Can We Talk About Trauma?

Can We Talk About Trauma?

Trauma is a word we hear a lot these days. Often when we think of trauma we think of clinically diagnosable PTSD or a majorly catastrophic event. However, trauma comes in many shapes and forms. In fact, many would argue that we have all been experiencing trauma on a global level since the pandemic.

Trauma results from a feeling of being threatened or in danger and in many cases what one person perceives as traumatic, another may not. The bottom line is trauma occurs when a person is overwhelmed by an event(s) or experience and responds with intense fear, horror and helplessness (Mrini, 2021). The stress of these can overwhelm the person’s capacity to cope (NIMH, September 2021). Stressors that cause a trauma response can be financial insecurity, sudden or ongoing illness, abuse, job loss, divorce or grief/loss, just to name a few. While these and other events do not always lead to a trauma response, being able to recognize when it occurs and knowing what to do can be helpful.

Trauma lives in our nervous system, and our nervous system functions to protect us in times of perceived threat. Fight, flight, freeze and fawn are nervous system responses to threat. A trauma response can look like agitation and being combative; literally, or figuratively escaping; being immobilized, or feeling unable to do anything; or acquiescing and giving into people and things we really don’t want to. Trauma can look like anger, anxiety or depression, or it can express itself in physical symptoms.

We are living in unprecedented times. If we are experiencing a trauma response it is important to remember that it is not a personal defect — it is a normal reaction, a protective reaction, to perceived danger or threat. Help is available in many forms. Military OneSource offers confidential, non-medical counseling — face to face, online, by phone or video — along with the Military Crisis Line at 800-273-TALK (8255), and resources for PTSD. All are available for free.

Sydney’s son baking in the kitchen.

Creative Ways To Entertain Kids Indoors

I am all for being outside with our children. Most of our best family memories have taken place outdoors. Our son was born at Fort Hood, and while the summers were brutally hot in Texas, I really enjoyed that we could be outside year-round for the most part. In fact, I’ve gotten so used to the mild winter temperatures that I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do when we are stationed in a place where we can’t be outside year-round.

We try to get outside any minute we can, playing in water, making mud pies, drawing with chalk, walking around the neighborhood, swimming at the pool, playing at the park. In fact, I’m quite sure that our three-year-old son wouldn’t mind if we put his bed outside right next to his dirt mound and construction vehicles. He’d only need to come in for meals and the occasional bath. But, unfortunately in most places there are to live, there will be days when being outside is neither convenient nor comfortable. In my experience, these have marked the longest days of motherhood for me. Days when we can’t explore and feel the sunshine on our skin. Time seems to go extra slowly within the walls of our home.

I try my best to let my creativity flourish on days when we find ourselves stuck indoors. I’ve got a collection of ideas stored in a little box in the back of my mind for such times, and I want to share them with any other parents out there who could use some rainy-day inspiration.

  1. Bake. This is usually my first plan when I know we are looking at a day cooped up in our house. Not only is it fun and interactive to get kids involved in the kitchen, but I find it to be a cozy and therapeutic activity baking a treat at home when it’s cold or raining outside. It’s basically a rule in our house that if it’s raining, we bake. Cookies, muffins, cakes, breads — there are no limits! If you wake up to a gloomy, rainy day, break open your favorite cookbooks and let the sky (i.e., the contents of your refrigerator and pantry) be the limit. I like to make sure that I always have basic baking ingredients on hand, so if I’m not prepared, we can at least make some chocolate chip cookies (a family favorite). This is a time to let go of your control freak cleanliness, and let your toddler pour flour and oil and vanilla extract, dribbling it on the countertops and floor. This is a day to embrace the mess, and it’s worth it when you see the joy of your little one getting to cook with you.
  2. Movie picnic. Another simple go-to of mine … movie picnic! Spread your family picnic blanket on the floor in front of the television. Make or order a pizza (I like to make the kids mini pizzas on naan bread) or make popcorn and get out some candy or other fun snacks. Throw all the pillows and blankets you can find onto the ground and snuggle up with your babies. Depending on the ages of your kids, their attention spans might not be able to handle an entire movie, but you can at least enjoy it while it lasts.
  3. Board games. Rainy days are a great opportunity to get on the floor with your kids and teach them a new game, or play a favorite game with them. Some of our favorites are Memory and High-HoCherry-Oh! We also like the other classics like CandyLand and Chutes and Ladders, although our toddler son is still in the early learning phases with those. If your kids aren’t old enough for board games yet, get down on the floor with them and do puzzles or help them with shape sorting and stacking blocks or cups.
  4. Craft table. This is another favorite of mine that our children can almost count on when we are stuck inside on a rainy day. I usually wait until they’re napping, and I set up our kitchen table with a PEVA fabric tablecloth, and an array of plastic plates, each containing a different craft item we have on hand … crayons, paints, stickers, stamps, pom poms, construction paper, googly eyes. I like to break out the big pieces of paper, and if I’m feeling really fun that day, I might even spread out a roll of huge paper on the floor.
  5. Forts and play structures. We love making forts using our play couch or our fort-building kits. We like to make forts big enough that I can fit in them too, and we make sure to bring lots of fun things into the fort … my son’s favorite toys, pillows, blankets and stuffed animals. I also make sure to leave some sort of peephole so he can see the television from inside his fort.
  6. Sensory bins. This might be my all-time favorite indoor (or outdoor) activity. We have a sensory table that can easily be moved inside or outside and is very versatile in function. Each month, I go to the local craft store and buy items to make a sensory table appropriate for that month or season. During winter months, I’ve made a snowman sensory bin with Playfoam and Styrofoam snowflakes. I also did a Christmas one with mini ornaments and a Christmas cookie station with playdough, sprinkles, mini cookie cutters and a mini rolling bin. In the fall, I love to make sensory bins with corn and leaves and acorns and pine cones and mini pumpkins of all different textures and sizes. You can get really creative with sensory tables, and you can find lots of ideas and inspiration online for cheap and simple ways to make your littles some sensory fun.
  7. Fun baths. I learned this idea from one of my favorite mom influencers on social media … basically that adding water to anything makes for a fun activity. If you find yourself killing time on a rainy or chilly afternoon stuck in the house, draw a bath and surprise your kids with a bath time surprise … popsicles, Legos, pompoms, music and singing, a bubble bath, a color bath or whatever else you want to try.

I’m not sure if it’s the elementary teacher inside me or the fact that I raised a tiny human during the COVID-19 pandemic and was forced to get creative indoors, but I’ve slowly come up with a list of activities for “a rainy day” it helps to have on hand, as well as be prepared for in advance for when you unexpectedly find yourself stuck indoors with young children. The best attitude to have on days like this is to embrace it and use it as an opportunity to do something new and make new memories with your children; and also, to embrace the mess because let’s be honest, if you’re stuck indoors all day with little ones, it’s going to get messy one way or another, so you might as well make a fun mess.

a kid sitting in a box with a toy airplane.

Moving With Kids

Every move, my kids are a little bit older making each transition different for them. As the years go on, there is a delicate balance between the muscle memory of moving and being sensitive as my kids struggle with losing close friends. I don’t want to get into PCS autopilot mode and become indifferent to the vulnerabilities they face. I want to directly hear and address their concerns, worries and excitement about an upcoming move. As a family we start asking questions early when we know we are about to uproot. To better understand and anticipate how they are feeling, here are a few questions and conversations starters we like to use.

  1. Are you excited about our move? What is one thing you are looking forward to? These two questions are a great place to start. Admittedly, it is an easier question to ask younger kids who aren’t dreading moving, but it tells you their gut reaction to the news and can be a starting point.
  2. Let’s talk about what our life will look like there. I love this one because it deals with expectations. Having very clear expectations helps everyone visualize what reality will be like, and, I believe, better prepares you for the future. We like to talk specifically about what my spouse’s job will be like. If his position will include time away from family, we can prepare our kids to spend a little less time with dad. Additionally, we can discuss what my life will look like, what their schools will be, and if we know other families there.
  3. What is something you want to do at the next duty station? This is a good follow-up conversation to the first question, especially if they aren’t excited. We like to research the area and come up with something everyone in the family will enjoy doing. That way, we can all be excited in our own way. Check out Military INSTALLATIONS to get to know more about your new community.
  4. What would you like to change about your room? What are you most excited about in the new house? This is another good visualizing conversation. For us currently, this conversation is about how our kids will each have their own bedrooms in our next house and how they want to decorate them. It also revolves around the fact the kids are very excited the house has stairs, ha. And we always like to bring up what are some good things we will like about our new house, and some things we will miss about our current house. Exposing the good and the bad just sets the tone for honest communication
  5. What are your concerns? It is always important to address concerns before moving. It helps us have compassion for each other when we understand what part of the move might be more challenging on a certain family member. We can help alleviate some anxiety or stress about the move by talking it through as a family too. We certainly don’t put pressure on ourselves to answer all the concerns but voicing them and listening to each other is the most important part for everyone. Additionally, it teaches our kids to think through their emotions and start working through their conflicts with the move.

In conclusion, communication is a very important part of any PCS. If nothing else, these conversations show that as parents, we care. Regardless of their age, kids need to know during these stressful times we are listening to them, and they are a part of the process. How we handle it directly affects how they learn to deal with stressful situations. I will continue learning from my kids, and I know they will teach me a thing or two during this upcoming PCS.

And if talking things through doesn’t come easily for your family, that’s common enough! Check out these tools for military families from THRIVE or contacting the local school liaison where you are and where you are going for support.

Contact Military OneSource for a consultation to learn more about resources available to support your family during a PCS.

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