Parenting is a difficult topic even in the best situations. Everyone has their own ideas and opinions on how best to discipline their children. Things become even more convoluted for parents when you add trauma into the equation.
Each child is unique and so is their trauma story. When testing out new discipline strategies, it is important to remember that there is no “cure all” technique out there. Each kid will respond differently to different strategies. Therefore, if one specific skill doesn’t work after a handful of times, mark it off the list and move on to something else. It will save you and your child a lot of frustration by doing so.
Your child will probably also need different discipline strategies as they grow, change, and progress. Remember this is a process and it is important to remain flexible in order to meet your child where they are.
With that being said, since there is no “one size fits all” when it comes to parenting, especially parenting children with trauma, I wanted to offer some guidelines that I have found to be beneficial while working with clients and their parents.
First and foremost, it is important to consistently express your love and commitment to your child. Children of trauma often have not had a positive representation of unconditional love before your home.
Their negative behaviors can be triggered by many different things that they are often not aware of and they don’t possess insight into why certain behaviors occur. Because of this it is important to remain their rock and main support system; even when they may push back at times.
Validate Their Emotions
All emotions are valid and real. Therefore, they should never be minimized. Saying things such as “don’t get so upset” or “calm down” only serves to minimize the client’s emotions. The minimization makes them feel insignificant when it is important that they feel heard and understood.
Instead, you can validate your child’s emotions by using phrases such as, “I can see your…” or “It’s okay to be…”, or “You seem…”.
Discipline the Behavior
It is important to separate the behavior from the person. The behavior itself is “bad”, not your child. Children of abuse have often been labeled as “bad”. Therefore, it is important to communicate to them that their bad behaviors do not make them a bad child.
Instead of saying “You are being bad”, try saying “Your behaviors are bad” or “You’re choosing bad behaviors”. The focus then becomes the actual behavior rather than your child as a person.
Don’t Take Things Personally
Children of trauma often project their feelings of abandonment, unworthiness, anger, and more on their parents or caregivers. It can be difficult not to take these projections personally, but remember you are not the cause of your child’s trauma.
You are an important aspect of your child’s healing process and they need you more than ever to be strong for them. It is important to take care of yourself and engage in appropriate self-care practices in order to give your child the emotional support they need. Remember the analogy with the oxygen mask in the airplane. You cannot help your child if you do not help yourself first.