Gestures that can Heal
As a supportive, caring adult in a child’s life, you are an important factor in helping them overcome the effects of childhood trauma. With these five gestures, you can make a difference in their everyday lives.
Celebrate Icon

Celebrate

Comfort Icon

Comfort

Listen Icon

Listen

Collaborate Icon

Collaborate

Inspire Icon

Inspire

Define your Gestures experience by telling us
about the children you work with.

I work with children ages
at a .

Under 5

5 – 12

13 – 18

School

Home

Hospital

Community

Celebrate Icon

Celebrate

When you celebrate kids, you build their self-esteem.

Comfort Icon

Comfort

Comforting kids shows them that they are safe.

Listen Icon

Listen

When you listen to kids, you show them you value what they have to say.

Collaborate Icon

Collaborate

When you collaborate with kids, you help them learn to work through problems.

Inspire Icon

Inspire

Inspiring kids helps them to imagine what’s possible.

why It Works

Celebrate is a seemingly small everyday gesture that can make a world of difference in a child’s life.

When we celebrate a child’s achievements and challenges, both big and small, and affirm who they are as individuals, we support the development of their self-identity and remind them that they are lovable, competent, and important[1]. When we acknowledge their birthdays, graduations or everyday accomplishments like completing their homework, meeting new friends, or doing chores, we help children build positive self-esteem.

Studies show that an essential ingredient for a child’s resilience, particularly for a child who has experienced violence and traumatic stress, is a secure relationship between the child and a caring adult who loves them, believes in them, sees them as special, and celebrates their accomplishments[2]. Supportive and encouraging adults can help them better cope with adversity.

Every time you celebrate a child it’s an opportunity to teach them the social and emotional skills they need to heal. Greeting and acknowledging children recognizes them and shows them that they matter. Praising and celebrating children when they carry out something difficult shows them that no matter how stressful things may become, perseverance is important. In this section, we offer ideas to celebrate children by providing affirmation and validation, recognizing their individual and cultural uniqueness, and fostering their self-confidence and self-esteem.

Comfort is a gesture of making others feel safe and secure, and can greatly help children experiencing traumatic stress.

Providing comfort to children can make the difference between fear and security, and builds the foundation for resiliency to adversity. When children are able to recognize and regulate their emotions, such as anger and sadness, they are better able to sustain relationships, focus on tasks, and succeed socially and academically. Skills like self-soothing, being able to connect their words to feelings, and practicing relaxation and emotional regulation are increasingly recognized as important to overall well-being and resilience.

Caring adults can be role models for healthy emotional expression and behaviors and help children build their emotional intelligence. Through comfort and support, you can help reverse the effects of toxic stress in children by assisting them in making sense of their experiences and regaining a feeling of safety.[1]

When comforting children, practice active listening and provide support at all times, during both seemingly small stressors and bigger issues. Show compassion, provide reassurance and demonstrate a commitment to being there for them. Creating a safe environment is one of the most valuable elements of the Comfort gesture that can help children re-establish a sense of security and stability.

Listening attentively to children shows we care and that their thoughts matter.

For all children, especially those who have experienced violence, a patient and receptive adult who listens can help them feel safe and valued. It also shows them that they can trust the adults around them, establishing the foundation for pro-social strategies to express their emotions.

Teaching children to listen helps embody the skills of communication, getting along, and seeing others’ perspectives. Listening with respect and empathy shows a child that they are worthy. Listening helps children feel supported, increases their self-esteem, and helps them view the world as a safe place to express themselves.[1] [2] Being curious and reflecting back what you are hearing helps children build executive function and self-regulation skills, which are both necessary for building resilience.

In this section, learn tips for practicing the Listening gesture, especially these 5 key strategies for good listening:

  • Listen attentively and actively.
  • Listen without distractions.
  • Be patient and allow them time to share when they are ready.
  • Pay attention to their emotions and feelings.
  • Validate their feelings and emotions.

By practicing Collaboration skills with children, you can teach them how to identify and control their emotions, work through problems, and help them gain independence.

Children who have been exposed to violence may have limited experience using problem-solving methods and may struggle to see and understand others’ perspectives. They may lack a sense of belonging or even the will and know-how to reach out. Teaching children who have experienced traumatic stress how to collaborate can help them learn strategies to effectively address conflict and deal with adversity.

In order to deal effectively with adversity, children need access to flexible strategies for addressing conflict, seeking help, and dealing with unforeseen setbacks. Problem-solving skills and learning how to adopt different perspectives are linked with better outcomes for children and may help them view aggression as a less attractive way to handle conflict.[1],[2] As a caring adult, you can help the children in your life to learn these strategies by encouraging children to describe and think about the results of their actions.[3]

Every day at work, at school, and at home, you have opportunities to collaborate with children to identify problems and work together towards a common goal. In this section, we’ll share how you can teach children the skills to collaborate and resolve problems by modeling cooperative relationships, helping them build trust, and encouraging them to express their opinions and ask for help when needed.

Inspiring through motivation, encouragement, or influence is essential for children to recognize their potential and believe in possibilities for their future.

Children who have experienced violence and traumatic stress can become negative, expect to be unsuccessful, have a low sense of self-worth, and fail to foresee a positive future for themselves. But caring adults can help inspire and build resiliency in children by identifying their strengths and natural talents and by helping to build their self-confidence.

Children can be inspired when we show how much we care, how we want to connect with them, and how much their voice really matters. Inspiration comes from a willingness to try to learn new things in a positive and safe environment. Inspiration comes from creativity, learning, and exploration. Inspire children by fostering a nurturing environment that motivates them to explore, partner with them to recognize their strengths and talents, and be a role model for positive thinking.

In this section, we offer inspiration to you as teachers, advocates, and caregivers to first reach out to children and listen, to set examples of positive thinking, and to encourage them to try new things.

  1. Groves, B.M. (2002). Children Who See Too Much: Lessons from the Child Witness to Violence Project. Boston: Beacon Press.

  2. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (2014). Children and Domestic Violence – How Does Domestic Violence Affect Children? Retrieved from http://www.nctsn.org/sites/default/files/assets/pdfs/childrenanddv_factsheet_1.pdf.

  1. InBrief: The Impact of Early Adversity on Children’s Development. (n.d.) Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University. Retrieved from http://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-the-impact-of-early-adversity-on-childrens-development/.

  1. Masten, A. (2009). Ordinary Magic: Lessons from Research on Resilience in Human Development. Education Canada. Retrieved from http://www.cea-ace.ca/sites/cea-ace.ca/files/EdCan-2009-v49-n3-Masten.pdf.

  2. Paris, E. (2012). Interrupting trauma and advancing development: considering parent education in contemporary psychoanalytic treatment. Clinical Social Work Journal. doi: 10.1007/s10615-012-0412-3.

Ready to learn more ways to help?

Next Gesture: Comfort

Ready to learn more ways to help?

Next Gesture: Listen

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Next Gesture: Collaborate

Ready to learn more ways to help?

Next Gesture: Inspire

Thank you for taking the time to make a difference!

Learn about the Science behind trauma

The Science