Let me begin this review by stating that I am no expert in child psychology or PTSD, but I have read a lot of books about PTSD and am always fascinated with how the mind works and how people overcome trauma and heal their lives. I had not read anything about children with PTSD before, but I assumed it would be fascinating and insightful, and this book did not disappoint in that respect.
I did not read the first edition of Gentling, but this second edition states that the book has been revised and expanded and contains three new chapters on adolescents (teens). I thought this addition very practical and helpful because, as the book makes clear, treating children obviously requires different approaches based upon their ages, and the differences that are described are important to know.
All of the advice and steps provided in this book were very practical and simple to follow, even if the situations where they would be applied would be far from simple, depending on the individual child. One key point I gathered from this book is that every child is different in the abuse he or she has received and the way a child may express his or her PTSD syndromes. For that reason specifically, it is important to be gentle with a child. That’s where the “gentling” approach to helping a child cope with and heal from PTSD comes in.
I hesitate to give a definition of “gentling,” but it is basically about being both kind yet at times firm with a child, allowing a child to express him- or herself on a comfortable level, and finding ways to help the child express what needs to be said. Author William Krill offers plenty of advice and approaches to facilitating this level of communication from using toys for children to act out the experiences they had to being gentle in an adult’s approaches with children so as not to alarm them, such as asking permission to touch them, hug them, sit beside them, and even to move only halfway toward children so you do not frighten them and so they become comfortable with your presence. The trauma children have encountered has a wide range, including being beaten and sexually abused or watching someone else be beaten, so violating a child’s boundaries through simple things like touching a child can result in a child undergoing a stress episode. Gentle care is constantly needed, and Krill provides ways to help children re-adapt to the world, learn whom they can trust, come to set boundaries for themselves, and differentiate themselves from others.
While many of the techniques Krill suggests I’ve read about before, putting them all under the category of “gentling” provides a way to look at them from an overall approach and intention that is very helpful. The chapters on teenagers offered new information to me, and it was clear why that age group requires a different, yet still gentle approach, and how boundaries and rules remain important. One good suggestion Krill had was about making up a contract with a teenager.
Gentling contains far more information than I can discuss here, but it will be especially helpful for parents and foster parents who need to recognize signs of PTSD and to differentiate between normal childhood behaviors and PTSD related behaviors. The book then offers plenty of advice on dealing with a wide range of individual behaviors from bed-wetting to playing with feces to bullying other children. Krill provides checklists for different possible behaviors that will help the reader to apply the material in a practical and easy way.
The appendices in the book are especially helpful because even if the child’s primary caregiver may know how to help the child, other adults, especially teachers and school staff, may not. Krill provides a series of Quick Teach Sheets on numerous issues that range from about two-three pages each and can easily be copied to give adults to help them understand the child’s special needs. Sections on “stress inoculation” —- how to teach a child to differentiate between events that should or should not cause stress, and how to set boundaries, as well as sample treatment plans that help to set goals, measure objectives, and determine expected outcomes — all provide helpful down-to-earth information that will allow the caregiver to take the theory and apply it.
I did find the book a bit unwieldy and repetitive in places, but at times, I think caregivers will also need to be reminded of what they already know, so that is not necessarily a fault. The book does have a fair number of distracting typos, but that is not a reason to ignore its wisdom or apply its techniques. Numerous testimonials from well-known people in the fields of child development and dealing with child abuse point out its valuable content, and I personally feel I understand better how children react to abuse and other causes of PTSD and how they can be gently helped. Anyone who loves a child, whether the child is in need of healing from PTSD or not, will find this book a valuable tool for understanding children.
For more information about Gentling, visit www.Gentling.org.