National Be Someone Day is designed to remind adults to be someone special in the life of a child. As a counselor, I am constantly reminded of the fact that almost everyone on the planet is recovering from or currently enduring some sort of trauma, a lot of that trauma inflicted or experienced as a child. I am frequently amazed by the people I work with when they tell me their stories. Trauma is not something you can typically see on the outside. So many times, the walking internally wounded look just like everyone else and in fact, they are just like everyone else except for an event, or ongoing events, that are experienced as trauma.
When I hear someone’s story, I am interested to know if there was someone, anyone, in their childhood they could count on. Tragically, sometimes the answer is no. The idea that a child would be trapped in their own personal hell, from which there is no escape, without even a glimmer of hope or understanding is unfathomable to be.
How can you know if a child is being touched by trauma? You often can’t. Sure, if you see the burns, bruises and broken bones of physical abuse, you may have a clue. But what if that trauma is internal? You can’t see it.
When the AIDS epidemic began, there were protections put into place to assure the confidentiality of those suffering. This left the people who worked with at risk populations wondering how we would know if someone were HIV positive. There was no way to know, so we were told to treat everyone as if they were positive, meaning we took the necessary precautions no matter what the person looked like or how much it seemed unlikely they could have been affected by the virus.
The same is true with adverse childhood experiences. You won’t always know, so why not treat every child as if they are in a trauma experience? What could it hurt? You would go the extra mile to be kind, understanding and supportive. You would offer a willing ear and pay extra attention to that child. How could this be harmful to any child, traumatized or not?
Children may not wear their trauma on the outside but there are some telltale clues if you know what to look for. It is not always true, but the children who are poorly behaved, aggressive or overly compliant may be children who are suffering. Also, children who are extremely slow to warm up or those who would jump in the lap of a stranger and immediately call them mommy or daddy could be affected by trauma. These behaviors could be symptomatic of an underlying problem and it’s also possible that these behaviors are indicative of nothing sinister.
The idea is if you are committed to being someone in the life of a child, you will want to move closer to the children in your life, even the ones who are difficult to like, because they just may be the ones who are genuinely suffering. Sometimes, just being a friend, someone who sees the good in the child, is all that child will need to maintain their resilience through whatever they are experiencing.
Physical abuse is horrible and most of society becomes outraged upon learning of an adult physically abusing a child. Sexual abuse is not as easy to see but runs rampant in society. The latest statistics that I know are that one in three girls will be sexually molested before her 18th birthday and one in five or six boys, depending on the study, but that number is thought to be under reported because boys tend to stay silent. Some parents sell their children for drug money. Children can be kidnapped for sex trafficking. Sometimes the perpetrator is someone you trust— Grandpa, an uncle, an older brother, a family friend. Sometimes it’s someone you know— a religious leader, community leader or an athletic coach. Perpetrators can also be women, but they often avoid detection because they can hide behind their role as nurturer. It can be the “boogie man” hiding in the bushes but that is not often the case.
If you have children in your orbit, be someone important in their life by listening to what they say. Believe them. Never tell them they shouldn’t feel the way they do. Do not make promises you can’t keep. Tell them the truth. Help them discover their natural talents and gifts. Help them discover their value. Love and encourage them in what they are trying to do. Do not minimize what is important to them. Provide them instances of positive touch if they want it—a pat on the back, touch on the arm or a hug may be the only genuine affection they receive. Be careful, though and never force touch. Ask permission and if the child recoils from your touch, wait until the child is ready.
A child in your life may not be your responsibility. You didn’t birth them; you do not have custody. It’s easy to say to yourself, “I should mind my own business.” While you are not responsible, you are response-able, meaning you have the ability to respond. You can be the one steadfast, caring and supportive adult in that child’s life. And if they aren’t experiencing any trauma, you can still be an additional supportive adult for them. No child can have too many of those.
On this day, take inventory of your attempts to be someone in the life of a child. If you are pleased with your effort, celebrate the honor you have to be that person for a child you know. If you believe you could, and want to, do more, then make a plan to spend some time with a child who may need you. You just might save a life.