Trauma Informed Parenting

by | Jan 11, 2022 | Family, Learning, Mental Health, Tips

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updated!

Has your child experienced a traumatic event? The answer to that question is a resounding YES! The pandemic causes trauma for our children and families.

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Parenting during Covid means coping with dramatic events which cause trauma. And trauma impacts a child’s behaviors and coping skills. Is your child acting out? Do they struggle with school, relationships or have had a major loss recently? Trauma Informed Parenting skills can help.

What Is Trauma Informed Parenting?

Trauma Informed Parenting adjusts your parenting methods to respond to your child’s needs. It includes understanding the impact of trauma on your child. Trauma Informed Parenting shows you how to recognize the signs and symptoms of trauma.

Trauma Informed Parenting addresses many areas of the parent-child relationship. It means you might discipline your child differently and may change daily routines and family rituals. Using the Trauma Informed approach, you learn to understand your child’s emotions and behaviors in light of their experience.

Has My Child Experienced Trauma?

All parents want to provide a safe, nurturing environment for their children. The Trauma Informed approach helps you to be more deliberate so you can help your child overcome the effects of trauma. The first step is to understand the trauma. When A traumatic event occurs your child feels frightened, overwhelmed or upset to the point that they are unable to cope. They may react with feelings of terror, helplessness, or fear.

Common traumatic events are:

  • natural disasters- Like a pandemic!
  • accidents, serious illness- Covid fears and real illness!
  • violence-community or domestic- Unrest in the community
  • substance abuse, emotional, verbal or physical abuse
  • parental loss, military deployment, divorce

But children experience the effects of trauma from other factors also. Our family lived through a house fire. We had to escape from our home in the middle of the night. Other events that may cause trauma for your child could include:

  • bullying
  • death of a beloved relative
  • fears about the Covid 19 pandemic, or other health situation
  • parent’s job loss, poverty
  • witnessing abuse or violence at a friend’s house.

These events can impact your child emotionally and/or physically. Once you understand childhood trauma you can begin to respond helpfully to your child’s needs.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, childhood trauma is defined as: “The experience of an event by a child that is emotionally painful or distressful, which often results in lasting mental and physical effects.”

Identify Trauma From Your Child’s Eyes

How can you be sure your child’s experience caused trauma? Your child’s behavior will give you clues about the effect of trauma in their life. If you notice a sudden change in their behavior, you may be dealing with trauma. Children who’ve experienced trauma become more easily upset and are less able to regulate their emotions and their attention span. They may show signs of depression, anxiety and difficulty with relationships.

Other signs:

  • regression of age-appropriate skills (acting childish)
  • eating and sleeping difficulty or changes
  • increased aggression
  • increased frustration
  • difficulty separating from parents

Trauma Informed Parenting can help both parent and child to better health.

3 Ways To Help Your Child

A good starting place for a Trauma Informed approach is to focus on these three areas: Emotions, Attachment, Resiliency.

Mom and daughter on couch with sad face drawing

Emotions

Trauma brings on many kinds of emotions. Some children have no experience that can help them handle the emotions. This leads to the symptoms listed above. You can help your child learn emotional regulation.

Identify emotions- teach your child to identify their emotions during happy times as well as sad times. Have open conversations about your emotions and theirs. Make these conversations about emotions a part of your everyday life. That way, when their emotions go haywire, they will be able to identify and discuss emotions with you.

Use strategies to regulate emotions. Brain Breaks, Breathing exercises, Yoga, and Mindfulness are all tools for regulating emotions. You and your child can discover which of these tools works best for regulating their emotions. You can model the skills for them and assist them in discovering the best tool for their age level.

Be pro-active. You can prevent emotional extremes by looking for events that trigger your child’s emotions and finding ways to prevent the trigger. If your child has developed a difficulty going to bed at night because of separation issues, perhaps it is time for a new bedtime routine. Or this might be where Mindfulness exercises can help. Whatever the issue, work with your child to find ways to encourage healthy emotions.

Attachment

Trauma can cause children to develop issues with attachment. The issue can be an over exaggerated need to be with someone, or a breaking away from close relationships. Attachment issues vary in severity, but getting help is critical for your child to overcome their trauma.

Foster predictability in your daily life. Children find great comfort in ritual and routine. Build this into your family life if it doesn’t exist. Do you have a regular family meal time? A family game night? If your child is trying to avoid the rituals and routines, find ways to include them. Create new routines that are easier for them. Give priority to these routines.

Create a “special” time with just one child. Set up a daily time (10-15 min) where one child and one parent have exclusive time together. Do something the child wants to do. Make it casual, fun and consistent. The key is consistency. Your child needs to feel that you will always be there for them. This consistency will build that feeling and make them more comfortable sharing their emotions.  

mom and daughter nose to nose

Foster other caring adult relationships. Children flourish when they have many caring adults in their lives. Deliberately spend time with friends and close family members who can relate to your child. Watch for relationships that your child naturally makes and encourage them. Look for youth mentorship programs in your area if you need more options.

Resiliency

Resiliency is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. While some people seem to be naturally resilient, it is a skill you and your children can develop.

Understand the difference between praise and encouragement. Parents can make a big impact on their child’s self-worth by replacing words of praise with words of encouragement. Encouragement recognizes a child’s effort. Praise often focuses just on accomplishments.

Use discipline as a resiliency lesson. Instead of you handing down a punishment, have a conversation with your child. Lead them on a problem-solving discussion. How could this have worked out differently? What do you think the consequence for your behavior should be? Allow them to choose an appropriate consequence. Resiliency will develop as they take ownership for their decisions.

Nurture Growth Mindset. Having a Growth Mindset means that you see failure as a learning experience. You embrace challenges and learn from your mistakes. Whole families can learn to have a Growth Mindset. Use children’s books as a tool to learn about Growth Mindset and then set goals for your family to develop those skills. It will be fun to see the kids watch for you to have a Growth Mindset.

We have just shared the “tip of the iceberg” for Trauma Informed Parenting. As with all parenting issues, knowledge is the first step. If your child is reacting to trauma in their life, you can make a difference in their ability to cope. Start today, you won’t be sorry.

By Lisa Reichelt, M. Ed., Parent Coach

Trauma Informed Parenting

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