How do I parent a child who has experienced trauma?
I’m currently raising children who have experienced a lot of trauma. I’d love any advice!
Through the years I’ve shared a lot of thoughts and ideas about raising kids who have experienced trauma but I think everything I really have to say can be boiled down to two things.
First, on the very worst days when you’re exasperated and exhausted—remember you’ll never regret gentleness.
At one of the worst seasons for our family, when I was praying for wisdom about how to handle some really rough behavioral issues, I felt like the Lord reminded me that trauma responses are fear-based responses and my goal needed to be calming my child’s fear, not just trying to correct their behavior.
Gentleness isn’t changing boundaries or allowing things that aren’t healthy—it’s holding those boundaries without reacting in anger or harshness.
So be gentle every chance you get.
But also? My second bit of advice is this: don’t forget to be gentle with yourself too.
I was recently talking to a mom who has a struggling child with some severe behavioral issues. She said to me, “I know all this stuff about attachment and healing but I still find myself SO angry and ready to lash out at her when she’s acting up. What’s wrong with me?”
I stopped her right there and pointed out a very important fact:
“Everything you just described to me about how your child is acting toward you—the hitting, screaming, name-calling—what would that be called in any other relationship? It would be abuse.
“So, yes, we know there are underlying reasons for her behavior and we know she can’t process everything correctly yet and we know she needs gentle care and love and therapy and help…but also, your body is still going to respond to those actions like you’re being abused.
“You’re going to have an elevated heart rate. You’re going to want to fight back. You’re going to have to regulate yourself before you can help her regulate. So don’t believe the lie that your fight-back mode means you’re terrible. It doesn’t. That’s actually your body responding the RIGHT way to abuse.”
I told my friend this because I spent too much time myself thinking that I wasn’t a good mother because I was angry at my child’s behavior. I wanted to just feel compassion. I wanted to be understanding and sweet all the time instead of being forced to walk away and deal with my own burning anger. But when I learned to be gentle with myself instead of feeling guilty over my very natural responses to very unnatural things, I was able to view the whole situation with more grace for everyone involved.
So there’s my advice, friend. Gentleness. With your child and with yourself.