Trauma Informed Parenting
If you child has experienced trauma in their young lives, especially if it occurred before their 4th birthday (yes, in utero counts!) then traditional parenting techniques may not work for you. You may have tried some charts and strategies and found them useless. Your child may have some special needs that you just cannot seem to break through. That's when you need to switch up your parenting and begin with a more trauma informed approach.
In previous blogs, I have commented on other parenting strategies (like Kazdin, Collaborative Problem Solving & 5 Love Languages). They are valuable, but I believe if you are using them with a child who has experienced trauma, they will only work if you incorporate a trauma focus. The child or teen will need to feel attached to you and begin to develop the ability to trust and love. I learned this the hard way. I'm hoping my book and this blog will make it a bit easier for you.
If your child has gone through a stressful, scary or harmful situation, this will change the way their brain is wired. (For more information on this I would suggest going back and reading my previous blog about Trauma & Attachment here or my blog on ADHD v Trauma here.) In a nutshell, when anyone goes through a trauma, they are forever changed. For some it will impact them more than others, but life will be different. That person's brain and body will be different. They will respond differently to triggers, they may be more anxious, irritable, guarded, emotional or have learning disabilities. Despite all your best efforts to be kind and supportive in the home, they may be aggressive and impulsive and your friends and family may not understand. Have they looked at you with those concerning eyes? Or even suggested you become more strict in your parenting?
Let's go back in time... when a child or adult is faced with a traumatic situation, they will most likely respond with one of three options, Fight, Flight or Freeze. (For more on these reactions check out a Harvard description here.) As I mentioned in the book, these reactions can reoccur over and over again, even when the true threat has disappeared because the individual has been permanently scarred by the trauma. Many will heal from their trauma's. Love and treatment can do wonders. But no matter how much you love, the scars will remain. It is important for the parent (or teacher) to understand this fear response and work with it, not against it. As Dr Knost states, to share our calm, not join their chaos. To understand why the child may be fighting back or running away; And come up with attachment based strategies to help them decrease this type of reaction.
Once a child's early development has been scarred by trauma, they require specific attention and parenting to address this brain wiring. Only when this is attended to, will they have an opportunity to heal and grow into adults capable of loving and trusting relationships. In Chapter 10 of my book, The Call to Love I address some of these evidence based techniques for parenting children from hard places. In today's blog I want to give you links for practical resources you can use at home and school to help your child become more successful.
1. “Eighty two percent of the traumatized children seen in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network do not meet diagnostic criteria for PTSD. Because they often are shut down, suspicious, or aggressive they now receive pseudoscientific diagnoses such as “oppositional defiant disorder,” meaning: “This kid hates my guts” or “disruptive mood dysregulation disorder,” meaning he has temper tantrums. These kids accumulate numerous diagnoses over time. Before they reach their twenties, many patients have been given four, five, six, or more of these impressive but meaningless labels. If they receive treatment at all, they get whatever is being promulgated as the method of management du jour: medications, behavioral modification, or exposure therapy. These rarely work and often cause more damage.” Bessel Van Der Kolk, MD. from his book, The Body Keeps Score. This book is an excellent account of Dr Van Der Kolk's research into the effects of trauma on the body and the treatments that work for traumatized individuals. I would encourage you to look into his research and ideas.
2. Another fantastic resource is the work of Dr Karyn Purvis and her Trust Based Relational Interventions (TBRI). If you click this link it will take you to her organization's filled with resources about their research and the methods they use to increase trust between traumatized children and their caregivers. Disclaimer: She does have a Christian focus to her therapy. For some of you that is great news, for others, I understand that may be an issue. If you are more of a video learner, check out their Youtube videos here. They put on a conference each year that may be of interest to you, called Empowered to Connect. If you are more of a stay at home reader, her best selling book is called, The Connected Child.
3. While we are on the topic of books regarding trauma informed, attachment parenting... Another great book is, Attaching in Adoption by Deborah Gray, MSW. It is recommended by the TBRI creators as she also does a great job laying out strategies for connecting with children from hard places.
4. Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy is very similar to TBRI in that it focuses on the relationship and attachment between the child and parent. It was created by Dan Hughes, a clinical psychologist out of Maine. "Central within DDP is PACE, a way of thinking which deepens the emotional connections in our relationship with others. Playfulness brings enjoyment to the relationship. Acceptance creates psychological safety. When we curiously explore within a relationship we express a desire to know the other more deeply. Empathy communicates our curiosity and acceptance, as we recognize and respond to the other’s emotional experience."
I would really encourage you this week to take some time to look at these resources and analyze your own current parenting strategy. Is it trauma informed?
1. Are you taking into account the circumstances of the birth mother during her pregnancy and it's impact on your child? Was the delivery traumatic and stressful?
2. Did you child become separated from the birth mother shortly after birth? Were they placed with multiple caregivers (foster care or orphanage)?
3. Did your child experience any threats of harm or were they abused or neglected, especially in the first four years of their life? Have they witnessed community or domestic violence?
4. Does your child display any fight, flight or freeze responses to stressful situations?
5. Has your child endured any medically complex procedures, especially in the first four years of life.
If you would appreciate further conversation on this topic, please don't hesitate to reach out. I'm available by email at firstname.lastname@example.org to discuss these parenting issues.