Parenting after experiencing trauma
All children need homes that are safe and full of love. Children who have experienced trauma may need more.

Early, hurtful experiences can cause children to see and react in different ways. Most children need help to cope with what they have experienced in the past. Most everyone can recognize that if a child is physically, emotionally or sexually abused that they have experienced trauma. However, if a child lives in a home where their parents experience domestic violence, even if the child isn’t abused, that child also has experienced trauma. Any event that threatens the child or someone the child depends on for safety and love is traumatic.
Some children are more sensitive than others and affected differently. It can be hard to tell what will distress one child and not another. Fear is guided by a child’s perception of what is frightening to them. It might be hardest for children who are neglected, even if they are not bruised and battered. These children worry about basic needs like food, love, or safety and sometimes we don’t realize they were traumatized too.
So how do we successfully parent children who have experienced trauma? Supportive, caring adults can help a child recover from traumas. Some children may not know that adults can help or that they can be trusted. Many times a child from an abusive home has moved frequently, often staying with strangers, been ignored and did not have their basic needs met, never able to forge childhood friendships and they have never had a positive adult connection. They may resist the help of others because they do not have trust in the adults in their life. Not trusting adults can be mistaken as disrespect for authority. This can cause problems at home and at school. It can also make learning harder. Usual parenting practices may not work. First, know and respect that your child may perceive and respond to the world in ways that you do not. Kids are doing the best they can, with what they have been given. If you are a parent who has escaped an abusive home, remember that your child experienced the same trauma you did. However, they did not have the adult coping skills needed to process the situation appropriately. It is our job to provide them with the tools they need and to guide them as they grow.
Some things that may help as you work through your child’s feelings are:
1) Set up a routine for your child so she knows what to expect. In the past surprises were moving at a moment’s notice, changing schools frequently and leaving everything and everyone familiar behind. When you have been traumatized, surprises are not much fun.
2) Give your child a sense of control. Allow your child to make simple choices such as what they want to eat, or what outfit to wear. Respect your child’s decisions and don’t take your child’s choices personally.
3) Allow your child feel the way she feels. Teach your child words to describe her feelings. Show acceptable ways for her to deal with feelings. Then, praise her for expressing her feelings or calming down. They need to know it is okay to feel sad, lonely or even angry.
It may be a slow process with many bumps in the road, but watching your child thrive as they overcome the effects of the trauma will be worth the effort. By understanding that your child’s past experiences have affected the way she sees her world, you have taken the first steps to helping them in building a safer, healthier one. Learning to trust again is not likely to happen overnight. Be consistent, predictable, caring, and patient. Surround your child with worthy adults who will teach your child that others can be trusted to stay with him and help him.
Ask for help when you have concerns, questions, or are struggling. There are people trained to help children and parents overcome trauma’s effects. You do not have to do this by yourself. Crisis Services of North Alabama can offer services to victims of intimate partner violence and sexual assault, as well as offer direction and referrals for services we may not provide. You may reach us at 256.574.5826 or our 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000. You may also call 2-1-1 for help locating resources.

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