the person to see things as they really are and how they are truly affecting their lives. Many people like to place blame on others and take absolutely no responsibility for their circumstances. Even this young lady at one point was trying to blame her boyfriend for calling the police when he couldn’t find her. When the police found her and search her, they discovered the drugs so this was all the boyfriends fault according to her.

Once I got this young lady to see that she had to take responsibility for her current incarceration, I pointed out to her that it wasn’t all her fault.  Much of her current issues, the relationship instability, the drug use, the emotional instability, all had roots in her past. Once she got this she had an “aha” moment. She had never even put the two together. Even in that moment I could see the light bulb go off as some insight started pouring in.

That was amazing, but now it was time for the real hard work to begin. Now that she had insight, she had even more responsibility to start taking charge of her life and to stop letting the garbage from the past stink up her present and future.

Where To Start Healing

Immediately she said she wasn’t strong enough to do that, that she was too weak and that might be true which is why I told her the first thing she needs to do is to get into rehab. She needs to get clean and then to also find a good psychotherapist. She is going to have to be determined, patient and emotionally open because she will have to face a lot of emotional pain she’s been avoiding and she’ll have to resist the urge and the fear to do what she’s always done which is to get angry,  runaway from getting help or to sabotage herself again.

This is not something that is going to be resolved in one session, one month or even one year. This will likely be a life long battle for her, but one that is worth fighting.

She has a long road ahead of her, but if she is willing to do the work, she will have a much better life. Until she does the work and gets the help she needs, nothing in her life will make sense the way it should and she will always be left feeling like a victim. It’s not all her fault, but she now has the responsibility to take control of her life and to at least minimize the hurt from the past.

This one young lady’s experience echos that of hundred of young women I have dealt with over the last several years. Many of them due to their experiences, stressors, and predispositions to certain illness will go on to become drug addicts, alcoholics, diagnosed with bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, anxiety, etc. Some of them will be resilient and despite their past live incredible lives as relatively emotionally healthy people.

It may not be all your fault, but it is your job to take responsibility and control over your life.

Social-Emotional Development in Children Zero to Five: Part 1

My 7 month old son Kaiden
My 7 month old son Kaiden

Over the next few weeks, I will be covering some information on social-emotional development and mental health for children 0 to 5 years of age. The reason for this is not only because I have my own seven month old son, but because of my new position as a children therapist.

In the last month or so in my new position, I have come across a handful of patients aged 2 to 4 and have had some difficulty trying to figure out the best way to treat them. It’s one thing to work with children, it’s another thing to work with the smallest of children who generally have no idea what they are doing and why they are doing it and their parents have already given up on them.

I’ve seen parents with 2 year old children, reporting signs of hyperactivity, inattention, defiance, aggression, you name it. They insisted that their child was different then all other children, out of control and demanded medication. And I’ve seen these kids, 2 to 5 year old kids who definitely were expressing signs and symptoms not typical of the average child.

In many of these cases, it ends up being the parent that needs the most help, either counseling themselves or parent skill training to learn how to deal with their children and curve unwanted behaviors. Still, in a few of these cases, it was obvious that there had been some type of trauma in the very early years of these kids lives. Trauma that remained unprocessed and so the child was dealing with the trauma in the best way they knew how, acting out.

Most of the time, finding out this information is not easy because the parents either don’t tell you the information or they didn’t even recognize that the traumatic event was actually traumatic for the child. Many parents believe that children 0 to 5 aren’t affected by certain events, especially younger children 0 to 2. In reality, even in utero, children can be affected by stressors their mom goes through.

For instance, when I talk to the moms of many of the children I work with who are 0 to 5, I find out that many of them were in abusive relationships during their pregnancy and afterwards. Many of them got abused regularly in front of their infants and young children, not thinking this would have an affect on them. Many of them yelled and screamed with their partners or other family members regularly with their child in their arms.

These things can have a really big affect on their child which is why I suspect, at least in part, is why their children now are “out of control”. They have experienced a lot of stuff, emotions, things that may not seem like trauma to us adults, but can be traumatic experiences to the child, and they don’t know what to do with it. They lack the ability to communicate like adults so they internalize it and express it the best way they know how which can look like disruptive behavior.

Another two year old I saw, his mom had no idea why he was so “wired” and screamed all the time. She pretty much said he was born that way, but I knew that wasn’t likely the case. After much probing and counseling, I eventually found out that this mom too had been in an abusive relationship throughout her whole pregnancy and afterwards. As a matter of fact, her baby was in a car seat when the father was driving and beating on her at the same time. They ended up getting into a bad car accident where the baby somehow ended up flying unto the floor and stuck under the passenger seat of the car for nearly half an hour until he was freed by firefighters. If that wasn’t traumatic enough, he ended up spending 3 months in the hospital recovering from his broken bones and internal injuries. Yet, this mother didn’t think that this had any affect on her 2 year old childs’ current behavior until I brought this to her attention.

Without going into the neuroscience behind it (at least not at the moment), the brain is always changing and young brains are changing and developing the most. Experiences are the one of the  things that change the brain the most, causing the actual brain structure to change.

Everything we experience from sights, to sounds, the people we love, the emotions we feel, event the music we listen to and the books we read, affect the way our brain develops and this is especially true in children 0 to 5.In the next part of this series we will continue to explore behavior, parenting and early social and emotional development  and ways parents can nurture social and emotional skills in children 0 to 5.