Childhood Trauma Doesn’t Define Me

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When people say, “Children are resilient,” it can come off like a compliment or an excuse to let adults off the hook for putting kids in bad situations. The truth is, half of American kids face some sort of trauma growing up, casting shade upon a child’s life.

As reported in the most recent journal Health Affairs, it could include domestic violence, divorcing parents, economic hardship or alcoholic parents, to name a few examples that study leader Christina D. Bethell from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found.

Bethell surveyed nearly 20,000 parents and saw that these situations can set the tone for poor school performance such as flunking a grade or being disinterested in class. Traumatized kids were more likely to suffer from bad health, such as obesity, asthma, ADHD and Autism spectrum disorders. These kids were also less likely to live in a safe place, and their parents tended to be unhealthy also.

YNOW contributor Amber Fang's family gave her "hope over despair" to deal with her childhood trauma.

At 17, I consider myself among the more resilient survivors of traumatic experiences. When I was 4, my parents divorced, and I was sent to live with my grandparents in a rural town in China, Longchuan, while my father went to work in a distant city.

My memory is hazy, but my mother describes coming home and seeing my grandparents, my father’s parents, dragging me into the car. My eyes met my mother’s for the last time I what would be eight years. I smiled and said “bye” even though I was confused. In the only picture I had of the three of us, my dad doesn’t look happy, either.

Living with my grandparents, I had trouble fitting in because I spoke a dialect of Cantonese, one of China’s main languages. The rural townspeople spoke Hakka, so they thought I was odd, even disabled. My grandparents refused to allow me to accept such a stigma. They just shook their heads and resolved to educate me, teaching me language and math, motivating me for the “betterment of the family,” they liked to say.

I will never forget those bewildering days when I was with my parents one day in the city then in the country the next day, trembling, not speaking because I didn’t understand what was going on. Unlike so many of the American children in the study reported in Health Affairs, I was fortunate to have support to help me adjust.

Kids and parents, too, can be taught to recognize trauma and stress so they can learn how to develop hopefulness, according to researchers. One technique is learning how to breath deeply to process stress. Other one is to teach caregivers, such as parents, doctors and teachers, how to react to kids who have suffered trauma.

“Adverse childhood events don’t automatically have to have long-term traumatic impacts for children,” Bethell writes in her report. “To recognize trauma in children requires widespread awareness and skills-building among adults interacting with children at all levels.”

I believe my grandparents insistence on “betterment” and buckling down to make sure I learned my lessons taught me the resilience I rely on today. Eventually, I immigrated to the United States at age 12, and now I’m looking forward to attending university. I was lucky I had family to instill an ethos of hope over despair because I don’t know where I’d be without it.

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