When children experience trauma within their families, communities, and neighborhoods, pathways of development are disrupted. However, parents and families can take important steps to buffer the impact of trauma and stress on children.
Children and trauma
Emotion regulation is the capacity to manage one's emotional arousal as appropriate to context and environment and to use emotional information to make positive behavioral choices. It's a critical skill that young children develop with important milestones occurring in toddlerhood. The reason that it's essential is because early measures of emotion regulation predict long-term pathways of mental health. Poor children are at risk for developing less optimal emotion regulation in early childhood in part because multi-stressed families in poverty are more likely to be exposed to accumulating sources of trauma. Among these, racism and microaggressions play a role in the stress children may experience. Exposure to trauma reduces a child's ability to cope with big emotions and predicts mental health problems in the short and long-term.
Families play an important role in buffering the impact of stress on the developing child. Very young children in particular rely on predictable, warm, safe interactions with trusted adults. Research from the Family Resilience Lab at Wayne State demonstrates that family rituals may be especially important in buffering the association between the effects of trauma exposure and toddlers' emotion regulation. Family rituals are predictable family interactions. They occur at the same time and place, and they help children understand the nature of their family identity. Experiences like these provide children with the warmth, support, and structure necessary to develop healthy emotional processes and develop resilience against stress.