Out of more than a dozen adults only one raised their hand at last Tuesday's Sky Valley Drug Free Communities Coalition meeting when asked if they had not endured trauma growing up.

The group was a mix of local employees, residents, public officials and educators. Snohomish County Human Services children’s mental health liaison Liza Patchen-Short asked that each person silently take part in the Adverse Childhood Experiences survey while she read the 10 questions aloud. She said their results were expected and common.

“When we work with families and work with kids, it is so ultimately critical that we know our own stuff,” she said.

Patchen-Short was at the Mountainview Christian Fellowship in Sultan to discuss and present on the topic of Trauma Informed Care, which is a framework for “understanding, recognizing, and responding to the effects of all types of trauma,” according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

While her talk targeted the Sky Valley's youth, a major takeaway was that any real change needs to begin with the older generations.

“I honestly believe we can't be as effective with our populations if we don't have this intuitive side, and that intuition comes after we do that work within ourselves,” said Sultan Middle School's new assistant principal Arianna Haindfield.

Patchen-Short said the TIC approach is a shift from how care for children has traditionally been viewed. It is separating the behavior from the kid; it is the distinction between being a bad person and acting in a harmful way, she said.

Much of what appears to be acting out is a child's method of getting attention, Patchen-Short said. That form of communication often stems from distressing events, such as emotional, sexual or physical abuse, witnessing violence, neglect or the death of a parent. Those experiences can occur a few or many times, she said.

Snohomish County Risk and Resilience specialist Amanda Franke, who presents with Patchen-Short, said it is critical to remember these statistics aren't limited to certain demographics.

“It is not just one group of people who experience this — it is all of us,” she said.

Patchen-Short said those adverse encounters can lead to trouble building trust, forming bonds, respecting or setting boundaries, mental health concerns, substance abuse and emotional and psychiatric disorders. It isn't a guarantee, but they are risk factors, she said.

Research is beginning to show the manifestations of trauma are actually being misdiagnosed as other conditions such as ADHD, Patchen-Short said. Both can result in trouble concentrating, sitting still and comprehending information, she said.

“I don't know (how many) percentage-wise but I would say (it's) a lot,” she said.

Children develop these behaviors while trying to learn what can keep them safe in the face of trauma, Patchen-Short said. Much of the time they just need support, she said.

Patchen-Short said the hope is to buildy resiliency, not just in kids but in communities. One positive relationship can make all the difference. That could be a teacher, a coach or a parent, she said.

Sultan Middle School principal Nathan Plummer said building those connections can mean starting small. If he notices a child acting out, even sincerely complimenting their shoes could open that door to deeper communication.

Plummer said he sees firsthand how crucial social connections are for adolescents. It can occasionally go the other way. If one person decides to self-harm, their friends, who may have also experienced childhood trauma, could see the act as something to join in with as a way to bond, he said.

Anger often surfaces in children who have experienced trauma. Patchen-Short said it is important to remember that when confronted with a reactive child the feeling is a secondary emotion. Underneath it is fear, sadness, loss or confusion, she said.

“If I could get you to do one thing, is that when someone is yelling at you to take a moment to breathe,” she said.

Patchen-Short said the situation can become an opportunity to tell the child it is clear they are feeling frustrated or sad. It is something to address together. These are times when it is crucial the adult check in with themselves and be able to recognize their own triggers, such as a faster heartbeat, she said.

A handful of coalition members wondered the best way to handle a charged interaction. Some said they have trouble knowing when to say they are having trouble with how the child is expressing themselves without shutting anyone out or down.

Resident Shaun Carr said his wife Melissa seems to have a better knack for resolving conflict in the moment. He will more often send children to their room until they cool off.

Patchen-Short said it is fine to know and set one's own limitations. Slowing down, being purposeful with language and focusing on emotions can help give children the vocabulary they need to communicate differently in the future, and show them their actions have immediate consequences, she said.

Taking care of oneself can help better prepare adults for healthy mediation, Patchen-Short said. That can mean taking a step back when it’s needed before getting burned out. Exercise or a vacation may be effective — whatever it takes to feel rejuvenated. She said she sees self-care as an ethical obligation.

Sultan School District paraprofessional educator and Crosswater Community Church youth pastor Zach Day said he has found himself wondering when to be firm and when to be compassionate. He said he has difficulty knowing how to step in when he sees children make harmful choices over and over. Their actions not only result in personal consequences but also can affect others, he said.

“I genuinely care for these kids — love them — I just want them to not have this train wreck of a life,” he said.

It is also key to understand the children are on their own journey, and to offer support is all anyone can do, Patchen-Short said. What will work for one child's life might not work for the next.