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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Why Trauma Parenting Is So Hard

Is it really true that parenting children with early childhood trauma is harder than "traditional parenting," or are parents just looking for sympathy?

First you have to understand that the building platform is very different for a traumatized child and his/her parent than for a child has never experienced trauma. 

Trauma parenting begins with a deficit. A child comes to you  already mistrusting the world. He has already experienced abuse, neglect and violence. He views you as his enemy, someone he must conquer before you hurt him. 

A child who is welcomed into this world by loving parents and has had his needs met is in a very different place emotionally. If he is removed from his parents, he will still view adults as trustworthy because he has no reason to think other wise.

God created our brains to take in information through our five senses; sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. This information travels along the pathways in our brains and is stored in the correct compartments.  As the part of the brain that responds to love and nurture is used, it grows. The same thing happens when a child is subject to trauma. The part of the brain that registers fear and the fight or flight response is activated. At the same time the child is unable to reach developmental milestones because he/she is spending all their brain power and energy on staying alive. Thus the child slips further and further behind his peers. 

What I described above is an extremely simplified version of what takes place, but it gives you an idea what these children are up against. If you add in the detrimental affects of drugs and alcohol, it is little wonder parents struggle and children rage.

This brain difference is why we must parent our children with early childhood trauma differently than the ones who have not had that experience.

For instance, 9 times out of 10 our children will insist on making choices that are obviously going to hurt them. We explain why doing something will hurt them and walk them through what happens each step of the way only to have them insist on doing things their way. This is a classic lack of trust. They don't trust us, so they do things their way and get hurt, leaving Dean and I to pick up the pieces.

Sometimes we step back and allow them to pick up their own pieces but their brain difference comes into play again. They will deny anything happened, accuse the other party of lying or fly into a rage because they never wanted this to happen. 

When parenting typical children it is wise to let them make their own mistakes from time to time so they can learn how to work through the aftermath of their choice. That doesn't usually work with our children with trauma because they don't learn from their past mistakes. They only think of themselves in the moment. Their fight or flight response is sitting on go and they do not have the mental capacity to think of other people or how blowing the "fix up" will only make the situation worse.

One of our children is having friend troubles. We have told this child time and again that he* will lose his friends if he continues treating them badly. He would cry and rage because he says he wants his friends. We walked him through correct and incorrect responses and he went to school with high ideals. He came home with his head hanging, raging because his classmates aren't kind. We talked, he nodded his head, he realizes he did wrong, no he won't do it again.... guess what? He did it again and again and again.


Another child has a hard time accepting me as mom. In his* mind I am the person standing between him and his mom. If it weren't for me, he could live with his birth mom and everything would be great. We have explained why he cannot be with his mom. I told him if I dropped him off with his mom I would likely go to jail and while he really didn't want that to happen, he made sure I knew it is my fault he has to live here. I have tried all the attachment parenting skills in my bag and none of them make a difference. I fear he is just going to have to learn the hard way that the life out there isn't as glamorous as it looks. When I look on his past decision making skills, I fear for him. Because he has no idea how much being in our home has sheltered him and protected him all he knows is that his problems are all my fault.


This phenomenon is played out daily in our home and I will admit I  become frustrated. "Why don't you learn?" I feel like shouting but I know that will only make the situation worse. The hard part is knowing if the behavior is truly due to brain damage or if the child is just being lazy, sloppy or defiant because it can all look so very much alike.

*he/him is used as a generic term to protect the individual
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