My mothering journey has shown me that there is so much that we can do to help support our children to heal from trauma and frightening experiences and to reclaim their resiliency.
Supporting our children to heal invites us to open to healing our own trauma and reconnecting deeply to our bodies.
A few days ago, my son woke with intense tooth pain.
He has sensory sensitivities and had several frightening medical experiences when he was little, including being hospitalised when he was one.
Another happened when a dentist became very upset with him for being scared and feeling pain.
She became so frustrated that she refused to finish the treatment and told us to leave.
What often happens is that life creates opportunities for us to heal those early frightening experiences through similar experiences.
For my son, this has manifested as multiple medical procedures on his feet and his teeth.
Each of these experiences has given him an opportunity to heal.
Because the smoke alarm of our brains, the amygdala, has no time stamp, when things happen in our life that remind us of these earlier frightening experiences, our brain and bodies respond as though the danger from the past is happening in the present moment.
When we support our children to be with their scary emotions and uncomfortable body sensations within the safety of our loving presence, we help them create more inner safety and nurture their resiliency.
To support my son on his healing journey, I’ve needed to heal my own trauma from medical procedures as a child.
I began studying the body-based healing modality of Somatic Experiencing, developed by Peter Levine, and had personal healing sessions to allow the stuck survival responses in my body from those experiences to be released.
Through learning to befriend my body sensations and feelings, I have guided my son to befriend his sensations and feelings
We used animal imagery games to help my son heal through play by connecting to the power and strength in his body, including playing a rabbit that escaped from the fox to safety, and an opossum that plays dead to protect himself and then shakes and trembles and escapes.
Through Aware Parenting, I have listened to my son’s feelings since he was a baby, when I used to hold him lovingly in my arms whilst he cried, which provided the safety for his nervous system to release stress.
As he grew, I used Attachment Play, and laughter play to help him release his fears through play, such as playing doctors with the medical kit, where he got to be the doctor and I was the patient who was scared.
This attachment play became part of our preparation for any medical procedure, as well as afterwards to support him to release any fears.
And I was deeply present with all of his big feelings that came up which helped them to move through his body.
This is also known as Stay Listening in Hand in Hand Parenting.
I created a space for my feelings to be held and heard through reaching out to my empathy buddies in my Listening Partnerships, which created more inner space for me to hold the container for my son’s feelings.
We also used lots of Present time, one-on-one child directed play, before and after any medical procedures and visits to help my son feel deeply connected and safe.
I am so grateful that I discovered Aware Parenting when I was pregnant, and that I found Peter Levine’s Somatic work and Hand in Hand Parenting a couple of years later.
All of these approaches are founded on trusting the inbuilt healing capacity of the body.
It helped me to see my children’s crying, trembling and shaking as a natural healing mechanism to enable their body to release stuck survival energy.
Our bodies are incredibly resilient and hold so much wisdom.
We can reclaim that wisdom and support our children to reclaim theirs through learning to listen to our bodies and nervous systems.
And I witnessed this incredible healing process within my son so many times in the leadup to procedures, as well as afterwards.
I saw his body release old survival responses the times he has needed eye drops at home for conjunctivitis.
I would patiently hold the drops for as long as he needed, waiting for him to tell me that he was ready.
His body knew how to heal and was seeking ways to allow the survival energy trapped within him to release.
Through my somatic training, I learnt about creating a felt sense of safety within myself so that this could anchor my son.
Through somatic healing, I have opened to being curious and aware of my body sensations and to have a sense of where I end and where my child begins.
I also began to look for medical practitioners who embodied this felt sense of safety.
I began to deeply trust my intuition around when I felt this quality in another practitioner.
This guided me to the most amazing dentist who was a pivotal part of my son’s healing journey.
She was a safe haven of calm and presence.
She gave his nervous system all the time he needed to feel ready to sit in the dentist chair.
She also empowered him to name what he needed to feel safe, adapting her procedures to fit his needs, including manually cleaning his teeth without the powered tools and letting him choose to use foam rather than the noise of the device that drains the saliva from the mouth.
She invited us to come and visit her every couple of months to help slowly rebuild my son’s safety and trust.
I witnessed his confidence growing and his healing transformation unfold during this time.
This led us to another dentist who specialises in supporting children with sensory sensitivities, who has created such a cocoon of safety for my son.
So, when my son woke up Friday morning and let me know he was experiencing lots of pain in one of his teeth, I noticed that he was able to be with his painful sensations and express those without being flooded.
I could feel the increased capacity within his body and nervous system to move through painful sensations.
This trust in his body to move through pain.
This is such a huge shift from the way he used to be around the prospect of medical appointments.
He went in for an emergency dentist appointment with my husband which resulted in a tooth extraction of one of his baby teeth.
My husband described that my son said he was feeling a little bit nervous when the dentist spoke to him about his two choices.
She told my son that he could choose whether he would like her to wiggle the tooth out manually, as it was already a little bit loose, which would mean feeling sore and tender for a couple of days afterwards.
Or, he could choose to wait another month or so until it fell out, which would mean feeling pain over that time.
My son felt empowered to ask questions and to make his own choice for his body.
What I find so beautiful about this is the way my son has internalised our advocating for his body and his needs during all the other procedures, as well as the honouring of his body and feelings at home.
The last few dentist visits, my husband and I have simply been a quiet, supporting presence in the room while my son takes the lead.
On Friday, he felt a deep trust in his dentist and that he would be supported.
He felt completely at peace with the laughing gas, because of all the inner work we had done around this procedure when he first experienced it last year.
I had supported him in the leadup to the procedure last year as his body shaked and released his fears.
And now, my son actually enjoys going to the dentist.
There was a time where I never thought I would say that.
A time when my body used to brace at the thought of making the medical appointments.
Yet, after every contraction, comes an expansion.
Our emotions and sensations move through our bodies in ebb and flow just like the cycles of nature.
When I saw my son after he had his tooth removed that day, he talked calmly about his experience.
He didn’t have any big feelings to release because of the safety, choice and empowerment he felt, in addition to all the healing work we have done for him with his new dentist.
I’m celebrating how he has developed a deep inner trust in the resiliency of his body.
And I’m so deeply grateful for the amazing support that I have received for my own trauma healing journey, as well as the support my son has received.
I am holding with deep compassion parts of you that may hold memories of frightening experiences you or your child have been through.
I’m wanting you to know that there is so much support out there to help us and our children tune into the wisdom of our bodies to heal.