Trauma-Informed Parenting: Strategies for Parenting a Traumatized Child
It’s 8 am, and your child refuses to get on the school bus. You have a meeting this morning and cannot be late, but your little one doesn’t seem to care. They seem intent on making you late. They’re sitting frozen on the floor, shoes and socks scattered around them, and you’re on the verge of screaming at them to get moving.
If you’re parenting a traumatized child, the behavior they exhibit when triggered can feel like disobedience. You may react out of anger or frustration, but that only worsens the situation. You want to meet your child where they are and guide them toward making good decisions, but you don’t know where to start. This blog discusses how trauma affects child development and gives tips for trauma-informed parenting that can help you and your child process trauma and create a harmonious home.
What is Trauma?
Trauma comes in many different forms. Sometimes trauma is an event that overwhelms a child’s ability to cope or causes intense fear. Trauma can also be a perceived threat to a child’s well-being or the life of someone the child loves. Traumatic events cause the following responses in a person’s body.
- A fight, flight, or freeze response;
- A sense of terror, helplessness, and horror overwhelms their coping ability.
- Physical symptoms like rapid heart rate, trembling, dizziness, or bladder or bowel control loss.
When a child experiences trauma, it can impact their emotional and mental development and change their behavior. The experiences children process as trauma includes physical abuse, neglect, molestation, car accidents, death of a parent or close caregiver, absence of a parent, moving, divorce, and bullying.
How Does Trauma Affect Children?
The effects of trauma in a child’s life depend on many factors, including their age at the time of the trauma, their perception of the experience, whether they were a victim or witness of the event, whether they have more than one traumatic experience, and if the adults around them offer protection.
Often, what brings parents of traumatized children to therapy are concerning behavior changes or a lack of proper development for the child’s age. Caregivers may see the following.
Mental and Emotional Developmental Concerns
- Lacking skills peers mastered, or slow skill development.
- A state of hyperalertness.
- Fear without a reasonable reason.
- Slow thinking skills.
- Inability to recognize or process emotions.
- Irritability or anger.
- Nightmares, trouble falling asleep, or refusing to go to bed.
- Talking back.
- Tantrums or violent behavior, including throwing or breaking objects.
- Disruptions at school.
- Shutting down when triggered or when their behavior is corrected.
- Isolating from friends and family.
- Excessive use of video games or hyperfocus on hobbies.
- Disassociation, including losing blocks of time.
- Lack interest in things they enjoy, such as sports or hobbies.
Trauma can impact young children and adolescents at home, school, and in the community. Your child may do fine at home but have a trauma response when they have to visit stores. They may make it through the school day without issue but come home and fall apart. If trauma affects your child, learning some trauma-informed parenting skills can help you stay connected. Connection with a caring adult can help your child process their trauma so they can continue to develop in ways that ensure a healthy, productive life.
What is Trauma-Informed Parenting?
Children are resilient, which means they can heal from trauma quickly with the proper support. Still, your child may feel triggered or have a trauma response in situations that remind them of their experience for some time. Trauma-informed parenting will help ensure your child feels safe, capable, and lovable, supporting the healing process. Trauma-informed parenting includes strategies to help children heal by developing coping skills. All caregivers can benefit from understanding trauma-informed parenting principles, including those providing foster care, adoptive parents, biological parents, and other caring adults. Trauma-informed parenting principles include
- Not punishing a child when they’re triggered. Rather than punish a child in distress, it’s better to connect with them with the goal of helping them through the experience. If your child is old enough to talk about their feelings, asking them to tell you about their emotions is a good start. Other children may need physical contact, a distraction, or time alone to regulate.
- Validate the child’s experience, whether or not you can relate or agree with it.
- Looking for non-verbal cues about how a child feels can help you identify a trauma response. Pay attention to body language, tone of voice, and actions to recognize things they might not be saying.
- Let go of the behaviors that are signs of anger but aren’t violent such as swearing, yelling, etc., and focus on finding out why the child is upset. Often this means letting them yell and just listening.
- Learn skills for boundary setting. Parents whose children are traumatized often loosen boundaries to compensate for the trauma or make boundaries that are too rigid because they want to protect the child from more danger. While this comes from a good, loving place, it can make things worse for a child who seeks structure and consistency from their adult caregivers.
- Ensuring caregivers engage in self-care behaviors to be fully present and available to support the children in their care.
Benefits of Trauma-Informed Parenting
Trauma-informed parenting helps children feel loved and connected so they can heal. Few of us make it to adulthood without a bit of trauma history, so learning these strategies can help caregivers regain a sense of empowerment because they can help their loved ones. The benefits of trauma-informed parenting strategies include
- Parents understand that children aren’t being bad.
- Parents and children develop increased empathy, deeper connection, and understanding.
- Better communication that lasts through adulthood.
- Getting to the root of the problem.
- Children understand complicated emotions.
- Children learn they can use their strengths to solve problems and grow.
- Children heal from their trauma.
- Parents can heal from any trauma history they have.
Learn Trauma-Informed Parenting Strategies From a Therapist
This blog presents an overview of trauma-informed parenting strategies. Still, if you’re caring for a child dealing with trauma, you may need more help. At SMPsychotherapy and Counseling Services, we have several therapists with experience helping clients overcome traumatic experiences, as well as therapists who specialize in parenting therapy. We have therapists specializing in working with children, teens, adults, and even the entire family to communicate better so they can create a harmonious home environment. Contact our office today, and we’ll match you with the best therapist for your needs.