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.
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Written by Veronica Tovar, LCSW, RYT 200
Mental Health Clinician
Small Town Counseling CA, Inc – Jun 2019
The National Child Traumatic Stress Network https://www.nctsn.org/what-is-child-trauma/trauma-types/early-childhood-trauma
Oxford Dictionary, Edition 5, 2011.