The Scary Stuff
The word we use in mental health therapy is Trauma
Human beings of all ages can experience scary moments, moments when we aren’t so sure that our bodies or minds are going to be ok. This is more true than ever right now as we are all trying our best to stay healthy and safe. Sometimes it’s hard to know how our children experience the things that happen in life. You might ask, how is she really handling all of the changes in our world? Are there things happening at school or at times I’m not there that I don’t know about? Can an argument with my spouse feel scary to my child? How will they understand and respond to the car accident we just experienced? My child has been through a lot of medical intervention, will they be ok emotionally? They’ve lost someone important, how does this effect them?
To think about these experiences causing emotional pain to our children hurts. If you could, you would take away their pain. When they wake you up in the middle of the night, a hug and a snuggle would work. They wouldn’t explode when you set a limit, or worry all of the time, or follow you around and refuse to let you go when you need to leave the house, or worse stop talking to you altogether.
We provide parent-child therapy that supports both the child and parent to heal from the scary things that have happened. Children, teens, and young adults will benefit. Parents will gain insights into how to continue supporting their child throughout their lives, even in the hardest times. Parents will feel more connected and understand their child’s behaviors in a way that allows their child to shift and change to being more cooperative, more regular in their sleeping and eating, and more enjoyable in general.
The reaction to trauma can be really confusing, given the way many of us have been raised to view children and their behaviors. Parents are encouraged to control their children’s behaviors. You can find countless parenting blogs, parent books and classes, but the parents who come to us for the scary stuff say “nothing has worked.” This is because when something scary or traumatic happens to a person it can stay in their bodies and minds. It effects the way they interact and react to the world. Parent-child therapy can change the way their bodies and minds respond by giving the child a healing experience along with you, their parent.
I Hear You, But It Can’t be Trauma
Sometimes parents have said to me, “There is no way that (scary thing) effected them, they were only 6 months old.” Or, they believe that their child didn’t understand the situation, due to their young age, and therefor could not have been effected. I hear this often. The thing is that trauma sits in our bodies. It doesn’t move into the talking parts of our brain and work it’s way out through logical conversation. Symptoms of trauma are usually experienced in body sensations (heightened sense of awareness, fear, feeling floaty). Children who experience trauma can also show delays in their development, trouble potty training, speech delays, challenges in social situations. It really doesn’t matter how old they were or how cognitively aware they were at the time of the incident(s).
We also talk with a lot of parents who feel that it’s just a matter of needing to find the right parenting strategy or technique. They talk with friends, family, and pediatricians about behavioral management, just knowing that once they find the right technique everything will be fine. Except, they’ve been trying this and it isn’t working. Some of it is about parenting, but it’s not about behavior management. It’s about knowing what your child needs, what their body is experiencing, and how to help them.
One of the most difficult things we see parents struggle with is the idea that their trauma could impact their child. This can be experienced as historical trauma with populations who have a history of oppression, of being targeted or harmed, or systemic issues that have led to chronic stress and marginalization. It can also be so personal that considering treatment is scary for the adult too. Parents could have experienced things like childhood abuse, assault, difficult deaths, or employment that exposes you to regular death, dying, and violence. There are many reasons that a parent or caregiver may not want to address their personal trauma. It’s hard to think about how the feelings from these events can be passed down generationally, but they can. Parent-child therapy can help address these feelings and the body’s reaction to these feelings, which often looks like defiance and behavioral challenges in children.
If We’re Gonna Do This, I Need to Know We’ll be OK
Of course, this kind of work is a big ask. It’s not so simple as focusing on the present and a “strategy” that will manage the challenge. Most parents first request, when starting therapy, is for them or their child to learn “some strategies and techniques.” We will definitely work on this, and we all know it’s going to take a lot to feel comfortable working on anything deeper.
Our therapists have worked with families who have experienced loss, abuse, discrimination, parental trauma, victimization, medical interventions, family aggression/conflict, and school challenges. We do not shy away from hearing the hard stuff and have a great deal of confidence knowing we can help.
Therapists are receiving on-going training or have been trained in evidence-based interventions to include Child-Parent Psychotherapy and EMDR. Child-Parent Psychotherapy is an intervention that is well known in early childhood communities. The focus is on treating children from birth to 6 years old. It is considered best practice for treating young children who have experienced trauma – http://childparentpsychotherapy.com . Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR) is an intervention, specific to treating trauma using the brain, and body – https://www.emdria.org/about-emdr-therapy/ . It is often the trauma therapy most people have heard the most about. It can be used with children, teens, and adults.