The Important of REST when Parenting A Traumatized Child

parenting a traumatized child

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

Parenting a traumatized child can be challenging and exhausting work. It isn’t something that should be done alone without adequate support. Parents must take care of themselves as well as others. You can’t give away what you don’t have… Faith-based families look to God for their help (Psalms 121:1-2) and operate from a place of REST:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“He restores my soul.” Psalms 23:

REST stands for RE-store your Soul from Trauma. Our soul includes our entire being: body, mind/emotions and spirt. Each area requires attention. How do we do that when we have an endless to-do list, dealing with continuous problems?

The key is to find rest IN work, not FROM work. It is a mental recognition that we can be in partnership with God and others. We can set boundaries and say “No” to outside activities, not live up to others expectations, and remembering “who you are and whose you are” spiritually speaking. You have to be a “son or daughter”  before you can be a fully functioning father or mother. Seek out spiritual parents to support you as you carry on the work of parenting traumatized children.

List 5 ways you will restore your soul in the next 30 days:

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Great Behavior Breakdown

Why does your child lie, steal, defy, incessantly chatter, cling, or whine?
The answer is simpler than you may think: Children misbehave because they are stressed. When something is alarming, their brain is stuck reacting to fear rather than responding normally. It feels like life-or-death for the child, resulting in dysregulated behaviors. 

Parents often wonder, “What was he thinking? He knows better. He must be doing this on purpose.” The truth is, the child is not thinking at all, but merely reacting unconsciously. The solution is not doling out consequences, but rather helping your child return to regulation. Bryan Post in his book The Great Behavior Breakdown, explains how to respond to misbehaving children in a way that helps them feel safe, thus eliminating negative behaviors.

What can trigger a fear response in your child? For some children, especially those who have experienced trauma, almost anything can trigger fear. A small change in routine, such as going out to eat at a restaurant or skipping reading before bed, can illicit fear. In normal development, a brain automatically alerts to any change in environment, quickly assesses it to see if it is an emergency, and then returns to normal functioning. When a child’s development has been troubled, her brains often get stuck in alert mode. A brain that is stuck in alert is panicked, illogical, and desperate. There is only one thing that can bring the brain back to normal functioning: containment and positive feedback loops.  
Containment means eliminating extra sensory input. Often this looks like turning down the music, walking out of a store, sitting on a parent’s lap, or closing eyes. Positive feedback loop is a fancy way of saying, make it feel safe and enjoyable. When the child is full of negativity, hold on to a calm, regulated, demeanor. Be positive, low key, and non-threatening. Eventually the child will give in to your invitation to stay near until he or she feels safe enough to go back and play. 

I have used Bryan Post’s approach for years while working with adoptive and foster children. For kids with trauma, his techniques work when nothing else does. Next time your child is misbehaving, see the reaction as fear rather than anger. It will change the way you respond, change your child’s behaviors, and transform your relationship.

Guest Blogger:
Stephanie Patterson, MS, LMFT