The July Childhood Trauma Newsletter: Best Practices for Using Bilateral Stimulation with Children

Plus, a free webinar replay, & book chat registration!

By Beth Tyson, MA

Welcome to the July edition of my Childhood Trauma Newsletter! Let’s get right to it…

Trauma Tip of the Month:

To build on the topic of last month’s newsletter, I would like to explore best practices with a trauma-informed technique called bilateral stimulation (BLS) that can help you deepen your attachment with children while fostering healing and resilience in the nervous system.

Whether a child has experienced trauma or you simply want to enhance your connection, bilateral stimulation can be a valuable tool in your caregiving toolkit.

Bilateral Stimulation to Calm the Trauma Response

BLS involves simultaneously engaging both sides of the body or brain to promote relaxation, emotional regulation, and integration of experiences. It is based on the understanding that bilateral movement activates the brain’s natural healing processes, including reducing anxiety and stress responses.

This may sound too good to be true, but I’ve witnessed BLS work for many children and adults. Just think about the way you feel after participating in the following activities:

All of these activities have something in common! They involve some form of bilateral stimulation to your brain and body. At this point, scientists are unclear how or why BLS works, but they believe it has a calming effect on our limbic system, which allows our brain/body to relax naturally.

There are various ways to incorporate more bilateral stimulation into your daily routines with younger and older children, and you don’t need to know all of the science for it to work. Phew! Who has time for that?

Let’s explore a few examples:

Best Practices for Bilateral Stimulation with Children

When working with children who have experienced trauma, it’s essential to approach bilateral stimulation with sensitivity and a trauma-informed lens. Here are some considerations to keep in mind:

Consent and Choice: Always seek your child’s permission before engaging in bilateral stimulation activities. Explain the action step-by-step, allow them to have a choice in the activity, and respect their boundaries and comfort levels throughout the process. If the child appears distressed, stop the BLS.

Safety and Regulation: Ensure your child feels safe and regulated before attempting bilateral stimulation. This may involve creating a calm and predictable environment, setting clear boundaries, and offering support if they become overwhelmed.

Slow and Gentle Approach: Introduce bilateral stimulation gently, gradually allowing your child to build trust and familiarity with the technique. Start with short sessions (one minute) and progressively increase the duration if their comfort level improves.

Emotional Support: Remain attuned to your child’s emotional state during bilateral stimulation. Offer reassurance, validate their feelings, and create space for open communication. If your child becomes distressed, be prepared to provide comfort and help them regulate their emotions by remaining calm and compassionate.

Remember, trauma-informed bilateral stimulation aims to empower the child, support their emotional well-being, and enhance your connection. Always prioritize their needs and seek professional guidance if you have concerns about their mental health or trauma history.

Incorporating BLS into your interactions with your children can create a nurturing environment that fosters healing, emotional regulation, and a stronger bond.

Please try this with your family or classroom and send me a quick note to tell me how it goes. I love hearing from my readers!

Resource of the Month:

New Webinar Replay: The Impact of Trauma on Childhood and Teen Development with Beth Tyson Trauma Consulting and hosted by OperationParent.org.

From my friends at OperationParent:

“In this webinar, Beth Tyson will help you get inside the mind and hearts of children/teens who have experienced trauma and learn practical skills for rebuilding trust and begin the healing process at home or in the community.”

I included brand spankin’ new content in this webinar that you don’t want to miss! Whether you have time to watch the whole thing or only 15 minutes, you will take away knowledge that can improve the mental health of a child you love. It’s a great place to start if you are just learning about trauma or are looking for new ideas when working with children.

Watch the Webinar

Interested in working with me? I help organizations create trauma-informed content and provide custom training on trauma-responsive care. I am currently reviewing proposals for projects in 2024. Contact me today!

Trauma Champion of the Month:

Ginger Healy, LCSW

Ginger Healy, MSW, LCSW, is a clinical social worker with almost 30 years of experience in the field. Ginger has worked as a child abuse investigator, hospital social worker, and school therapist. She spent 15 years as the social service supervisor at an international adoption agency and was able to travel to provide support for orphanages all over the world. This job continues to inform her work on attachment and trauma needs in children. She is currently the director of programs for the Attachment & Trauma Network, where she co-anchors the podcast “Regulated and Relational” and speaks nationwide on trauma-informed schools, therapeutic parenting, and community engagement. Ginger is also the author of Regulation and Co-Regulation: Accessible Neuroscience that Brings Calm into the Classroom. Ginger is married and has four children, her greatest teachers about developmental trauma and special needs. She loves to travel and read.

Purchase Ginger’s Book

(This is an affiliate link through Amazon, I receive a small commission from Amazon for recommending the book, but only because I truly believe in it!)

Register for my Book Discussion on Regulation and Co-Regulation by Ginger Healy:

Please join us for a discussion over Zoom on September 11th at 12:00 pm EST. It will be recorded and sent out as a replay to anyone who registers.

This time will be spent sharing what we learned from the book and how to implement the skills from a trauma-responsive perspective. It is also an opportunity to connect and share support with others raising or working with children impacted by trauma. Plus, you never know who you might meet! Seats are limited to keep the conversation intimate, and the cost is $10 per attendee to cover time and expenses.

Save Your Spot

What’s new with me?

After a jam-packed year of speaking engagements, presentations, volunteering, and work travel, I kept my calendar *mostly clear this summer to spend as much time as possible with my daughter. It was harder to do than I expected because saying “no” to things does not come naturally to me. I really had to fight the urge to schedule work events. I have a few podcast interviews and webinars to release to you, but other than that, I’m taking it easy, and it feels so good! I recognized that I was spreading myself too thin and feeling “time-poor” more often than was healthy for me or my family.

Overloading our schedules can be a trauma response. Being busy allows our brain to avoid thinking about and feeling the trauma that lies beneath. Subconsciously, we keep running, so our trauma and anxiety can’t catch up with us. But this approach typically backfires and instigates many unhealthy coping mechanisms.

After many years of therapy and inner self-growth, I realized that moving fast all the time isn’t a help to anyone. Children need to see us slow down. I’m not perfect at it, but I am trying to be an example for her.

At times, anxious thoughts arise, such as: “What if I lose momentum with my work?” But every time that thought creeps in, I remind myself that I am taking this break to sustain my work, not destroy it. Without time to rest, I would burn out quickly in the trauma field (and so might you). Advocating for families with trauma is emotionally heavy and, at times, activates my trauma responses. Recognizing the need to rest is an insurance policy to the people I serve. Vicarious trauma is real, and is why many professionals in this field walk away.

And, while I’m resting, some exciting projects are brewing in the background! Stay tuned to find out what I’m up to next.

Author Beth Winkler Tyson

Did you know I published a children’s book for kinship families? A Grandfamily for Sullivan is one of my proudest accomplishments and a piece of my heart in the world. In this poignant story, you will meet Sullivan and his Grandma, who are facing tough times when they suddenly have to live together. This book is a supportive resource for children raised by their grandparents (or other relatives) due to unfortunate circumstances at home, including addiction, neglect, and abuse.

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