Nadia,* a third grader living in an emergency shelter with her grandmother, is thoroughly disgusted by insects. On top of that, she’s even more afraid of getting bitten by one – or worse, an animal – so going on a nature hike during HFI’s summer camp was her worst nightmare.
Most people would respond to the potential of being around tons of insects by saying “Ewwwww!” and using bug spray. Kids who have experienced trauma handle this same situation very differently. Our kids have a hard time expressing and handling their feelings. Nadia, for example, could only communicate her fear and discomfort by screaming and lashing out.
Traumatic experiences like homelessness impede a child’s ability to build these “coping skills” – or mental health, academic, and social skills that help them succeed later in life.
To help kids heal from the stress of being homeless, HFI staff work with them every day to help them learn healthier ways to process their feelings. Working with her closely, Nadia’s interactions shifted from emotional outbursts and temper tantrums to healthy communication and expression. Nadia began to not only say what she felt, but asked for help when she was feeling scared.
The day came when Nadia was faced with her worst nightmare: going on a nature walk with the possibility that an animal or bug would bite her. Before the summer, Nadia would have responded by using harsh words with peers and fighting. This year was different. She told one of the staff members what she was feeling, identified what she needed to feel safer, and then asked for it. She had their reassurance of her safety. Instead of stopping the walk by yelling and flailing around, Nadia was able to enjoy the day and time with her fellow campers.
Your support not only helps children improve in school, it also helps kids like Nadia learn how to express themselves in a healthy and productive way, communicate their needs, and be able to move past conflict so that they can go back to what they do best: being kids.
*While Nadia’s story is true, Housing Families has changed her name to respect her privacy.