Trauma-Informed Parenting: Make Your Home Their Safest Space Yet

kids parent coaching parenting relationships support trauma Jul 03, 2023

Parenting a child suffering from trauma is a profound responsibility and challenge leading to many parenting struggles. Your child's behaviors are often a manifestation of stress, and traditional parenting strategies may not be effective. Here are a few tools that are critical to practicing trauma-informed parenting:

  • Understanding Trauma Responses
  • Effective Communication
  • Proper Intervention Strategies
  • Preventing Re-traumatization
  • Self-Care (for both parent and child)
  • Community and Professional Support

In essence, the right resources can equip you with the knowledge, tools, and support you need to help your child heal and thrive. It’s an investment in your child’s well-being and the health of your entire family. 

What is childhood trauma, and how does it manifest?

Childhood trauma refers to stressful or disturbing situations that are internalized as traumatic and occur during childhood. These can be one-time or ongoing events, which may overwhelm a child's ability to cope. It is important to note, not all events are categorized in the brain and body as trauma. Every situation is different and every support level is different. Traumatic experiences can profoundly affect a child's development, emotional well-being, and overall health.

Childhood trauma can take many forms, including:

  • Abuse: Physical, sexual, emotional, neglect
  • Witnessing violence
  • Serious accidents or illnesses
  • Natural disasters or war
  • Separation or loss
  • Bullying or violence at school
  • Negative reactions after identifying as LGBTQIA+

The impact of traumatic events can vary significantly from child to child based on factors like age, developmental stage, individual temperament, severity of trauma (note: this is relative - what can be profoundly traumatic to one child may not be to another), and - perhaps most importantly - the availability of support in their life.  

How Trauma Can Present During Different Stages Of Childhood

Infancy (0-2 years)

Because the child hasn’t developed the ability to fully understand the world around them and communicate their needs, signs of trauma can be quite different from those in older children. Infants may demonstrate:

  • Increased irritability or fussiness
  • Difficulty with soothing or calming
  • Regression in previously learned skills, like toilet training
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Aversion to touch or physical affection

Toddler (2-4 years)

As toddlers begin to engage more with the world around them, signs of trauma can become more visible:

  • Aggressive behavior or temper tantrums
  • Anxious attachment, clinging behavior or separation anxiety
  • Regression in previously learned skills, like toilet training
  • Sleep disturbances, including nightmares
  • Limited play, lack of imagination, or repetitive play (sometimes related to the traumatic event)

Preschool (4-6 years)

Preschool-aged children might not have the language skills to verbalize their feelings, but they can show the following signs:

  • Fearful of places or people associated with the trauma
  • Behavior regression, like bedwetting or thumb-sucking
  • Nightmares and sleep problems
  • Trouble focusing or learning new information
  • Sudden changes in behavior, personality, or physical responses

Elementary (6-12 years)

Children are starting to understand their feelings better and how to articulate them at this age, but they might still struggle. Signs of trauma can include:

  • Changes in academic performance
  • Social withdrawal or difficulty making friends
  • Complaints of physical ailments, often stomach aches or headaches
  • Mood swings, acting out, or other disruptive behaviors
  • Feelings of guilt, depression, or anxiety

Teenagers (13-18 years)

Teenagers have more developed cognitive and emotional skills but may still struggle to manage traumatic experiences:

  • Changes in academic performance or school attendance
  • Substance abuse as a way of self-medicating
  • Risky or aggressive behavior
  • Difficulty with trust and relationships
  • Feelings of detachment, guilt, shame, or confusion

It's important to note that these are potential signs; every child may express their trauma differently. 

Your child's previous experiences, temperament, and available support systems all affect how they cope with traumatic events. Consulting with a professional is crucial when trying to understand and help a child process traumatic events.

The Core of Trauma Informed Parenting: Ways To Modify Reactive Behaviors

While it's true that trauma leaves lasting marks on your child’s brain, it's also important to understand neuroplasticity. Children can be remarkably adaptable and resilient because their brains are still developing, and it's the key to helping a child heal from trauma.

Here are some strategies to help modify behaviors, change reactions to triggering situations, and create a safe and welcoming environment for children with internalized trauma:

  • Establish Consistent Routines: Predictability can provide a sense of safety for children who have experienced trauma. Set consistent routines and expectations so your child understands what will happen next to reduce anxiety and create stability.
  • Use Trauma-Informed Discipline: Traditional punishments often escalate trauma-rooted behaviors. Instead, teach and reinforce positive behaviors, like restorative practices, problem-solving conversations, and natural consequences. Ensure your child understands that their behavior may be unacceptable, but they are still loved and valued. Separate behavior from the child. I.e. That behavior wasn’t ok versus You are a bad child.
  • Teach Coping Skills: This could include teaching your child breathing exercises, mindfulness techniques, yoga, or physical activities. Helping your child identify what they're feeling and why can also provide a sense of control over their emotions.
  • Create a Safe Space: Physical safety is important, but so is emotional safety. Ensure your child knows they can express their feelings without fear of judgment or punishment. This can be a particular room, a comfort corner, or just your presence as a reassuring adult. You can take it one step further and create a feelings board that you can post in your bathroom. Dozens of clients have done this to incredible results!
  • Foster Healthy Relationships: Secure, positive relationships can help your child heal from trauma. Be a consistent, positive force in your child's life, and help them build relationships with other trustworthy adults and peers.
  • Seek Professional Help: Working with a trauma-informed professional for parent coaching or other trauma-informed professionals can help your child process trauma and develop healthier stress responses.
  • Celebrate Successes: Children recovering from trauma need a lot of positive reinforcement. Celebrate their successes, no matter how small, to boost their confidence and reinforce positive behaviors.
  • Patience and Understanding: Healing takes time, and there may be setbacks. Stay patient and empathetic, and remember that behavior is communication. Try to understand what your child is trying to communicate through their actions.

Remember, while parents and caregivers play a crucial role in a child's recovery from trauma, professional help is often as necessary as creating a loving and stable home. Therapists and counselors trained in trauma can provide invaluable support and guidance.

A Day-To-Day Look At Trauma-Informed Parenting

Trauma-informed parenting means understanding the impact of trauma on a child's development, behavior, and relationships and adapting your parenting strategies to address these effects. Trauma-informed parenting prioritizes safety, understanding, empathy, and patience.

Here's what trauma-informed parenting can look like on a day-to-day basis:

  • Establishing Safety: Trauma often makes the world feel unpredictable and unsafe. Work to create physical, emotional, and relational safety for your child. This means consistent routines, predictable responses, and clear expectations.
  • Responding Instead of Reacting: Understand the underlying reasons for your child's behavior, and see it as a communication of unmet needs or feelings of distress. Lead with empathy and understanding instead of reacting to the behavior itself.
  • Prioritizing Connection: Relationships are key in trauma recovery, so build a secure, positive connection with your child. This may involve regular quality time, open conversations, and plenty of physical affection if your child is comfortable.
  • Teaching Emotional Regulation Skills: Trauma can make it hard for your child to manage their emotions. Share coping and self-soothing strategies, help your child identify and name their emotions, and model healthy emotional regulation.
  • Modeling and Encouraging Resilience: You can help build resilience in your child by “walking the walk,” reinforcing your child’s strengths, and encouraging their efforts. Promote a growth mindset and teach your child that they can learn and grow from challenges.
  • Accessing Professional Help: Recognize when you’re in over your head and need to bring in a professional for parent coaching. Maintain a relationship with therapists, counselors, or other professionals who understand trauma and can guide you.
  • Practicing Self-Care: Understand that you can only provide effective care for your child if you manage your stress and seek parental support systems (parent coaching).

Being a trauma-informed parent isn't about being perfect. It's about making a consistent effort to understand and respond to your child's needs in a way that promotes healing and healthy development.

Trauma-Informed Parenting: Getting The Right Parent Coach On Your Team

Hello! I’m Sarah Salisott, founder and owner of Foster Lane Parent Coaching. My mission is to support families in navigating the parenting struggles that come with childhood trauma and attachment issues, drawing from my own family’s experiences.

I’m an NGLCC-certified parenting coach and initiated The Foster Lane Parent Coaching in 2016. My extensive background in trauma studies, childhood brain development, and effective parenting techniques are the foundation for my approach.

Plus, I have plenty of life experience. I’ve navigated and parented through…

  • challenging co-parent interactions
  • mental health crises
  • rages/violent outbursts
  • developmental delays
  • cognitive delays
  • manipulative behavior
  • challenges with routine and getting out of the house
  • bedtime trauma reactions

and I’ve lived and learned with kids who’ve had... 

  • reactive attachment disorder (RAD)
  • disinhibited social engagement disorder (DSED)
  • post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • oppositional defiant disorder (ODD)
  • attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • attention deficit disorder (ADD)
  • disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD)
  • borderline personality disorder (BPD)
  • bipolar disorder
  • internalization and externalization of behaviors
  • anxiety

I’ve spent over 5.000 hours researching trauma, children’s brain development, parenting strategies, as well as foster and adoptive parenting. I completed the graduate-level Parent Coach Certification program through the Parent Coaching Institute®, completed the initial training in Theraplay™, and continue attending conferences on trauma-informed parenting.

My trauma-informed approach to parent coaching is:

  • Collaborative. Who knows your family like you do? No one! That’s why your input and expertise are critical to addressing your parenting struggles, and I will become a partner who will motivate you and guide you along the path to trauma-informed parenting.
  • Future-Forward. Let’s begin with the end in mind. If your ultimate goal is to help your child develop coping strategies around childhood trauma, that’s the campfire we will build our time together around.
  • Actionable. Wishy-washy, unclear steps and milestones just don’t work. Clear, action-oriented steps will help keep you on the right track toward your goal and make family coaching worth investing in.
  • Strengths-focused. I will help you identify your strengths, resources, and skills so that we can use them effectively, which will help maintain a positive, growth-oriented outlook.
  • Customizable. Every family has unique struggles and experiences to overcome and needs different kinds of support. I will assess your needs and build my coaching approach so that you and your family get exactly what you need from our time together.

With my unique expertise as an NGLCC-certified parent coach, I am well-equipped to provide the support you need to face the parenting struggles that come with childhood trauma, and our time together will meet your needs so you can navigate those struggles. 

Want to see how this works in action? I invite you to sign up for an upcoming workshop here:  

Let’s move towards a future where your child can thrive no matter what hardships they’ve experienced.

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