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Drawing connections, building empathy and resilience in traumatized children


At Intermountain's residential services, we have spent a lot of time this past month focusing on thankfulness, gratitude, and recognizing how richly we have been blessed. This has allowed me, as their chaplain, to encourage empathetic responses to the needs of others while also building a positive self-image as each child recognizes that they have something to give others. Woven into this narrative was a recognition of our interdependence and that it is not a sign of weakness to acknowledge that you need your "team"-- those God has placed in your life, in your community, to support you and give you the opportunity to support.

It started with Operation Christmas Child, and a special chapel service in which each residential cottage sent a child up (one at a time) to select items from a center table. They were instructed to select an item for a gift they were preparing together for a child in Mexico. Each child had to come back to their cottage group with their selected item and explain why they had chosen it to go in the gift. We spoke as a larger group about why we give and get gifts, and what gifts are most appreciated. Finally, the children each wrote a note of encouragement to place in the gift boxes that were then sealed up and taken to a collection center in town.


A sample of our children's notes in our Operation Christmas Child gifts
A sample of the children's notes in our OCC gifts

The interpretive step of selecting and explaining the reason for their selection from the center table emphasized the role of empathy and "putting others above ourselves" (Philippians 2:3) when giving a gift. The children really seemed to respond to this lesson and had some wonderful insights into thinking of what others might want or need.

The following week in chapel we spent time thinking about all the people that come around us and support us when times are hard. We discussed thankfulness and gratitude as key components in building the "team" that God has placed in our lives.

Children drew pictures and wrote notes of thanks to donors to Intermountain and also wrote on a fall leaf something they were thankful for. The leaves each attached to a tree on the wall with a small Velcro dot, and when each child had giving thanks, we had a beautiful fall tree to decorate our space for our upcoming holidays!


Each leaf on the tree is something our children are thankful for.


Having worked hard over the last few years to educate myself and other ministries in trauma-informed ministry, I am looking forward to building a curriculum around resilience-building characteristics. Lessons like those we worked through in November have shown me the potential for traumatized children to connect with these themes and the benefit that could be had by purposeful focus on building themes of resilience into chapel times.

Has your ministry wondered how trauma-informed work might fit in with your work with children and families? I'd encourage you to check out the six-week series I prepared for small groups called "Bruised Reeds and Smoldering Wicks."

If you are interested in the work of building a curriculum for children around measures of resilience, I'd love to connect. I'll try and post updates here at ACEsConnection... but sometimes I get so busy doing the work, I forget to tell people about it! (sound familiar? I am sure the case is for many who make their way in here!)

Here's to a blessed rest of 2017 and a more resilient 2018!


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