It is with a heavy heart that we announce that our Founder and Executive Director, Ryan Stollar, is no longer with Homeschool Alumni Reaching out. We appreciate all that Ryan has done for HARO, and we know that we would not be where we are today without him.
In the interest of transparency, the remaining board members have drafted a statement explaining Ryan’s departure. This statement has already been sent to our donors and our volunteer staff.
We intend to carry on Ryan’s work of advocating for homeschool children and alumni. We are grateful to him and continue to wish him well in all his future endeavors.
The Board of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out
In a recent article, GRACE’s Boz Tchividjian makes the suggestion that organizations begin a child protection bookclub. This way, individuals in an organization can become better equipped and empowered to understand and respond to potential child abuse in their communities. Tchividjian writes,
It is so important that those who want to protect children become educated on the variety of issues related to the abuse of children. This doesn’t require us to become child abuse “experts.” It doesn’t even require attendance at a fancy (and expensive) conference. It does require that we invest some time reading some good books on the subject. One idea is to encourage others who have expressed an interest in taking these steps to read a few books on the subject and meet to discuss each. Yes, a child-protection bookclub!
I think this is a wonderful idea for homeschoolers, especially considering how much homeschoolers love books and bookclubs. Organizing a child protection bookclub in your homeschool group is a great way to increase child protection knowledge among your community’s families.
Tchividjian recommends a number of books to start with: Anna Salter’s Predators, Christa Brown’s This Little Light, Diane Langberg’s On the Threshold of Hope, and his own Protecting Children from Abuse in the Church. We are including some of those books in our suggestions below but also adding and expanding to his suggestions. Some of the books are religious; some are not. Books that specifically espouse a religious message are marked with a **.
We also included a section specifically for kids, with children’s books that help children understand basic issues about safety and consent and how to respond to other children or adults who might want to hurt them. (Note that the book descriptions below are from Amazon; we did not write them.)
Description: Are children safe at your church? Have you taken any precautions to ensure they won’t be abused? Do you know for certain that volunteers who work with children don’t have criminal backgrounds? If you aren’t sure how to answer those questions, you need Let the Children Come, by Jeanette Harder, who teaches social work at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. Through Let the Children Come churches and/or ministries can learn how to create procedures and policies to keep children safe from abuse, and to help families break the cycle of abuse.
• Safe Sanctuaries **
Description: Safe Sanctuaries contains foundational guidance to help your congregation develop and implement a substantive plan of child abuse prevention. Unique features include: (1) A step-by-step plan for developing policies and procedures to prevent child abuse (2) Forms for screening workers, checking references, reporting suspected abuse (3) A suggested training session for all persons who work with children and youth (4) A sample worship service celebrating the adoption of policies/procecures.
Description: An accessible resource to help those in organisational settings ensure that they have taken all possible steps to safeguard the children and young people they are responsible for: • Draws on up to date research with people who have committed sexual offences against children in organisational settings, and new developments in interviewing approaches; • Details recent cases to illustrate points about institutional failures in protecting children; • Highlights the fact that those who sexually offend against children are a diverse and heterogeneous population, and the approaches taken to protect children must address the range of possible risks; • Makes a firm commitment to the importance of multi-agency and inter-disciplinary collaboration and is relevant in both community and residential settings; • Offers clear and practical messages and measures for organisations to act on.
• On Guard **
Description: Since Sandusky and the scandals in the Catholic Church, the issue of sexual abuse has shifted to the forefront of our collective mind. Many churches are poised for action but unsure of what action to take. In On Guard, Deepak Reju examines why child predators target churches and offers eleven straightforward strategies to protect children from abuse and to help young victims recover if it does happen. While On Guard does provide practical help for building a child protection policy, it provides much more. Full of pastoral wisdom, On Guard recognizes that the church’s response to abuse must be more comprehensively in line with her calling than a simple legal policy or clinical analysis. On Guard moves church staff and leaders beyond fearful awareness to prayerful preparedness with an actionable plan.
Description: Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service, the story behind this groundbreaking book–one of the most significant works of investigative journalism since Woodward and Bernstein’s reporting on Watergate–has been brought brilliantly to life on the screen in the major new movie Spotlight, winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture. Here are the devastating revelations that triggered a crisis within the Catholic Church. Here is the truth about the scores of abusive priests who preyed upon innocent children and the cabal of senior Church officials who covered up their crimes. Here is the trail of “hush money” that the Catholic Church secretly paid to buy victims’ silence–deeds that left millions of the faithful in the U.S. and around the world shocked, angry, and confused. Here as well is a vivid account of the ongoing struggle, as Catholics confront their Church and call for sweeping change.
Description: This revealing, disturbing, and thoroughly researched book exposes a dark side of faith that most Americans do not know exists or have ignored for a long time—religious child maltreatment. After speaking with dozens of victims, perpetrators, and experts, and reviewing a myriad of court cases and studies, the author explains how religious child maltreatment happens. She then takes an in-depth look at the many forms of child maltreatment found in religious contexts, including biblically-prescribed corporal punishment and beliefs about the necessity of “breaking the wills” of children; scaring kids into faith and other types of emotional maltreatment such as spurning, isolating, and withholding love; pedophilic abuse by religious authorities and the failure of religious organizations to support the victims and punish the perpetrators; and religiously-motivated medical neglect in cases of serious health problems.
What motivates sexual abusers? Why are so few caught? Drawing on the stories of abusers, Anna C. Salter shows that sexual predators use sophisticated deception techniques and rely on misconceptions surrounding them to evade discovery. Arguing that even the most knowledgeable among us can be fooled, Salter dispels the myths about sexual predators and gives us the tools to protect our families and ourselves.
Description: How do we protect the children in our Christian community from sexual offenders? We are becoming more and more aware of the prevalence of child abuse, both in society at large and in the church. We want to protect children in our community from abuse, but we don t always know the best ways to go about that. From his years of experience as a child abuse prosecutor, Boz Tchividjian unpacks the dynamics of a church environment that allows perpetrators to thrive and offers constructive help for educating and training your church to recognize and deal with potential abuse. Using biblical principles and the example of Jesus, he shows you how to cultivate an attitude and environment in your church that provides safety and protection for these young ones.
• This Little Light **
Description: In this groundbreaking memoir and exposé, Christa Brown tells the story of clergy sex abuse and cover-ups in the largest Protestant denomination, the Southern Baptist Convention. As she shares her journey from trusting church girl to tenacious advocate for children’s safety, Brown shines a light on the patterns of preacher-predators and the collusion of evangelical leaders. This Little Light speaks of the unspeakable, and in doing so, testifies to the transformative power of truth-telling.
Description: In simple, reassuring language, the author explains that a child’s body is his or her own; that it is all right for kids to decline a friendly hug or kiss, even from someone they love; and that you can still be friends even if you don’t want a hug now.
Description: ‘No Means No!’ is a children’s picture book about an empowered little girl who has a very strong and clear voice in all issues, especially those relating to her body and personal boundaries. This book can be read to children from 3 to 9 years. It is a springboard for discussions regarding children’s choices and their rights. The ‘Note to the Reader’ at the beginning of the book and the ‘Discussion Questions’ on the final pages, guide and enhance this essential discussion. It is crucial that our children, from a very young age, are taught to have a clear, strong voice in regards to their rights — especially about their bodies. In this way, they will have the confidence to speak up when they are unhappy or feel uncomfortable in any situation.
Description: Preschool children can learn safe boundaries, how to distinguish between “good” and “bad” touches, and how to respond appropriately to unwanted touches. This is a powerful book for enhancing self-esteem. Parenting Press’s bestseller!
• God Made All of Me **
Description: It’s easy to convey the message to children that their bodies or particular parts of their bodies are shameful. This misconception fuels confusion, embarrassment, and secrecy, and often prevents children from recognizing or reporting sexual abuse. God Made All of Me is a simply-told, beautifully-illustrated story to help families talk about these sensitive issues with two- to eight-year-old children. Because the private parts of our bodies are private, the home is the ideal environment where a child should learn about his or her body and how it should be treated by others. God Made All of Me starts from the fundamental truth that God created everything and applies that truth to kids and their bodies. It equips parents to talk with both boys and girls about their bodies and to help them understand the difference between the appropriate and inappropriate touch of others. God Made All of Me allows families to build a first line of defense against sexual abuse in the safety of their own homes.
Description: Written and illustrated by a young girl who was sexually molested by a family member, this book reaches out to other children in a way that no adult can. Jessie’s words carry the message, “It’s o.k. to tell; help can come when you tell.” This book is an excellent tool for therapists, counselors, child protection workers, teachers, and parents dealing with children affected by sexual abuse. Jessie’s story adds a sense of hope for what should be, and the knowledge that the child protection system can work for children. Simple, direct, and from the heart, Jessie gives children the permission and the courage to deal with sexual abuse.
Author: R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.
Children deserve to be safe. This is the most important reason for taking child abuse seriously. This is also why I care so passionately about educating homeschoolers about child protection and child abuse prevention.
But there is another important reason why your homeschool organization should take child abuse seriously: to protect yourself from costly court cases.
In 2016, Richard Hammar at Church Law and Tax released the findings of a study of thousands of published and unpublished rulings by state appellate and federal courts in 2015 that pertain to religious organizations. Hammar’s study identified the top reasons why these organizations go to court. And the number one reason? You guessed it. Child abuse.
Sadly, for several years the sexual molestation of minors has been the number one reason that churches went to court. Victims in these cases generally allege that a church is responsible for their injuries on the basis of negligent selection, retention, or supervision of the perpetrator. Churches have lost many of these cases due to their failure to implement appropriate safeguards in the selection and supervision of employees and volunteers who work with minors.
Incidents of sexual misconduct involving minor victims can be devastating to the victim, the victim’s family, the offender, church leadership, and the church itself.
Because this issue remains the number one reason churches go to court, and because of the significant harm that can be done to children, their families, and church leaders, churches need to take an aggressive position on this matter. Churches must implement policies and procedures that demonstrate proper screening and training of staff and volunteers, proper processes for reporting actual and suspected cases of abuse, and specific attention to to proper supervision and other measures that ensure accountability.
This should be a wake-up call for all homeschool organizations. While there is no study yet of how many homeschool organizations should gone to court over child abuse, there are plenty of high-profile cases—such as the folding of Vision Forum and the current lawsuit against the Institute in Basic Life Principles—that demonstrate the vast toll that child abuse can take, not only on children and families but also on organizations that fail to protect against and respond properly to child abuse.
This is why it is absolutely vital that each and every homeschool organization—whether that organization is a local co-op or a state organization or a national ministry—has an adequate child protection policy. This is why it is so important that homeschool organizations educate their members about child protection and child abuse prevention.
If you don’t know if your homeschool organization has a child protection policy, ask. If they do, ask to review it. Make sure if is up-to-date and adequate. If they don’t or if it is lacking, make sure to fix that!
Author: R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.
I have previously explored several ways that faith communities and homeschooling organizations can marginalize abuse survivors. One way is with the phrase “the spirit of Ham” or “the sin of Ham.” The Bible story of Ham’s transgression against his drunk father Noah in Genesis 9 has sometimes been used to attack adult children who “uncover the nakedness” of their parent’s sins (e.g., alleged abuses against the adult children). But the sin of Ham was not exposing abuse — the sin of Ham was his sexual abuse of a family member.
Another way survivors are marginalized is with the phrase “all have sinned,” a reference to Romans 3:23: “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” The verse is sometimes referenced to imply that, “Well, everyone sins so abuse is a universal problem that is not inherent to our community.” But “all have sinned” does not mean that sins in your own community are nonexistent or less important than sins in other communities. “All have sinned” should be a wake-up call to come to grasp with the skeletons hiding in our own closets.
I want to talk today about a third way that we marginalize abuse survivors: valuing forgiveness over protection. Many people believe forgiving an abuser should be the top priority for an abuse survivor. For example, Natalie Greenfield, a homeschool alumna and survivor of child sexual abuse, experienced this after she publicly revealed her abuse:
I remember sitting in church, week after week, wondering if that was the day someone would come and put their hand on my shoulder or ask me how I was doing, if I needed anything, or maybe if they could just give me a hug. It never happened. A few months after I’d gone public about the sexual abuse, I received a letter from a friend: a guy who was also friends with my abuser. He told me I should forgive my abuser and then look for the ways God was revealing sin in my own life. I felt angry and misunderstood. ….I didn’t know what I needed back then but now I know. I needed love… I needed a community that understood abuse so they’d understand how to be there for me when I needed them.
While forgiveness can provide significant psychological benefits to a survivor, Jesus makes clear that the safety of children should be top priority: “Let the little children come to me,” he declared in Matthew 19:14. “Don’t stop them.” He also proclaimed in Matthew 18:6 that, “If one of these little children believes in me, and someone causes that child to sin, it will be very bad for that person. It would be better for them to have a millstone tied around their neck and be drowned in the deep sea.”
Forcing a survivor of child abuse to forgive their abuser—when that survivor does not feel safe doing so or is not protected against further abuse—is an action worthy of millstones. It re-victimizes the child and it places other children at risk. When child abuse happens in your community, your top priority should be ensuring that all children are safe and protected from the abuser.
In the Bible we see a good example of this principle in action in the story of Joseph and his brothers. In Genesis 37, when we are first introduced to Joseph, he is a 17-year-old child. Because he reports the evil actions of his brothers to his father, his brothers conspire to abuse and kill him. In verses 23 and 24, “they attacked him and tore off his long and beautiful coat. Then they threw him into an empty well that was dry.” Then they sell him to Midianite traders as a slave for 20 pieces of silver.
I think sometimes we focus so much on the epic narrative arc of Joseph’s story that we lose sight of the fact that it begins with child abuse and child trafficking. At 17 years of age, Joseph is beaten and thrown into a pit by his adult brothers. This is sibling child abuse. Joseph is then sold into slavery—which is human trafficking.
Joseph is extraordinarily resilient. He survives despite all the odds and eventually becomes the governor of Egypt. What is interesting, though, is that Joseph nearly falls apart when his brothers later come to Egypt in desperation due to the famine. Despite all his current power, Joseph is still the scared, hurt child inside that he was when he was 17.
But Joseph is smart. He decides to protect himself before he forgives his abusers. In Genesis 42-45, Joseph puts his brothers through a number of tests to ascertain whether they have had a change of heart—to see if they are currently abusive. And make no mistake, the tests are grueling! He does not simply ask them a few questions and then content himself with their answers. He puts them through a rigorous process. Only when he is absolutely certain that they have had such changes of heart that they are willing to put their own lives on the line now to protect Benjamin, their youngest brother, does Joseph reveal himself to them. Only when the power dynamics are in his favor does he open himself up to reconciliation.
The Bible clearly puts Joseph in the positive light in this narrative. So what we can learn from the Bible story with relation to our contemporary situations? What messages does this story promote regarding child abuse and child protection?
In her book The Children of Israel: Reading the Bible for the Sake of Our Children, Danna Nolan Fewell writes:
“For children who have been the victims and survivors of domestic abuse and who are struggling with issues of forgiveness, the story of Joseph may offer a significant model of psychological and emotional interruption. For although Joseph claims when the brothers are at last reconciled that, though they meant their actions for evil, God use them for good, Joseph is still careful to forgive his brothers only after he is in a position of power, removed from any further abuse at their hands” (p. 111).
I think the story of Joseph highlights that protecting children and abuse survivors from their abusers should take priority over and against forgiving abusers. It is entirely appropriate—and even necessary—for abuse survivors to take whatever precautions they believe are necessary to ensure they do not become re-victimized.
As faith and educational communities, we, too, should do everything we can to make sure children and survivors are safe and protected. This means we should be following best practices for child protection, we should transparent to all families in our communities about known offenders, and we should not push survivors to forgive. We should work with survivors, not against them. And we should never, ever use marginalizing phrases like, “You need to forgive and forget” or “You need to forgive and move on.” We should replace those words with words like, “You deserve to feel safe” and “We will do everything we can to protect you.”
Author: R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.
Mention spanking or corporal punishment in a room of parents and you will likely discover a wide range of highly intense feelings and thoughts on the subject. The overwhelming majority of child training experts within homeschooling communities focus on authoritarian or punitive parenting. They focus on when and how to spank, how to establish authority, and how to break children’s wills. As a result, there is a significant lack of resources for parents in homeschooling communities who want alternatives to this mindset.
Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out’s goal is to encourage homeschooling parents to consider alternatives to authoritarian or punitive parenting. To this end, here are seven positive parenting alternatives to corporal punishment:
1. Transform moments of disobedience into teaching opportunities.
When your child disobeys or misbehaves, do not be afraid to step in and intervene. Instead of using the moment to inflict pain on or shame your child, use the moment to teach your child about what happened. Help your child think through why they misbehaved, what the motivations were, and how they could behave better in the future. Allowing children the ability to think through things themselves can help them learn the skills of troubleshooting.
2. Plan ahead to reduce the number of opportunities children have to misbehave.
Think ahead and plan for various scenarios that might provoke your child to misbehave. For example, if your child gets antsy or uncomfortable during long car rides, bring coloring books or toys or activities that your child can engage in to relieve their restlessness. When you take your child shopping, allow them to participate in the selection of different items. Moments like these can help teach children how to occupy themselves in situations where they might otherwise feels a need to act out.
3. When giving children a rule, give the reason(s) behind the rule.
Children are not stupid. Even young children can understand when a rule does or does not sense. So when you establish a rule, give your child a solid reason for why the rule exists. That way your child understands that the rules you make as their parent are rational and not arbitrary. There are truly good reasons for their existence. This not only increases the likelihood of your child obeying the rule, it also increases their ability to trust you with future rules.
4. Include children in family routines.
Like any other human beings, children want to feel included. They want to feel they are a part of their community—that they are loved, needed, and special. By including children in your family’s routines, children feel a sense of belonging and responsibility that can increase positive interactions.
5. Use problem-solving when children are hard-headed.
When a child repeatedly refuses to obey a command, it can be very tempting as a parent to just throw in the towel and reach for an instrument to spank the child. Pain is the quick and easy way to shut down a child. But the quick and easy way of parenting is not necessarily the healthy and long-lasting way. When a child repeatedly refuses to obey a command, instead of taking the easy route, take a moment and ask the child: “Why are you feeling this way?” Showing your child that you understand their feelings and helping them work through their feelings promotes self-regulation. You can perhaps suggest a compromise so your child does not feel like they have no agency. Or you can help the child think through how to avoid the problem in the first place in the future. Showing your child that you are firm and consistent—but also respectful of them as their own human being with their own feelings and needs—increases chances of cooperation.
Some people think of the word “compromise” as a bad word in the context of parenting. But for toddlers and other young children, learning how to assert themselves is a necessary stage in child development. Your goal should not be to crush your children’s will so that your children never assert themselves; your goal should be to help your children learn how to assert themselves in appropriate and healthy ways.
6. Empower children to behave better.
Your child can behave correctly. Your child can understand what is right versus what is wrong. Your child can be a kind, generous person. So encourage those traits! Show them you have confidence that they can do it. Instead of focusing on everything they do wrong, praise your children when they do what is right. Encourage them to keep doing so. Encouragement is a key tool of empowerment.
7. Respect children’s needs.
Children are growing and learning everyday. Learning how to self-regulate, how to manage their emotions and words, takes a lot of work. When children (and even adults!) become tired, hungry, or sick, this can have a big impact on them. It makes it much more difficult for them to express themselves—for example, they might throw a tantrum as a result. When moments like these happen, tend to the root of the problem first: that your child is hungry or tired or in need of a nap. Meet their needs.
The above parenting strategies are inspired by Laura E. Berk’s “Positive Parenting” section in her 2013 book Child Development, p. 495.
Author: R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.
As we face the second half of 2016, Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out will be expanding and venturing out into exciting new projects. We are creating a new national survey of homeschool alumni. We are working on creating the second editions of our child abuse prevention and suicide prevention curriculums. We are applying for grants. We are creating a guide for homeschool alumni on overcoming identification abuse. And we are creating a new curriculum for homeschooling parents and organizations on creating a child protection policy.
Between 2015 and 2016 so far, we have:
• Published 40+ blog posts on HARO’s website, addressing a diverse set of topics ranging from advice for new homeschooling parents, domestic violence, caring for LGBTQ children, creating a child protection policy, to sibling abuse;
• Attended the founding of the first-ever homeschool trade association and represented the interests of homeschool alumni;
• Provided child protection policy consultation;
• Awarded three college scholarships for homeschool alumni, two for women in STEM and one for LGBTQ alumni;
• Created the first-ever comprehensive curriculums on child abuse prevention and suicide prevention specifically tailored to homeschooling families and communities (Child Abuse Awareness 101 for Homeschoolers, HARO, 2015; Suicide Prevention 101 for Homeschoolers, HARO, 2015)
• Applied to present at four homeschool conventions on the topic of child abuse prevention, including Christian Home Educators Association of California and Teaching Them Diligently Conventions;
• Conducted a giveaway for Lindsey and Justin Holcomb’s children’s book on child sexual abuse and child safety, God Made All of Me;
• Conducted a survey on identification abuse within homeschooling to better understand the phenomenon;
• Published 450+ blog posts on our narrative-sharing platform, Homeschoolers Anonymous, accruing millions of page views;
HARO is run entirely by volunteers who have dedicated hundreds upon hundreds of hours to make this organization happen. Our team has grown as a number of new volunteers have taken over much of the day-to-day operations of the Homeschoolers Anonymous platform. We are grateful for the strong and diverse voices they bring to the conversation.
We would love to expand our efforts. Our upcoming survey will involve significant promotion expenses. We plan to apply to exhibit and present at several homeschool conventions this summer. We also have our regular maintenance expenses like renewing domain names and hosting and bank account fees.
To this end, we are conducting a fundraising drive for the spring months of May and June. We are hoping to create a small but steady stream of donations.
Our goal is to recruit 20 donors who are each willing to give a minimum recurring monthly donation of $10 for 12 months.
You can make a secure recurring donation to HARO through Paypal: click here to donate, and select the “Make This Recurring (Monthly)” button. (You are welcome to make a recurring donation of more than $10, too, of course.)
If you do not want to make a recurring donation, one-time donations are of course welcome.
Thank you for your support. We look forward to what the rest of 2016 has in store as we work together to accomplish our vision of “Renewing and transforming homeschooling from within.”
The HARO Board
Growing up is not easy. Children face painful experiences regularly—like a scraped knee or the death of a beloved pet. While such experiences are painful, not all of them are considered traumatic. Traumatic events have certain, set features: they are marked by “sudden or unexpected events; the shocking nature of such events; death or threat to life or bodily integrity; and/or the subjective feeling of intense terror, horror, or helplessness” (Cohen, Mannarino, and Deblinger, Treating Trauma and Traumatic Grief in Children and Adolescents, 2006, p. 3). These events can range from child sexual abuse to witnessing parental domestic violence to mass shootings.
Homeschooling communities are by no means immune from trauma. The horrific 2007 mass shooting in Colorado Springs, where a homeschooled alumnus killed two homeschooled girls and wounded their sister and dad, is a tragic example of how trauma can break into even sheltered homeschoolers’ lives.
There are many different ways you as a parent or caregiver can help your child cope in the aftermath of a traumatic event. Specifically as a homeschooling parent or caregiver, you can incorporate practices to encourage empowerment and self-regulation into your child’s homeschool program. The following are five ways you can do that.
Disclaimer: If your child has experienced trauma, you should take them to see a trauma professional like a licensed mental health specialist as soon as you are able. The following strategies are meant to complement, not replace, professional help.
It is crucial to realize that you and your child are not alone. Other children have faced the same scary problems your child is facing, and other parents have had to courageously weather the storm along with their children. So you don’t have to walk this road alone. Others have walked it; others are walking it right now. Those that have gone before you have left guides. For example, if your child witnessed domestic violence, there are books written specifically for children who have experienced that. Or if your child went through the death of a close relative, there are books about that, too. Many are written by children themselves. Here are two examples of such book lists: here and here. (Note: these lists are given simply as examples; we have neither reviewed nor endorsed these books.) In Treating Trauma and Traumatic Grief in Children and Adolescents, Cohen, Mannarino, and Deblinger write, “These books convey to children that they are not alone in what they experienced, that their feelings are expected, given what occurred, and that there are ways to deal with their painful feelings that result in personal growth and healing” (p. 60).
Give your child a break from a few homework readings (if they want a break) and let them read books like these. Better yet, let them pick out some books themselves. (And of course, if your child would feel safer getting about into the regular swing of things, don’t force them to take a break. Listen to your child and partner with them in their walk towards healing.)
Mindfulness means being in the here and now. It means grounding yourself in your body and your feelings—knowing where you are, who you are, and what you’re experiencing. In the aftermath of trauma, children often have a hard time remembering and knowing these things. Trauma shakes them up. It can make them disassociate—making them feel foggy, detached, and emotionless. Trauma can also make children feel unregulated—making them act out in unhealthy, rash, or volatile ways. Mindfulness can help bring both disassociated and unregulated children back to the present moment.
Mindfulness can be accomplished in a number of ways. One way is focused breathing. Have your child breathe in deeply—so that their tummy protrudes. If your children is young, have them imagine their favorite stuffed animal hugging their tummy as it expands and deflates. Once they get the hang of that, have them practice breathing in for five counts, then exhaling normally. Once they master that, have them breathe in for five counts and then breathe out for five counts. Repeat as needed.
Another mindfulness method is prayer or meditation. If you are one of the many conservative Christians who homeschool, “meditation” might raise a red flag for you. So please know that, by “meditation,” it is not being suggested that you start chanting to a god you consider false. Meditation can take many forms; in fact, many Christian saints and thinkers were or are fans of meditation, such as Teresa of Avila, Charles Spurgeon, and Thomas Merton. In its most basic form, meditation is “the art of being totally in the present moment—aware of, but not wrapped up in, what is happening around you” (Cohen, Mannarino, and Deblinger, p. 79). Prayer is an example of meditation: Jesus meditated in the Garden of Gethsemane when he left his disciples for a quiet spot and prayed (Matthew 26:36-46).
Simply have you and your child sit up straight, either on a comfortable chair or a cushion. Practice the aforementioned focused breathing. Then, closing your eyes, silently recite something that is meaningful for you—perhaps the Lord’s Prayer or a short phrase like “Jesus Loves Me.” Or your child can just go to a quiet spot and pray like Jesus did. (If you want other religious or non-religious options, simply Google, “trauma and meditation.”
You can incorporate mindfulness activities into your homeschooling day. As mindfulness helps children become grounded and focused, it is a great activity to start your day with, when you do morning school routines—e.g., when you might recite the Pledge of Allegiance or read a morning Bible passage. Just add 10 minutes of “being mindful” or “quiet” time or give your children 10 minutes to collect their thoughts and pray silently and undisturbed.
Relaxation, like mindfulness, is a way to ground yourself in the here and now. It helps your child to let go of racing or painful feelings.
Explain to your child that, when a person is stressed, their muscles become tense and sore (you can even incorporate this into an anatomy lesson!). When a person is relaxed, their muscles feel loose and relaxed. Then have your child, starting with their toes, tense each set of muscles—and then relax them. Have your child begin with their toes and work their way all the way up to their head, tensing then relaxing each muscle group as they go.
You can incorporate relaxation activities into your homeschooling day any time, though it might be a good idea to employ it during breaks throughout the day. School can be stressful in itself; school after trauma can be even more stressful. Taking some breaks throughout the day to intentionally unwind and relax can be very helpful for children.
5. Parental Self-Care
Watching your children go through a traumatic event can be traumatic for you, too! It can also disrupt normal parenting and family practices you value. Cohen, Mannarino, and Deblinger note that, “In the face of a child’s experiencing a severely traumatic life event, even the most competent parent may have difficulty in parenting effectively” (p. 67). So if you’re feeling traumatized or overwhelmed yourself, know that is completely normal. You’re not a failure.
At the same time, if you’re not in a good place emotionally and mentally, you’re not going to be able to help your children. So remember: caring for others requires you care for your self! You deserve self-care, too! Use the above four strategies in your own personal life. Get some books about how to help your child go through the specific trauma they experienced. Practice mindfulness. Pray or meditate. Give yourself permission and time to relax and recover. You and your child both deserve healing.
• University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, Department of Pediatrics, Healing After Trauma Skills: A Manual for Professionals, Teachers, and Families Working with Children After Trauma/Disaster
Author: R.L. Stollar
R.L. Stollar is the Executive Director of Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out.