Parenting a Traumatized Child
Leigh Ann Yaughn MS, NCC, LPC
All children are not exposed to trauma; but, all children who are become overwhelmed with their ability to cope and that impacts their ability to function and interact with others. Parenting a child who has suffered some sort of trauma takes a certain amount of understanding and education. This is extremely important since you are more than likely observing bad behavior from your child. The impact trauma has on your child is closely related to your child’s age, perception, the frequency of the trauma, relationship with parent or caregiver, and your child’s coping skills. Understanding your child’s behavior will be the compass that allows you to navigate the parenting abyss.
As a parent of a child who has experienced a traumatic event it is important for you to understand that it disrupts your child’s sense of well-being. The child’s safety, self-esteem, and interaction with people and situations are altered. You may begin seeing unhealthy behaviors like, aggression and disobedience with adults. But, what you might not realize is that your child may be using these behaviors as way to protect her or himself. Much like we train our muscles to perform, your child will need to retrain his or her “survival muscles” to learn they are no longer needed and can relax. It will take time, but you must be patient. Remember, your child is not bad, but he or she is reacting to a bad thing that happened.
When you see your child behaving in a way that is unexpected he or she may be experiencing a trauma trigger. A trigger is a reminder of the traumatic event that occurs in a different situation. When your child’s brain and body is overwhelmed by a memory of his or her trauma he or she is not able to consider consequences of his or her behavior or how it impacts others. Resulting from his or her fight, flight, or freeze reaction he or she may throw a tantrum, ignore, and/or defy you; try and remember these are reflexes, and not planned or intentional.
Parenting your child who has experienced a traumatic event is difficult. This experience puts a strain on not only your relationship with your child, but with others as well. Your child’s behavior can cause confusion and distress for you and others. Educating yourself and finding a counselor for your child who has experience with trauma will benefit both of you. Remember, in most cases the trauma did not happen overnight and the healing will not either. But, with patience, consistency and therapeutic intervention your child and you will gain the opportunity to reset.
The following resources will help you learn more about trauma and how it impacts children:
- Website for The National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- Parenting A Child Who Has Experienced Trauma
- Supporting Students Experiencing Childhood Trauma: Tips for Parents and Educators
- Trauma-Informed Parenting: What You Should Know