Parenting a Traumatized Child: What Now?
If you are a parent of a child that has experienced a traumatic event you know there is no shortage of difficulties and frustrations on the road to healing. Parenting a traumatized child is hard, but the reward for a job well done is beyond measure. This article will explore some useful tips to help you support and connect with your child, as well as how to maintain your own mental health.
We live in a world where there is no shortage of traumatic events. Child trauma may result from something as simple as a car accident or as difficult as the sudden death of a loved one. Physical abuse, emotional abuse or sexual abuse may occur in school or with a relative or close friend. Many children in our society have experienced at least one traumatic event during their lives. So how can a parent or caregiver best support a child’s recovery process and give them a greater chance at a happy and functional life?
Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is one highly effective method for understanding and overcoming trauma.
The journey through trauma recovery is a sobering one for everyone involved. The child is often left with a sense of hopelessness and a loss of control resulting in tantrums, disrespect to authority figures, and difficulty concentrating. Parents are left with the struggle of managing daily life on top of the complications related to their child’s behavior.
The good news is that with some tools and some time, both parent and child will make their steady way toward recovery.
Tips for Trauma Informed Parenting
Help Yourself First
You’ve probably heard the saying: “you can’t pour from an empty cup.”
This means that as a caregiver you are more effective with helping your child recover when you yourself are cared for, healthy and relaxed.
Studies show that stability in a parent or caregiver is associated with an increase in their child’s healthy coping and resiliency. Isolated and unsupportive caregivers on the other hand, are associated with limited trauma recovery.
This means that self-care, often including the utilization of support systems, is crucial for parents. Parents can also engage in mental health services in order to process the complicated emotions related to their child’s trauma.
Let’s Talk About It
If you ever broke something valuable as a child you may remember how crushing the feeling of shame and embarrassment can be. After a traumatic event, that shame could be magnified a hundredfold if your child doesn’t understand that he or she is not to blame.
A crucial part of your child’s recovery is to connect with them openly and honestly. Even though it can be painful to talk about traumatic events, it is important for parents to be available, answer questions, and engage in difficult conversations with their child. Gather resources like books and videos. Learn how to talk to the child in an age-appropriate way about these difficult subjects.
Be honest. Do not lie in relation to traumatic events. For example, it may feel easier in the moment to explain to a child that their parent is “away for work” when their parent is actually incarcerated. This may seem like a way to protect the child from heartache in the short term but it often leads to trust issues later on.
Get Connected. Stay Connected
If you’ve had an experience that makes you feel like the world is a dangerous place, it can be tempting to stay home where you and your family feel most safe. Believe it or not, it can be more damaging to long-term recovery to isolate your child.
Belonging to and participating in religious and community activities are linked with increased recovery from trauma symptoms. This is likely because having a healthy sense of community offers safety and support. Feeling safe and supported are foundational elements in healing from traumatic experiences. Children rely on their caregivers to provide healthy connections and support networks. Get on their side by building a supportive social scene.
Constancy and Structure
The tough reality is that traumatic events shake the core of a young person’s safety and identity. Creating a stable structured environment with a daily routine is the best way to restore a sense of calm to the family. This often involves a daily schedule as well as a consistent method for reward and discipline.
Praise, Praise, Praise and Then Some More Praise.
The best way to modify problematic behavior in a child with trauma symptoms is through praise!
A child’s frequent anger outbursts can be hard on their parents. It’s important to seek out and find small moments to praise your child. Set a goal for praise. For example, “I will find 6 ways to praise Johnny today.”
It is important to make praise thoroughly positive and not add any negative implications to it. For instance, it may be tempting to say “I appreciate that you did all your chores today—I wish you would do that more often.” Or “You did really well on your assignment but I noticed you missed several of the multiple-choice questions.” These are unhelpful methods of praise. “You studied very hard and did a great job!” is a much more helpful method of praise.
How CBT for Children Can Help
Even if you are a perfect parent and follow all the tips in this blog, you are likely to find recovery a long and difficult road. If the trauma is significant it is likely that your child will need counseling at some point in their life. The sooner they get counseling, the better.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help a child integrate and understand a difficult experience, as well as equipping them with healthy coping skills for the rest of their life. Trauma informed counseling is not only a way to help your child establish to a new normal, but also a wonderful way to strengthen your bond.
If you are looking to create a trauma informed parenting plan specific to your child’s developmental needs or would like assistance in how to talk to your child about trauma reach out to Jenna Brackett at Jenna@thetruismcenter.com, or call her at (616) 747-0640.