Childhood trauma can impact the way an adult functions in society. Regardless of where the trauma originates, the result is the same: the child grows up unaware of how to deal with their conflicting (oftentimes overwhelming) emotions and finds themselves dealing with depression, health problems, alcoholism, drug abuse, and may even end up considering suicide.
Idaho ranks fifth nationwide for children who have experienced more than three adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). The definition of an ACE includes abuse and neglect, as well as dysfunction in the home, such as substance abuse, divorce, violence, or incarceration. Though Idaho’s numbers are large, they’re far from the only state facing such problems; statistically speaking, between 40% and 50% of marriages end in divorce, with 10.6% of those being related to drug and alcohol abuse.
However, Idaho is breaking the mold in that its counties are committed to doing as much as possible to empower kids. Take Lewis and Clark Elementary School in Caldwell: when students are feeling overwhelmed, they raise four fingers to signify a “flipped lid” and let the teacher know they’re going to take a moment to cool down. The school of 500 students is one of several in the state that aims to teach children emotional coping methods.
“Not every child has experienced a significant amount of trauma,” said Angela Layne, the school’s counselor. “But part of teaching the practices is to expose children to how to deal with that when it does happen, or just how to be more resilient.”
The methods seem to be making a big difference in the kids’ lives outside of school as well; nine-year-old KeAnne said that what she learns in school helps her deal with frustrations at home.
“It’s really empowering them, where they are really taking control of their emotions,” fourth-grade teacher Adam Trowbridge said. “We don’t have to tell them to calm down or stop doing something. They notice they need to take a break.”
The success of Lewis and Clark Elementary School is just the beginning for the children of Idaho. Though Roger Sherman, executive director of the Idaho Children’s Trust Fund, knows there’s a long way to go (he would personally like to see more parents taking classes on how to properly respond to a child’s outbursts), he is pleased with the proactive change that has occurred so far.