Many individuals are actively parenting and caring for children who have survived some form of trauma. The experience can bring up a variety of emotions for everyone involved. These emotions can range from anger and frustration to overwhelming sadness. What can a parent or caregiver do to help their child(ren) and themselves? One avenue that parents and caregivers are exploring is trauma informed parenting.
What is Trauma Informed Parenting?
Trauma Informed Parenting is a parenting style that offers strategies to interact with your child(ren) through a trauma informed lens. A trauma informed lens is simply an understanding of how trauma and adverse experiences affect children’s social, emotional, physical and academic health. Parents then utilize this understanding to parent in a way that supports healing and safety for their child(ren).
How Trauma Manifests in a Child
To be able to parent in a trauma informed manner a parent first needs to have a basic understanding of how trauma manifests in children at various ages and stages of development. The following are some of the effects and/or behaviors that children who have experienced trauma can exhibit. This information was gathered from The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN).
Young Children: Ages 0-5
Demonstrate poor verbal skills
Exhibit memory problems
Sensitivity to noise
Scream or cry excessively
Have poor appetite, low weight, or digestive problems
School Aged Children: Age 6-12
Specific anxieties and fears
Reversion to younger behaviors
Adolescents: Ages 13-21
Difficulty imagining or planning or the future
Over- or underestimating danger
Reckless and/or self-destructive behaviors
Parenting a Traumatized Child
Trauma informed parenting offers various strategies for caregivers to assist a child who has experienced trauma. The first step is to help that child feel safe. This is critical because trauma often robs the child of their ability to feel safe. Parents and caregivers can promote safety in many ways. A parent can allow the child to express what makes them feel safe and then try to make appropriate accommodations. Caregivers can give the child control over some aspects of their lives. Choice is often something that is taken away in a traumatic experience and giving back choice and a sense of control can be healing. It’s important for the parent or caregiver to differentiate themselves from past aggressors. Reminding the child that they are a safe individual and that the past aggressor is not there can heighten the sense of safety.
Additionally caregivers and parents can teach and model healthy emotions and behaviors. A parent can encourage positive emotional expression and behaviors by supporting the child’s strengths and interests. They can also correct negative behaviors and inappropriate or destructive emotional expression, and help the child build new behaviors and emotional skills. This will assist in creating new and healthy behaviors while healing.
Most importantly, it is essential for the parent to reinforce the message that the child is not responsible for the trauma. Children often blame themselves for the traumatic event they endured, so it is important that they do not blame themselves and internalize their feelings.
Unlike other parenting strategies or styles, trauma informed parenting promotes self-care. The term self-care is one that is often used but what does it really mean? Self-care is “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress” (Oxford 2011). Parents and caregivers often forget the importance of taking care of their own needs because they are focused on their child(ren). However, it is important to remember that if a parent or caregiver does not meet their own needs to ensure their own wellbeing, they can not as effectively assist others. There is often a misconception that self-care needs to cost money or take an extensive amount of time, but that simply isn’t true. In reality, self-care can be something as simple as taking ten minutes at the beginning of the day to drink a cup of coffee alone. Maybe you decide to listen to a particular song that helps you relax and that’s what you do at the end of each day to calm down. Maybe you decided to take a half hour walk alone or talk to a close friend on the phone. All of these things are self-care. Self-care is not a one size fits all. Each individual needs to find what replenishes them and then use those tools to keep themselves in a state where they can parent in the best way they know how.
Trauma informed parenting is a parenting style that promotes parents’ understanding of how trauma affects children and how parents can respond in a way that is sensitive to the needs of traumatized children. This is just one of many ways to help children heal from trauma. A plethora of information on childhood trauma can be found at The National Child Traumatic Stress Network. https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/early-childhood-trauma
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
Oxford Dictionary, Edition 5, 2011.