Both Timely and Evergreen: The Guilford Press’ Kitty Moore on the New 'Has Your Child Been Traumatized?' and Other Needed Self-Help Resources

This book contains compact explanations that provide a good foundation of understanding of adverse childhood events, the signs and symptoms of acute distress and more serious PTSD, and then offers lists of practical strategies for helping a child through the aftermath of a traumatic experience that are easy to implement in a variety of settings and easy to refer back to in the book.

What sets Melissa Goldberg Mintz’s new book, Has Your Child Been Traumatized?: How to Know and What to Do to Promote Healing and Recovery, apart from other titles about helping troubled kids?

Books that focus on distressed kids commonly identify a specific challenge—ADHD, oppositional behavior, or Autism Spectrum Disorder—and provide solutions for parents to help their child cope. But trauma is challenging for parents in another way. When something terrible happens to their child, parents are scared their child will be scarred for life. Yet science tells us that trauma affects every kid differently. Sometimes it has no consequences. Sometimes everything seems fine, and then the child becomes clingy, or scared of sleeping alone. Other kids may act as if nothing has happened. Parents must discern when the trauma is talking and when the child is simply going through a typical developmental phase. Melissa’s solution is to teach parents to figure out when exposure to a traumatic event has caused problematic behavior—and what to do about it.

Why is Melissa’s expertise needed so much right now?

The world feels more chaotic, unpredictable, and challenging than ever before. We are all bombarded with reports of horrific events, and this naturally makes us feel the risk is higher than ever. Overly sensitized to danger, parents become hyperalert to the potential for their children to be traumatized, and thus suffer significant and long-lasting effects to their daily functioning, healthy development, and happiness. Naturally, parents want to protect their children from this perceived danger. When your child comes home from school scared because there’s been yet another shooting, it’s understandable to want to reassure them. But parents feel like they can’t say, “Everything is going to be okay, honey.”

The problem is that being hyperalert to psychological damage from a potentially traumatic event causes many parents to overreact, shielding kids from the daily interactions that provide a sense of stability in their world or inadvertently suggesting to the child that she should feel more upset than she actually is. These responses by parents are quite understandable, but they can do more harm than good. Parents need to know the signs and symptoms of acute versus chronic distress following an adverse event so they can respond accordingly. This book helps parents recognize when a problem is developing rather than jumping to an assumption that any exposure to an adverse event requires an immediate professional consultation.

Even if adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) surround us, it’s important for parents to know that different kids have different responses—even two kids in the same family exposed to the same event—depending on various factors. Recognizing signs a child is having an acute—short-term but noticeable—reaction to an ACE can enable parents to take simple measures very quickly to help the child process the experience. In addition, they can help prevent this experience from becoming a chronic problem and possibly build the child’s resilience to future ACEs. Knowing the signs of traumatization can also help a parent avoid seeing a problem where there is none and thus overreacting—doing more harm to the child than good. With Melissa’s research background in trauma, she knows what parents need to know to help their child.

A central theme in Melissa’s book is that parents play the most important role in supporting a traumatized child (even more than therapists, school counselors, etc.). What does she mean by this?

Children with a secure attachment bond to their parents have developed deep-seated trust in their parents’ wisdom and guidance. They can rely on their parents in the toughest of circumstances for love and help. When a potentially traumatizing event suddenly threatens children’s safety, kids can more easily regain their equilibrium when a parent shows they are still safe and that this unique event does not necessarily predict a future of traumatic events. Children also may not be able to express their feelings verbally, and when disturbed by an ACE they may act out in ways that don’t seem to reflect their emotional response to the event. But their parents, knowing their children better than anyone else does, can be pretty adept at interpreting their child’s behaviors in a way that helps the child express and move through distress. Doing a little detective work to decode confusing changes in behavior is a lot easier when you’ve been living with and loving this child every day than it is for teachers and other intermittent participants in the child’s life.

Can you give one or two examples, taken from the book, that parents can do—today—to support their kids?

  1. Normalize and validate your child’s feelings when a memory of a traumatic event is triggered. Say, “Having that big dog get so close to you was pretty scary, wasn’t it?” or “Wow, this crowd feels a little tight to me, too.” Some children feel ashamed of post-traumatic fears or may not even be able to articulate what they’re feeling. Naming their reactions is a first step toward processing their experience.
  2. When trauma triggers come up, show your child you’re there for them and will keep them safe. Here’s where your intimate knowledge of your unique child comes to the fore: some kids respond better to physical gestures like a hug and others to verbal encouragement like “I got you.” You can also give your child a secret code word to tell you when they feel unsafe and need to exit, even if just for a short break.
  3. Develop a routine if frequent triggers are disrupting your child’s day. Children don’t like unpleasant surprises, and the more you can keep to a regular schedule, the safer they will feel. Knowing what to expect helps children feel safe and in control.

Key to all of these strategies, however, is balance: Children who have been traumatized need to feel safe, but they also need to live in the typical domains of the world in which they can develop into healthy adults: school, playing with friends, going to stores and restaurants if they usually do that, visiting and being visited by relatives and friends.

Sitting down to read a book from start to finish can be overwhelming for busy parents. Can you talk a little bit about how Has Your Child Been Traumatized? is uniquely structured to put critical information at parents’ fingertips?

This book contains compact explanations that provide a good foundation of understanding of adverse childhood events, the signs and symptoms of acute distress and more serious PTSD, and then offers lists of practical strategies for helping a child through the aftermath of a traumatic experience that are easy to implement in a variety of settings and easy to refer back to in the book.

You have worked as the Publisher of Guilford’s trade program for many years! Guilford’s titles are distinctive because they are perennially relevant—people are always looking for expert parenting advice, mindfulness techniques, and help with common mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Can you highlight a few Guilford books that have stood out over the years?

We translate science for the public, including resources specifically for parents. So much is known about many disorders, problems, parent-child interactions, and other critical factors, all of which can help parents get their kids back on track. We have published critically acclaimed books—for parents and the general public—with the aim of helping them cope better with life’s challenges. The Mindful Self-Compassion Workbook by Kristin Neff and Chris Germer has helped tens of thousands of people cope with anxiety by providing them with a sense of safety and contentment in a world that is filled with uncertainty. Raising a Secure Child by Kent Hoffman, Glen Cooper, and Bert Powell teaches parents how to develop that secure attachment that their children will carry with them and help them to thrive as youngsters—and adults. Our Smart but Scattered series helps kids who struggle with executive function deficits learn how to study, pay attention, and overcome their challenges. Perennial best sellers on ADHD by Russell A. Barkley have helped countless kids who struggle with this disorder—and their parents.

Looking ahead, what books are you working on now that you are particularly excited about?

I’m excited about our 2023 season! We are publishing a book on mindful self-compassion for burnout by Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer. It is a much-needed volume that will change the lives of people struggling with exhaustion brought on by the pandemic, the geopolitical situation, climate change, etc. Bright Kids Who Couldn’t Care Less by Ellen Braaten offers support and advice to parents who are struggling to help their kids with motivation issues in the wake of the pandemic. Braaten’s warm encouragement helps parents raise the child they have—not the one they think they want. She shares practical tools and strategies to help parents shift to a better path on which their unique child can shine.




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