A person’s prior experiences are like the foundation under a skyscraper. It’s the basis of who they are — even if you can’t see it.
That’s why it’s important that everyone understands trauma and how it may manifest itself, especially when engaging with young adults. Many young adults have experienced one or more traumatic life events. Oftentimes, they may try to cope with traumatic experiences themselves without realizing the possibility of long-lasting effects. And sometimes, we can say or do something that is a trigger for someone else.
That’s what we mean when we say “trauma-informed.” Trauma-informed care, as defined by AIR, is a strengths-based approach “that is grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma, that emphasizes physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and survivors, and that creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment.”
So how do we ensure we’re being respectful of people’s personal space and prior experiences? Here are just five, easy ways you can be more trauma-informed in your everyday life.
Tip #1: Ask People How They’d Like to Be Greeted
Greetings vary from hand waves across the room to full-on hugs that can be a little too up-close and personal. But normal is relative; it depends on the person, the relationship, and even the geographic region.
It might seem strange at first, but one of the simplest ways you can be trauma-informed when meeting someone for the first time is to just ask them how they like to be greeted. “Are you a hugger?” goes a long way toward making someone feel as though they have autonomy over their own body — which, of course, they should!
Not everyone who doesn’t want to be physically touched has experienced some sort of trauma. Maybe they’re just not into it. And that’s okay, too. If someone says they’d rather not hug, kiss on the cheek, or be touched in anyway: don’t ask why or take personal offense. Rest assured you’ve taken a good step toward being more trauma-informed.
Tip #2: Build Relationships
Let me say it one more time just in case. Don’t ask someone directly about any prior traumatic experiences. If someone wants to talk to you about it, they will.
So if they do, it’s good to prepare for that kind of dialogue. Have you ever told someone a personal story only for them to completely dismiss you or look uninterested? Try to avoid that as much as possible.
Instead, use relationship-building skills like effective listening, patience, empathy, and strategic sharing to encourage conversation with young adults. Manage your verbal responses and body language to encourage open and supportive conversations around trauma.
Asking “Are you a hugger?” goes a long way.
Tip #3: Place Content Warnings
The last thing you want to do is trigger someone unexpectedly. A trigger is something that causes a negative impact or reaction on how you were feeling in that moment. We see this on social media the most, when someone shares a story or a news article about a heavy topic.
That’s why young adults devised a simple system for content sharing on the internet: trigger warnings. If you’re sharing information on social media that you think could be a trigger for anyone reading, consider placing a content or trigger warning ahead of your content.
For example, if you’re sharing an essay or article that deals with suicide, a simple CW: Suicide or TW: Suicide placed ahead of the link is all you need. It lets the reader know what the subject of the content is about without having to read it themselves. That way, they can decide if they want to read or avoid the post altogether.
Tip #4: Support Young Adults in Understanding Trauma
Young adults who experience traumatic situations may have heightened protective factors to cope with what they’ve experienced. Those behaviors may appear as fighting, cursing, withdrawing from family and friends, feeling bored, and disassociating from hobbies, just to name a few. Sometimes these behaviors may cause some young adults to enter the mental health, juvenile justice, or special education system.
But helping young adults understand the basic causes, signs, and triggers of trauma through resource-sharing, direct conversations, and training can help a lot. Consider downloading Youth MOVE National’s Guide for Youth: Understanding Trauma.
Tip #5: Create a Safe Space for Sharing
Trauma affects anyone’s sense of trust and security in people, including young adults. When meeting with youth and young adults, be mindful of words, places, and individuals that may be a trigger for them. Keep in mind trauma may cause young adults to feel more sensitive to physical touch and they might need more personal space. Ask simple questions to clarify preferred boundaries like, “May I sit next to you?”
If you’re meeting with a youth group, it’s never a bad idea to set up some community rules. Before beginning your meeting, write on a board or flipchart paper some guidelines for how everyone should conduct themselves. Ask the youth participants what they think should be part of the community rules. You’ll often find they’ll include trauma-informed rules of their own, like: don’t share personal stories to people outside the room, take care of yourself, only one speaker at a time, and many more!
These are just a few ways you can be a bit more trauma-informed in everyday life. By changing your behaviors, however small, you can allow for young adults to feel more at ease, comfortable, and create an environment where leadership and advocacy skills hit maximum potential. So we’re challenging you. Try just one of these tips today and see how your youth engagement changes.
Want to learn more about being trauma-informed?
Join our Direct Connect webinar on Wednesday, June 26, at 3:00–4:30 p.m. EDT on Engaging Youth Leaders that are Survivors of Traumatic Situations including Domestic Violence
June’s Direct Connect will focus on how Light to Life utilizes a trauma informed approach that involves recognizing, understanding and responding to all types of dating abuse. Our response is to collaborate with primary/ secondary schools and community organizations. Light to Life raises awareness on dating violence through psycho educational workshops and social media outreach. The objective of this webinar is to increase knowledge about dating violence prevention education and to expand strategies on how to engage young adults for violence prevention education.