Is Childhood Adversity Holding You Back? Try Abstract Thinking

When something terrible happens, it can be challenging for children to understand why and how it happened. This confusion can often lead to feelings of fear, anxiety, and even trauma. But have you ever wondered why some children experience more trauma than others? One possible explanation lies in the concept of abstract thinking.

Abstract thinking is the ability to think about ideas and concepts that are not physically present or immediately visible. For example, think about a rainbow. We cannot touch or hold a rainbow, but we are able to imagine it and talk about its colors. That's abstract thinking!

Now, imagine a situation where something hurtful happens to a child. Without abstract thinking, the child may only focus on the concrete details of the event - what they could see, hear, or touch. They might need help understanding the bigger picture, the reasons behind the event, or the potential outcomes.

This limited ability to "zoom out" of our current self and gain a broader understanding of interaction can contribute to the trauma a child experiences. Without abstract thinking, children may struggle to understand what happened to them. They might blame themselves or feel overwhelmed by fear or confusion. Since a child's brain has not developed enough to have or use abstract thought, this can make it harder for them to heal and recover from the traumatic experience.

So, how can we help children develop abstract thinking and potentially reduce the impact of trauma? One way is through open conversations and gentle explanations. We can foster abstract thinking skills by helping children see the bigger picture and understand the reasons behind certain events. Typically it is best to have a conversation like this after a moment of conflict or when they experience big emotions. Helping a child learn to reflect on how or why they felt one way, but over time, their feelings changed by explaining what happened at the moment fosters abstract thinking and leads to a sense of closure. 

Additionally, engaging children in activities encouraging creativity and imagination can boost their abstract thinking abilities. Encourage them to draw, tell stories, or role-play different scenarios. These activities can help children think beyond concrete details and explore other ideas and perspectives.

It's important to remember that every child is different, and the impact of abstract thinking on trauma may vary. However, by understanding this connection, we can provide children with the support and guidance to navigate and heal from traumatic experiences. Let's empower our young minds with the gift of abstract thinking and help them overcome the challenges they face.

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About Calvin Burns

Calvin Burns, MA, LPC, LCDC-I, earned his BA in Psychology with a minor in Human Development and Family Studies from Texas Tech University and earned his Master's in Counseling from Dallas Theological Seminary. He specializes in disordered eating, addictive behaviors, depression, anxiety, parenting support, adolescents/emerging adults, and couples counseling. He brings unwavering hope to his clients, and firmly believes that people can change and their stories can be rewritten. He sees adolescents, young adults, adults, couples and families at Lifeologie Counseling Austin.

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