If you are a parent, you may have discovered that each child is different and requires unique parenting techniques. Our children are people with varying natures, experiences, emotions and personalities. It makes sense that they have different needs that require different parenting approaches as well.
If you are parenting a child that has experienced trauma, then there is an added layer of nuance. I have often spoken with moms and dads who are frustrated and wrestling with their children. There is desperation as they say, “My other kids weren’t like this. Yea, so and so struggled with xyz, but never like this. It just isn’t working.”
Many parents don’t understand the multitude of dynamics at play here. If a child has experienced trauma, then not only have their traumas shaped the way they experience the world – but their brain development has been physically altered.
What is Trauma?
So before we dive in to the many ways trauma affects parenting, let’s briefly talk about what trauma is. Trauma is any event or experience that produces significant fear of harm to self or others.
It’s important to note that trauma is in the eye of the beholder. It is subjective, and the one who experienced the trauma is the one who classifies it. It is the child’s reaction to an experience that determines whether or not a trauma occurred.
How Trauma Affects the Brain
I know I might have lost some of you at the whole “trauma is subjective” bit. But hang with me for a moment. There’s biology to back this up!
When trauma occurs, there is a biological shift in brain functioning. The part of the brain that rationalizes and reasons through information is quite literally disconnected. Logical thought is lost from the neocortex, and the brain begins to function solely out of the other two parts of the brain.
These other two parts of the brain that are left explain a lot of trauma behavior. The limbic system is emotional. It does not process past, present and future but only operates out of the information learned through experiences. Thus, for someone who has experienced perceived trauma they function out of the experience of the trauma even if it is not presently occurring.
The other intact aspect of the brain is the brain stem, which initiates the fight, flight or freeze response of the child.
The point of all of this is to help you understand that a child’s cognitive functioning and development is physically altered if they have experienced trauma.
Their behaviors look different and sometimes feel inexplicable. Even years after the trauma has occurred, their brain development can be delayed and changed, causing behavior not to match age or development stage.
The Solution to a Trauma Affected Brain
There is hope amongst a trauma-marked life. Trauma changes the brain chemistry of a child, but a nurturing parent figure can bring healing.
As you parent in the midst of trauma, learn to be a gracious student. Parenting will look different than the comparisons you make to other families or even other children within your own home.
The unique behaviors and challenges likely do have causes and explanations that you have yet to understand. Believe the best in your child and strive to learn more about parenting through trauma. As you learn, you’ll gain the ability to create a safe and nurturing environment for your child that provides space for long term healing.
Trauma is complex, and its repair is nuanced. There are therapists with specializations and niches in trauma that can help you work through your child’s specific set of circumstances, emotions, behaviors and healing. Call Crossroads to make an appointment.
Some additional resources that may be helpful for you on your journey are listed below as well. Take heart, Mom & Dad. There is hope for healing to come.