A fourth “R” which is utilized in trauma-focused therapy can also assist in police work due to the number of times officers interact with the same individual-Repetition. Each time an officer responds to the same child he or she has the opportunity to repeat and reinforce the three “R”s. This helps develop new patterns of behavior and creates new pathways re-structuring the brain. Each interaction an officer has with a child has the potential to increase his or her personal success by optimizing their ability to utilize executive functions rather than reactive thought patterns.
When interacting with traumatized children, it is important to remember not to overly rely on verbal communication. According to Jasper Mountain, an Oregon agency that has worked with traumatized children for over three decades, verbal communication with traumatized children has several limitations including the “child’s limited receptive language skills, difficulty understanding the verbal communication of adults due to neurological stress reactions, and many other limitations such as the difficulty some children have understanding the real meaning of verbal messages or hearing all, and not just some, of what is said. It is important with young children not to overly rely on words.”
Sending and receiving wordless cues between people especially visual cues is how roughly 75% of interactions occur. Nonverbal cues include facial expressions, posture, tone, cadence, volume and gestures. From the beginning of an officer’s career, he or she is taught how to use these cues successfully on the street. “Children are particularly sensitive to nonverbal messages, as they have learned to read nonverbal messages from their caretakers long before they could understand verbal messages.” Previous abuse and trauma, makes certain children hypersensitive to nonverbal messages. They will often miss what is being said verbally. Keep a neutral, non-threatening stance when appropriate. Just like when utilizing non-verbal communication to control a scene, officers have the ability to encourage a successful conclusion to an interaction involving a child with a trauma history.
Many different aspects of police work allow officers to interact with children in a non law-enforcement capacity. School Resource Officers, as well as, those who focus on a community-based policing model have the ability to assist children and young adults in their community. Teaching and encouraging children to cope with difficult situations has the potential to prevent trauma and build resiliency. All children, but especially those that live in families or in neighborhoods that interact with police on a regular basis experience stressful life situations and events. According to Dr. Dave Ziegler, Ph.D., Jasper Mountain Executive Director and author of Neurological Reparative Therapy: A Roadmap to Healing, Resiliency and Well-Being, children can be taught to be COPERS. Officers can learn and adapt these techniques to teach the children they interact with.
Connections and attachment with others-Help children expand and mature in their social interactions with healthy adult role models. Be that role model. Respectful treatment models the respectful treatment we expect from the child.
Optimism and positive outlook-Things might seem really grim to a child currently due to choices the adults or peers around them are making. Encourage them to continue making good choices for themselves and remind them when we expect good things to happen there is a better chance they will.
Play and recreation-The goal of playing, for adults as well as children, is to rebuild our bodies, energy level and enthusiasm. Be involved with children actively.
Exercise and aerobic activity-Exercise is focused play. Participate in or help create a local branch of organizations, such as the National Police Athletic League (PAL).
Resiliency and persistence-Bad things happen to everyone. How we respond to the negative things in our life color our perceptions. Encourage children to persist despite the bad things. Show them how challenges can strengthen them.
Stress reduction-Encourage and teach stress reduction techniques including relaxation. Guide them to research available techniques, experiment with them and use those that are most helpful to them personally.