Every day ATN gets calls and emails from parents struggling to find answers for their children’s behaviors. These behaviors are the result of early, often chronic, trauma. Whether the child has experienced abuse, neglect, painful medical procedures or witness violence, these Adverse Childhood Experiences alter the child’s social and emotional development. They actually change his brain.
So what’s the solution? “What can fix my child?” is often the question asked. Early trauma, and the resultant attachment challenges are not easily “fixed” (as in cured), but out of all the therapies and interventions, the single most important catalyst for traumatized children is a therapeutic parent. Understanding why your traumatized child responds the way he does is the first step. Recognizing that his brain, because of trauma’s physiological impact, has developed differently is crucial. Internalizing the tenets of Therapeutic Parenting enables us to use the various strategies and tools we get from our child’s therapist, reading books or talking with other parents.
ATN developed our Learning Center and specifically the Essential Conversations for Therapeutic Parents to focus on these tenets and help parents understand the “why”. Grasping Therapeutic Parenting enables you to pick up any strategy or model for hurting children or children from hard places and figure out which tools apply when.
The tenets of Therapeutic Parenting are:
- Safety – This tenet is paramount. EVERYONE in the family must be safe, and everyone in the family must FEEL safe. The concept of “felt safety” is critical – so our children can let down their guard and begin to trust, which is the basis for building attachments.
- Structure/Nurture – This tenet can be challenging. It’s sometimes perceived as a balancing act between being loving and supportive and being authoritarian and structured. The truth is, traumatized children need high nurture and high structure together. Without this balance we can’t maintain an environment where the child feels safe.
- Connected –The antidote for attachment disorders is healthy attachment. What our children didn’t get when they were younger is exactly what they need. Studies show that having a strong attachment with at least one person is a huge resiliency factor for future traumas. Giving our children that connection can not be overstated. It is not a “once and done” step or even one of linear progression. But preparing ourselves to be able to reach out and attempt to make a connection with our children over and over is so vital to their healing.
- Intentional – We have to do what we do “on purpose”. Frankly, having parented non-traumatized children I know how unintentional some parts of my parenting were. Therapeutic parenting is much more thought out. Once we truly understand the impact on our child’s brain and why we need to implement the strategies we do, we can become very purposeful about all of our interactions.
- Self-Care Strategies– Therapeutic Parenting is major league or Olympic parenting – it requires training, practice and lots of self-care. Very often, in the midst of continual crises, it’s hard to take the time for yourself that is really needed. The adage that “You can’t pour out from an empty cup” epitomizes the need for self-care when therapeutically parenting. These final tenets are focused on the needs of parents.
- You’re Not Alone – This job is too big to be a solo gig, so despite how isolating our children’s behaviors can be, Therapeutic Parents need to find and build a team who can advise, assist and encourage you.
- Self-Sustaining – Family and friends often have trouble understanding what it’s really like to live with trauma and our children’s attachment challenges make it hard for them to reciprocate the relationship (i.e. show you back how much they love you). So, you need to turn elsewhere to “fill your tank” by making time for self-care, doing things that please you, and seeking out uplifting and nurturing activities. Remember – you’re in this for the long haul!
- Keeping Perspective – Therapeutic Parenting is a daunting task, full of daily struggles. But looking beyond that to the overall progress and providing what our children need is what keeps us focused and going forward.