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Jun 17, 2022

The trauma of children is something that I feel very passionate about. But to be good at helping kids process their trauma, you first have to understand how they process information.



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mike or like the facebook page at psych with mike now here's psych with mike
welcome into the psych with mike library this is dr michael mahon and i am here today with mr brett newcomb and with
intern michael good morning good morning young man how are you doing i'm all right so this is the friday
after the horrible shooting in texas in uvalde texas and uh
i'm i feel um i feel uh i feel a certain weight on my
chest do you guys feel that do you feel a different weight because children involved and then you felt in
buffalo 10 days ago absolutely yeah yeah interesting um so i read every
word that stephen king wrote until i read pet cemetery
and pet cemetery is obviously includes a child in it
and that was something that profoundly impacted me and i and and included a
child in a way that made the child kind of evil and that was something that was really
hard for me to process and i didn't read any stephen king after that i have the same thing with anne rice and
the way that she uses claudia and interview with a vampire um the the
when you there's just something different for me there's something different about kids than
adults and you would not want to read orson scott card's book lost boys
uh no i'd like watson scott card but i probably would not read that one will make you cry your eyes out yeah tragic
tale yeah even even some of the ender's game series gets a little dicey in that
regard yeah absolutely i mean when you're when you're recruiting the children specifically for
that purpose yeah i mean and and you know that you're doing it i mean it's intentional i mean that's and we're
getting very esoteric now but but yes i feel definitely that there is a difference
between children and adults is that is that unique am i
do you guys feel that way i don't know that i've thought it
through i would just have emotional reactions i'm not sure how useful that is yeah
yeah but uh the and and so
maybe a part of why this is prescient for me is because
after 9 11 you and i were working in a group
practice at that time yes yeah okay you remember that of course and
the day that that happened the day that 9 11 happened i was sitting on the
parking lot of a computer store retail computer store because the
person who ran that office had given me permission the day before that to
actually network the office for the first time in the history of our office and so i
was there buying cable and routers and things like that to be able to create an internet network at our
office for the first time that we had ever had and i don't even remember if you remember this but i had ran cables down the walls and stuff like that
vaguely and tiger woods was in town for
a pga the pga was at belle reeve in st louis here that day uh that week for the
pga championship tiger wood was supposed to be putting on an expose he was at the height of his popularity and i was
sitting on the parking lot listening to the coverage of golf and i heard about the planes flying into
the twin trade towers and i was mortified and i came to work that day came to the office and i had clients
scheduled and i said to you i don't know if i can do this
and you said well if you can't do it that's fine but i would promote the idea to you that if
you're having a hard time then your clients are having a hard time and so i
stayed and i and i did therapy that day and i was glad that i did but
in the aftermath of that because we worked with a lot of school districts i was tasked with
putting together some kind of presentation about what the impact of this was on kids because if you remember
that day everybody wheeled vcrs and whatever i mean i don't even remember what the technology was but
wheeled uh televisions into the classrooms and they were showing this stuff and the
the the news coverage was putting this on a loop and one of the things that came out of
the research after that day was kids can't understand the difference between
this happened once 35 minutes ago and it's the same plane over and over again they were
re-traumatized every time they saw the new events and so this started a whole
investigation into how's the difference between the way that kids process
information and the way that parents process information and as adults and
especially when we ourselves are having an emotional reaction i don't think we always understand or appreciate the
differences between the way that the children process that information
and so one of the things that i'm that's why for me it's different when we talk
about kids than adults because i did a lot of that research at that time and
understand that that's different and i just feel for any child right now my son's a teacher
in and middle school and so not as young as these kids but i was talking to him
yesterday and i said you know this has just got to be devastating he said i i don't even know he said i don't know what to do we're just we're just
doing emotional first aid well you still don't know what to do in the state of missouri missouri is the fourth highest
number of gun deaths per hundred thousand state in the union it's higher than texas
uh 48 of people in missouri own guns but the state legislature has been
pushing all this year that teachers are pedophiles that we can't allow them to choose textbooks or curriculum that
they're all going to teach crt and we need to watch them like hawks now they're saying let's give them guns i
was just going to say but now they're done what's wrong with them it's you know unbelievable i hate
it yeah and they all chase their own particular will of the west solution right um
the argument i don't know there is an argument the question uh about clinicians that comes to my
mind when you say what you've just said is in a crisis if you're not calm can you do therapy
should you do therapy if you can become is it helpful to your client for you to do therapy
and i think you have to ask yourself those questions and because you you can't do the counter transplant stuff of
working out your own i was just going to say right in the room with the client right and and that's why we always
recommend that clinicians have supervision and they have other people working that they can go to in a moment
of crisis i remember working with lynelle sutherland when she found out that one of her clients had
been killed she interrupted a session of mine and pulled me out in the hall and she said i need a hug and she needed to cry
and then she needed to stabilize herself before she could go in with a client
and you have to do that you can't bring your stuff to the table it's a real challenge
but then as a human being as a parent you have to also
try to absorb the sense of loss and ask the questions
how how do we deal with children with questions right we deal with parents with questions well how do we move forward what do we
do right and and we then even broaden that beyond
just if you're a clinician every teacher in every classroom in america right now
is having to do that for themselves and their class well teachers and kids at
all level brackets are exposed to movies video games
news media whatever there's a story out this morning about 11 year old girl that survived the
shooting she laid on top of one of her friend's bodies and scooped up his blood and rubbed it all over and pretended to be
dead now at 11 she had that much self-awareness and other
awareness to try to figure out how to survive yeah but then today when she's telling the story about it she can't be
interviewed by a man so she started hyperventilating she could talk to a woman
how do kids process how do we help them process and just
your ordinary classroom teacher i mean i'm just a boy from podunk arkansas sitting in a
classroom trying to teach social studies what do i know about surviving trauma what do i know about murderers what do i
know about machine gun assaults in the room and
how am i going to help those kids right how do i do that well so the first thing is how do kids process information and
and one of the things that i think is predominantly important is that people
understand kids process information differently than adults
and while hopefully most of us as adults we have some ability to use the ducks
there i love the duck we have the ability to use some form of abstraction
right so we can understand that these events that happened happened
in texas and that's thousands of miles away kids process information black and white
they are just concrete hence the name concrete development right concrete operations and so
a kid sees something happen in a school that looks just like their school
they don't know that that school's two thousand miles away from them that could be next door that could be in the
classroom next door to them so that trauma is much more real for them
because the way that they're interpreting reality is different than the way that adults interpret reality
and one of the things that as i said before that they did in 911 was bring the the tvs into the classrooms and
people were watching it because the the adults wanted to know they were afraid
they were trying to get answers but they were leaving these things on a loop in front of the kids and every time that
plane hit a building the kids thought it was another plane hitting another building and so for them instead of two
planes or three planes hitting buildings they saw a thousand planes hit a building
you know we were pretty lucky um i i was in the first grade in 911 well there you go and uh
we they came across the intercom system and told teachers to turn off their
televisions that's a good administrator i was really very fortunate but you need that kind of leadership that knows what
to do and steps in and does it and then you need teachers that will follow the directions yes and they did they were
really really uh well done for the situation that it was so i didn't see any footage until
well after the day it happened we kept uh so we we had migration of kids from
classroom to classroom for different classes so you would go to one classroom for really first one for math yeah yeah
we i went to a fichen school or i'm sorry not a an edison school it's a
system of like magnet schools that does similar things um like montessori but
magnet and it's free um so uh they said everybody remains in the
classroom that they're in right now nobody leaves their current classroom teachers can swell teachers will swap
classrooms instead of students swapping classrooms um and my mom was a teacher in the in the
building at the time she was a teacher's assistant for a kindergarten class and she said no i'm smiling because teachers
really resist that they nest in those classrooms and they want to send the kids out and i got my stuff here my
coffee cup my picture of my kid yeah so they really they church yeah it was a challenge but
i think they did a good job with it and and what i remember from that day is
um my dad was military so he was on base their defcon won right they're on
lockdown phone calls aren't coming in or going out no no information whatsoever um my teacher asked
if i would like to call my mom because she was downstairs um and so we had a brief conversation and
mom said are you okay and i said yes that's all that that was it that was the whole conversation um
so i heard nothing more about what happened what was going on until uh the next day um dad didn't come
home that night right so he was stuck on base for well i think it was 48 hours um
and so i i do think that you know my generation was the last bastion of having tornado and
fire drills we never had school shooter drills um we were given information
about what to do in the event of an active shooter this was obviously post
columbine post columbine post colorado um post kent kent state university
um however we never had to do the drills and now kids do the drills and i wonder
about what that is like because 911 is uh is
is something that's very far away in an office building um and you are inherently removed from
it whereas an education space to me you're talking about children are sacred to me education spaces are sacred um and
that that really strikes me every time every time that happens
so let's go to our break and when we come back we'll talk about specifically what do kids need to hear
from us as adults to make them feel better
hey brett if you were going to tell somebody to check out something on the internet to
help them with their mental health what would you tell them i tell them listen to psych with mike why would you tell them that
because it's probably one of the most easily listenable experiences you can have that
will give you information that's useful for a whole spectrum of concerns that
people have i agree and i have actually been told that
by at least a dozen people several of whom were not married to me
and some of them didn't even know me that's amazing that is amazing
it's when when we get that kind of feedback from people it is so incredibly
humbling and overwhelming for me it is for both of us so we really appreciate it and as always
if it's friday it's cycling [Music]
okay we're back and you know the the research all shows that
what we need to do as adults and caregivers to help children in a
situation like this is to make sure that the children know they are safe and that
the people that are taking care of them are safe so mom and dad are safe the teachers are safe and so that's the
thing that we need to be able to help them to feel comfortable with so
you don't have to be able to explain why there are bad people in the world you don't have to be able to go through why
there are good or bad gun laws all you have to be able to do is to provide a
structural foundation for that child that lets them know that you're safe
that they're safe and that you're going to do everything to make sure that they are able to continue to be safe
you look like you're in i don't know how you do that and depending on the age of the child
first grade versus a fifth grader versus a ninth grader they're going to have different levels of awareness
and information sources most of these kids now have cell phones right
that at least offer the opportunity for news flashes and notifications to come up and how do you tell them you're going to
be safe we don't know that you know i don't know that you're going to be safe what i can tell you is we're going to do everything possible to keep
you safe but life is full of unknowns right and so there are things that
we can try to do to train and prepare you know like we try to teach you drown proofing in case you fall in the pool
how you can help yourself until somebody can get to you we we have active shooter drills we have
fire drills we have all kinds of drills hurricane drills what do you do in the circumstances to make yourself as safe
as you can we try to have leaders in place who have exposure to these drills
and trainings who themselves can't stay calm because it's not helping my classroom in 30 second graders if i'm
having a panic attack because i'm frozen and don't know what to do and what i do or what i know to do may
not be helpful may not be the solution so but i have to go through it
and help them so let me ask you a question because we are old you and i are old yeah and certainly we are older than
intern michael so intern michael's never done a nuclear bomb drill uh
but you and i have yeah and so which at the time i knew better than i knew that
if i got under my desk and hugged my knees but it wasn't going to make any nuclear bomb going on that desk is not a
little formica half inch of material not going to help me at all and i also knew that i was 20 miles from
my home and the school bus wasn't going to run if the nuclear bomb went off so how am i going at home how's somebody going to
get to me so my question is did you find that to be
ludicrous you found it to be ludicrous as a child okay okay even as a child you did not it did not give you any sense of
security didn't make me feel any better about the adults they don't know what the hell they're talking about um because my experience was exactly the
opposite my experience you're more over sucker than i am more of a sucker than you are uh and i didn't understand the
dynamics of what a nuclear bomb was or what mother was a little better informed than
the average person of my age let's just face it you're smarter than the average bear i am but
i found that to be comforting like i thought okay these these people have my back they know what they're doing and so
we're going to get under these tables and so if something happens i feel and i am going to offend you but i would say
that a lot of people who hang on to religion use it for the same reason for the same reason
and that they don't have any better information than than i have or any better predictability of the
outcomes so when republican politicians send thoughts and prayers it doesn't solve the gun problems shooting up
schools well clearly that's true i mean yes thoughts and prayers we got to get beyond that
well i mean where do we go well i'll kind of push back um i think those are different i think those are different
situations one is one where you do not have control right if we're talking about nuclear bombs nuclear
proliferation there is some degree of control at a high policy level but as an individual as a child getting
under a desk if that brings you comfort what is the sucking your thumb yeah what
is the problem in the comfort um outside well i don't know if there's a
problem right long-term resistance to policy change right if people are comforted
they won't take action right if they're not comfortable if they are uncomfortable they might take action so
to me the definition there there has to do with the immediacy of the moment if i can comfort myself enough to quiet my
anxieties then i can brace myself for the next wave whatever that is right so i don't know that it
impacts the longer term solution to the outcome and i do agree with you if
there's an immediate way to calm down someone in hysterics and help them stabilize then you can
help look for a path forward even if you don't see one you can at least be calm enough to look and if you're in the
middle of a hyperventilating panic attack you can't do that either and as an adult
i have that responsibility i take that responsibility i embrace that responsibility even if i don't know what
to do with it but when i go in that classroom just like uh police officer training has changed since columbine and
they used to say gather and wait and negotiate uh
call for resources now they say you got to go in you got to go in so now the cops don't go in they didn't go in in
texas yesterday and the police officer in charge said they could have gotten shot they could have gotten killed
that's why they didn't go in kids could have been shot kids were shot and killed my response is if i take that job and i
take the training for that job and i swear the oath what i am saying is given that situation i'll go towards the sound
of the guns and i expect them to do it they took the job they take the pay they get the retirement they take the risk
and i love them for it and god bless them and we need them but if you own up and put on the uniform get your ass in
there so going back though to my analogy of the
bomb drills that didn't help you it helped me and so when i'm saying that that we need to
find ways of being oh you got me in trouble because i wouldn't take it seriously make the children feel safe right yeah that was beneficial for me so
that was that worked for me what would happen that was just how smart i wasn't because i smarted off and got in trouble
yeah i could have figured that was going to be happening well but but is there anything in that situation that you look
back on now that you think would have been beneficial for you
um i don't know yeah because because you you rightly point out kids are different
every kid is gonna need something different to make them feel okay the bomb drills actually helped me they made
me feel more safe and so that was a good intervention for me it wasn't a good
intervention for you so you teach your children at santa claus was a lie
i don't know what you're talking about because i still think santa claus is an actual man who lives at the north pole
okay but no i did not teach them that yeah not until they came up with it on
their own yeah it's it's a question parents have to answer yeah do you buy
into this myth because it's comforting and it's pretty and it makes a nice holiday picture
or do you indulge your children's fantasies because it makes their childhood happier
yeah everybody has to have their own answer now i have my answer but as a clinician i don't impose my answer on my client
right i listen to the client and seek ways to help them define their own answer right
but you don't you you don't know of anything that would have spoken to that child that you were no so if if i had
come to you as an adult if i had come to you and and said hey little brett uh
this is about i didn't trust adults i lived in a high perspective so maybe that's the day
yeah but maybe that's the issue is that you didn't trust adults no and so you didn't see adults as an
arbiter of things that would create safety for you no and so maybe that was really the issue
if there would have been some other way not through the avenue of an adult but then
how many kids in our country don't trust adults great question probably a large and so
if the adults are the ones who are saying oh here let's make these children feel safer maybe maybe those that isn't
going to work for those children because they don't trust adults and maybe they shouldn't trust but again the conversation is partly
difficult because you're talking about a huge conclusion you have to break it down into brackets kids from one to six
from six to ten you know their exposure their life their realities are all different right their capacities are all different but
so what i would say to that is you use language that is appropriate for the age group so i would speak differently to a
six-year-old than i would speak to a 12 year old i hope so but the goal would be to make them feel safe and secure
that would be the goal if you can find a way to do it yeah but also
how do you do it yeah i i think a lot of the research that i had read in
like developmental psych classes dealt with building resilience and finding different ways to build
resilience right kenneth ginsburg is dr kenneth ginsberg is the kind of the author
in pop psych or i guess also a clinical psych that comes to mind and he talks about these seven c's of resilience
competence confidence connection character contribution coping and control and he says if you can build those
things that if you want to if you want to look at the long-term success of a child either economically or emotionally
resilience is that key and so i wonder if it's less about convincing children that they're safe
right because i agree right as well as hierarchy of needs you have to understand that you are safe it's less about convincing children they
will always be safe and more about giving them the tools to be competent
enough to find their way to safety at all times right to always know that they can rely on themselves
you can't take education away from somebody yeah so i i would then respond to that i mean because i
absolutely agree with what you're saying makes perfect sense however my opinion is that over the last 15
years we've done a major disservice to our kids by teaching that every child always wins so we don't discriminate a b
c d you know we all get a's we all get ribbons everybody wins nobody comes in second place reality is reality we have
to teach our kids about reality and we have to give them confidence to navigate the real world
so in the real world there may be a shooter if there is one here are the things that we can try to do to be safe these are
the things we'll try to do with and for you to make you safe yeah well so
but going along that line so i think that you're that what you say michael is 100 correct that that trying to increase
resilience in those kids is the answer when i say make them feel safe
i think that that's an issue that's incompetency which is the purpose of the drills right the shooter reels or the
fire drills you are competent to lead your desk row out of the building you know which way to turn when you go out
the door you know where to go absolutely yeah all those overlap there they're all
woven together in fabric that helps the child grow and survive so that comes from ultimately the relationships that
the child has with the adults and the other children around them it's that connection that it is very relational
and that is how you build that that safety net that is how you help the psychology of a child and the
mental health of a child to work through these really really big issues yeah so if there had been
a designated child to lead the classroom and the school had gone together and said oh
bret little brett seems like that he's uh pretty good at that he's got some you know stuff going on and so you had been
designated as the the the group leader for your row or
whatever to get under the desk and model that would that have been beneficial for you
would that have have helped you to feel more confident and confident
i can't speculate i have no idea yeah i wonder if that would have been because now that you're saying that i mean i
that now that actually goes back to the whole floss about to as a classroom teacher take the bully and draft them
into authority yeah and give them responsibilities so that they're not bullying but they're taken care of yeah so it's a strategy would that work for
me i mean it's equivalent of being a bullet i'm standing in the corner snarking and going you guys are suckers um maybe well but i don't know but would
you have taken it more seriously like if you had that authority i don't know it didn't happen but yeah would it i don't
know but it's the contribution piece right exactly and and and so you know i'll
include that an article about that uh with the the show notes but i think that
that really is probably what we need to try and focus on is exactly that that
resilience piece and when i say you know make them feel safe that's exactly
what i would think of however yeah as a grown-up teacher who spent 20 plus years in classrooms of 100
other teachers i'm also aware of
imbalances in capacity among the teachers yeah uh
so what if they can't do it well which is the question comes up when i mean i think i saw in the paper this
morning 32 school districts in missouri have authorized teachers to carry guns yeah i don't want a second grade teacher
taking a gun what what do she do with her gun when when little billy throws up and she has to clean it up once you do
with the gun when two kids get into a fist fight she has to go break them up right what did she do with a gun when
she squats down to teach somebody reading and somebody pats her butt or some kid sitting there goes oh i want to see your gun
and is she trying to shoot it does she know what to shoot at and how and when right i mean because if she's going to
be carrying the gun she's going to be carrying it on her it's going to be unsecured today you don't leave it in your desk drawer right if it's locked
and you're looking good right yeah i mean that's what they're going to say but those questions haven't been answered the solution is we'll arm the
teachers yeah harden the schools this school in new valley and fifty thousand dollars hardening the
school somebody left the back door on right right which always happens always happens well i think that comes back to
a very juvenile solution to the real question of neglect here right we're saying we're saying that we are
neglecting our children systematically and instead of changing the system we're going to go with the
solution of of theoretical and overlap yes yeah and so the real solution there is to you
said there are different there are differences in the capacity of teachers right there are differences in
the aptitudes of students and so what we do is we don't build better teachers we build better systems for those teachers
to exist in that would be ideally so hopefully that is helpful it
at least was helpful for us to kind of work through this ourselves um we are just human beings living in the world
the same as everybody else and we have feelings about when things like this
happen it's traumatic for us the same as it is for we don't have answers either no i mean we're just trying to do the
best that we can and that's all anybody can do uh the music that appears inside with
mike is written and performed by mr benjamin the clue we definitely invite everybody to go to apple podcast find
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