Parents care for children with trauma

During the pandemic, we have all been flooded with new demands and ever-changing information, which has left us feeling like we are drowning.

Parents experience this all the more as they simultaneously fill multiple roles in their child's life without much external support. For parents who are struggling to make ends meet, these problems are only exacerbated.

Taos County has one of the highest rates in the United States of childhood food insecurity, families living far below poverty level and adverse childhood experiences. As COVID restrictions, fears and insecurities persist, complex trauma is more widespread and further amplified especially among children.

Understanding trauma-informed parenting can help parents feel less overwhelmed, more connected to their children and better equipped to help their children cope with these uncertain times.

So, what is trauma-informed parenting? A trauma-informed parent understands and acknowledges the significance of trauma on the development of children and recognizes the signs and symptoms of trauma. It is an approach to parenting that supports children without furthering trauma by following the child's lead, trusting the child's experience, and viewing negative behaviors as information.

For further information about this, it is best to seek out a health professional who specializes in children and trauma.

How can I care for my child in these difficult times?

• Help your child feel safe. Reassure children by creating a structured, predictable environment. Work with your child to create a daily routine using words and pictures that meets everyone's needs, and post it in a common family area.

• Help children understand and manage overwhelming emotions. By providing calm, consistent, loving care, you set an example and teach children to define, express and manage their emotions. Practice naming feelings, and do grounding exercises like belly breathing and clenching/unclenching fists.

• Help children understand and manage difficult behaviors. Kids may need support to see the links between their feelings and actions to better control their behavior. Help your child make a connection between feelings and actions using characters in movies or books.

• Respect and support children's positive, stable relationships. Children who have been maltreated often have insecure attachments to other people. Help them hold on to what is good about existing attachments, reshape them and make new meaning from them. Work with your children to identify positive characteristics of people in their lives.

To be effective, you must take care of yourself. Identify one small thing you can do daily that is just for you.

How can I help families in my community?

• Advocate. It takes a team of people and agencies to help children recover from trauma. You are a key part of this team. Help ensure efforts are coordinated and help others to view your children through a trauma lens. Become a Court Appointed Special Advocate to support children in foster care who have experienced abuse and neglect. For more information, contact Yasmin Haque: casa@youthheartline.org.

• Promote and support trauma-focused assessment and treatment. The effects of trauma may be misunderstood or even misdiagnosed by clinicians who aren't trauma experts. Advocate for appropriate treatment. If your child is receiving mental health treatment, be involved. Understand the goals of the treatment and the purpose and possible side effects of any medications they may be taking.

Youth Heartline is offering therapeutic services online through its Family Empowerment Program. For more information, contact Joanna Magee at fep@youthheartline.org.

• Engage in programs that are supportive of meeting parents where they are in support of their children. Parenting is hard. Parenting programs can help you deal with daily parenting issues and problems, and help you understand why problems arise and if what you are experiencing is normal or may require professional help.

Youth Heartline now offers an online self-paced Nurturing Parenting Program for families who have been affected by substance use. For more information, contact Colleen Shaughnessy at canmanager@youthheartline.org.

Youth Heartline seeks to improve family stability through trauma-informed services with attention to systemic solutions. We have operated in Taos, Union and Colfax counties for 30 years, and over that time have seen an increase in demand for these services.

Youth Heartline has made comprehensive changes to offer services and provide programming that is responsive to needs expressed by the community. Most services are free and all services are confidential. For more information, visit youthheartline.org or call (575) 758-0106.

Sandra Crowther is executive director of Youth Heartline.

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