Trauma Informed and The Power of Words

by:  Melissa Sadin

melissa1The idea that our words have the power to wound might be as old as time itself. In the Bible it is said, “For in many things we offend in word….”  Many of us grew up with the sayings, “Loose lips sink ships” and “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Words have the power to wound us deeply.  Think about your own experience. Which one cuts deeper, the helpful word or the hurtful one?

There is new information that supports this time-honored concept. Research involving MRI technology shows that the brains of children who are verbally mistreated will, over time, develop in an atypical way. Prolonged exposure to verbal abuse, or any other kind of trauma, effects the development of the limbic system in the brain. The limbic system is responsible for, among many other things, self-regulation, memory, reason, cause and effect, organization, and language development.

melissa2Teachers be warned. There are children in your classroom who have brains deeply wounded by words. As many as one in four children in most suburban schools and more the three in four children in poverty stricken areas have been impacted by trauma.The good news is that our words also have the power to heal. Recent studies have shown that the old saying, ‘You get more flies with honey’ is also true.

When you speak to your students with patience and empathy, you build trust. When “What’s wrong with you??” becomes “What has happened to you?” you develop understanding. Eventually “Get out!” becomes, “How can we work together to prevent this from happening again?” When this happens, a door opens and you have an opportunity to build resilience. When you build resilience, you begin to heal the parts of the brain wounded by words. Resilience leads to academic and behavioral success for all children.

melissa3At the end of the day, it all goes back to another time-honored concept, “Speak to others as you would have them speak to you.” I don’t know about you, but when I am hurting, I prefer empathy and patience from my family and friends. Not judgment, disgust, or detention.

If you can remember that, consider yourself trauma informed. It’s just that easy.

Dr. Sadin is a nationally recognized expert in creating trauma-sensitive schools and author of several books on the trauma-informed education movement. A life-long educator, Dr. Sadin has served as a teacher, administrator and school board member. She is also the parent of two, including one impacted by trauma due to his early adversities before being adopted.