A common parenting philosophy is to reward or punish children based on their behavior. This strategy has proven to be effective so often that it has become the natural approach to raising children for many.
However, if you have a young adult child struggling with developmental trauma you might find this strategy ineffective or maybe even harmful. Why?
Children experiencing developmental trauma produce a lot of internal shame. When parents carry out behavioral consequences it often results in their child producing more shame, which then leads to self-sabotaging. This article offers techniques to help you end the cycle of shame.
Developmental Trauma Definition
Developmental Trauma – occurs when a child experiences trauma due to an attachment disruption caused by the primary caregiving system. This disruption can happen in a variety of ways; an impaired caregiver, neglect, prolonged separation, verbal or emotional abuse, or interpersonal victimization (physical or sexual assault or domestic violence). This negatively affects the child, as there is not a secure caregiver to co-regulate with. Ultimately this leads to a fragmented sense of self and internal shame. This low self-esteem often results in problematic behaviors and/or actions.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of developmental trauma can manifest through behavioral indicators, hidden shame indicators, and also through an increased fight or flight response. The biggest behavioral indicators are: self-sabotaging, self-loathing, and utilizing maladaptive coping strategies (such as drug or alcohol use). Oftentimes signs of developmental trauma are hard to detect because sufferers overcompensate for the shame they feel by becoming procrastinators, perfectionists, or pleasers. There is also an increased occurrence of the flight or fight response, because the trauma they’ve experienced is frozen in their nervous system.
5 Tips for Parenting a Child Struggling with Developmental Trauma
Many therapists focus on five qualities to provide a safe “P.L.A.C.E.” for those struggling with developmental trauma. PLACE is an acronym stands for playfulness, love, acceptance, curiosity, and empathy, originating from Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy (DDP), by Daniel Hughes. Each of these techniques helps reduce shame and fosters a secure relationship. Here are the 5 tips/qualities explained:
- Playfulness – This can be structured playfulness such as a game night, or it could be unstructured/lighthearted behavior such as spontaneously singing or dancing. Utilizing playfulness is a great approach to use with a child who has developmental trauma. It makes a parent more relatable and approachable. Playfulness is not always appropriate but if used properly it can unlock open communication and increase security in being vulnerable.
- Love – It is important to be loving towards a child even if his or her behavior is inappropriate. As stated earlier this outward behavior is likely happening because of internal issues. Due to low self-esteem, children may feel that they deserve to be abandoned by everyone in their life. Developing love for them and being able to express that love on a regular basis, can reduce their experience of shame and lead to increased security.
- Acceptance – It is not helpful or honest to force yourself to accept your child’s negative outward behaviors. It is important to understand and accept children’s inner life and what motivates them. You can accept them and the fact that they are experiencing internal struggles that they want to change but are unable to change on their own. It’s crucial that individuals feel accepted, even when they’re self-sabotaging. That is the moment when the shame spiral can be cut and healed. If you can interact with them in an accepting way it reduces their internal shame and allows them to feel safe enough to be vulnerable in the context of a trusting relationship.
- Curiosity – Developing curiosity about your child’s behavior seems easy when you are calm and relaxed. It is difficult to express genuine curiosity in the aftermath of negative behavioral actions. By approaching negative actions with curiosity rather than anger your child will begin to feel that you are working together rather than against each other. Adding curiosity to acceptance allows a child to be vulnerable and find the root cause of his or her issues. It also gives you insight to offer meaningful support. Curiosity can lead to understanding which can lead you to being empathetic. However, some children have a hard time opening up to our expression of curiosity.
- Empathy – If you are still struggling to establish an open and vulnerable relationship through these other tips, it’s not too late. A great way to increase trust in the relationship is to offer empathy statements. This may sound like, “if I were in your situation, I would feel embarrassed, I would also be scared that I would get in trouble.” Even if the empathy that you would imagine to be associated with your child’s situation is incorrect it can be a great way to start the conversation and achieve a secure relationship. If we can empathize with our child’s situation we can reduce internal shame and improve his or her sense of self.
Putting These Tips to Practice in Your Home
If this is your first exposure to this approach to parenting you may feel overwhelmed. These parenting techniques have been very helpful for many parents with children struggling through developmental trauma, however, this doesn’t mean it will work for you. The first step to implementing these techniques with your child is to have them resonate with you. As parents we want what is best for our children. As humans we don’t always know how to provide what is best for them. If these techniques don’t resonate, don’t bother trying to implement them as it simply won’t work. If they do resonate and you are ready to put them into practice, the second step is to try it and analyze. It will take time for you and your child to develop a new communication system, but nonetheless it is a good idea to continually be analyzing your child’s reactions. This is not an overnight shift. It will take time to build trust and a secure relationship. Always be open to learning and use what works for you.
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Author Bio: Meghan Andrews, MSW, LCSW is a Therapist at Calo Young Adults, a premier program implementing the latest trauma-informed mind and body therapies.
Meghan earned her Level I and II certification as a Reiki Practitioner and focused her Graduate School Research on utilizing Reiki (energy healing) to reduce Compassion Fatigue and Burnout in Mental Health Clinicians. She worked at the Community Services Board, utilizing Trauma-Informed Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with at-risk and traumatized youth in the School System.
The opinions and views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in this article or linked to herein.
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