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  • Writer's pictureDr Heather Dyson

Trauma-Informed Parenting: Supporting children who have experienced trauma

Updated: Jun 26, 2023

As a parent, your number one priority is to protect your children and provide them with a safe and nurturing environment. However, for some children, their early experiences may have left them with emotional scars that can affect their behaviour, mood, and overall wellbeing. Trauma can result from a wide range of experiences, including abuse, neglect, violence, and natural disasters. As a parent, it is important to understand how trauma affects children and how to support them through their healing process. In this blog, we will explore trauma-informed parenting and the strategies you can use to help your child recover from trauma.

What is Trauma? Trauma is an emotional response to a disturbing or distressing event that overwhelms a person's ability to cope. Trauma can take many forms, including physical, emotional, or sexual abuse, neglect, violence, natural disasters, accidents, or medical procedures. The impact of trauma can be long-lasting, affecting a person's ability to trust others, regulate their emotions, and feel safe in their environment.

Trauma can affect children differently than adults, as they may not have the same cognitive, emotional, and social skills to process and cope with the experience. Traumatic events can disrupt children's sense of security, stability, and attachment, leading to a range of emotional and behavioural problems. Children who experience trauma may have difficulty sleeping, concentrating, or learning. They may also exhibit signs of anxiety, depression, aggression, or withdrawal.

How Trauma Affects Children Trauma affects children's physical, emotional, and cognitive development. Here are five ways trauma can impact children:

  1. Brain Development: Trauma can affect how the brain develops, particularly the areas responsible for emotional regulation, memory, and attention. Children who experience trauma may have difficulty processing information and regulating their emotions, leading to impulsive or disruptive behaviour.

  2. Attachment: Trauma can disrupt children's attachment with their primary caregivers, affecting their ability to form trusting relationships with other adults and other children. They may feel unsafe, mistrustful, or disconnected from others leading to behaviours such as isolation, or aggression as a way to help them feel safer in the world.

  3. Behaviour: Issues around aggression, hyperactivity, anxiety, and/or withdrawal are frequently seeing in children who have experienced trauma. They are at greater risk of having difficulties in emotional regulation, which can lead to impulsive actions which may be difficult for those around the child to understand.

  4. Social Skills: As a result of the aforementioned consequences of trauma (difficulties with emotional regulation, procession in formation, being able to feel safe in the presence on another human being, etc.) children who have experienced trauma are likely to struggle with developing the social skills necessary to form friendships or relate to others in a prosocial manner. Therefore, feelings of isolation and rejection are likely to be exacerbated, resulting in in low self-esteem and social anxiety.

  5. Physical Health: There is a wealth of evidence indicating that physiological impact of trauma on our physical health. Individuals who experience four or more traumatic events before the age of 18 are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular issues, cancer, diabetes, chronic pain, headaches, and digestive problems.

Trauma-Informed Parenting Trauma-informed parenting is an approach that recognises the impact of trauma on children and guides parents in providing sensitive and supportive care. It involves understanding how trauma affects a child's behaviour, emotions, and development, and responding to their needs with empathy and understanding. Trauma-informed parents prioritise safety, trust, and open communication, creating a secure environment that promotes healing and resilience. They validate their child's feelings, provide structure and routine, and help them develop healthy coping strategies. This approach also emphasises self-care for parents, as they play a crucial role in supporting their child's healing journey. By adopting a trauma-informed approach, parents can create a nurturing and supportive environment that helps their child recover from trauma and thrive.

Here are some strategies for trauma-informed parenting:

  1. Build Trust: Children who experience trauma may have difficulty trusting others, especially adults. As a trauma-informed parent, it is essential to build trust with your child by being consistent, reliable, and responsive. Show your child that you are dependable and will keep them safe.

  2. Validate Feelings: Trauma can evoke a range of emotions, including fear, anger, sadness, and shame. It is important to validate your child's feelings and let them know that it is okay to express themselves. Provide a safe and supportive environment where your child can share their thoughts and feelings without fear of judgment or punishment.

  3. Provide Structure: Children who have experienced trauma often feel a sense of unpredictability and lack of control. Establishing a structured and predictable routine can help create a sense of safety and stability for your child. Set consistent daily routines for meals, bedtime, and activities. Clearly communicate expectations and boundaries and follow through with consequences in a fair and consistent manner.

  4. Foster Emotional Regulation: Teach your child healthy ways to cope with and express their emotions. Encourage them to identify and label their feelings and provide them with tools such as deep breathing exercises, journaling, or engaging in calming activities like drawing or listening to music. Help them develop a vocabulary to express their emotions and validate their experiences.

  5. Practice Active Listening: Show genuine interest in your child's experiences by actively listening to them. Give your full attention, maintain eye contact, and provide a non-judgmental space for them to share their thoughts and feelings. Reflect back what you hear to ensure understanding and let them know that their voice matters.

  6. Promote a Sense of Safety: Create a safe physical and emotional environment for your child. Ensure their basic needs are met, such as food, shelter, and clothing. Establish clear rules about safety and teach your child about personal boundaries and consent. Create a calm and peaceful home environment free from yelling, violence, or hostility. Consider using relaxation techniques, such as guided meditation or soft music, to create a soothing atmosphere.

  7. Seek Professional Help: Trauma recovery is a complex process, and it can be beneficial to seek professional help. A qualified therapist experienced in trauma-focused therapy can provide specialised support for your child. Therapy can help your child process their traumatic experiences, develop healthy coping strategies, and work towards healing and resilience. Additionally, therapy can provide guidance and support for you as a parent, equipping you with the tools and knowledge to best support your child's healing journey.

  8. Take Care of Yourself: Supporting a child who has experienced trauma can be emotionally demanding. It is essential to prioritise self-care to ensure you have the energy and emotional capacity to be there for your child. Take time for yourself, engage in activities you enjoy, and seek support from friends, family, or support groups. By taking care of your own well-being, you can better support your child in their healing process.

Trauma-informed parenting is a compassionate and proactive approach to supporting children who have experienced trauma. By understanding how trauma affects children and implementing trauma-informed strategies, you can create an environment that promotes healing, resilience, and healthy development.

Remember that every child's journey is unique, and healing from trauma takes time. Be patient, understanding, and consistent in your support. With your love, empathy, and commitment, you can make a significant difference in your child's life and help them navigate their path towards healing and recovery. Photo by Jordan Whitt on Unsplash

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