Why Traditional Parenting Fails Children with Trauma

Much of traditional day-to-day parenting assumes that the child feels safe at home and is able to trust their parent and their motives when they discipline them. They may not like the discipline but they never doubt the underlying security and unconditional love. This traditional parenting, based on social learning theory, assumes that children learn to decrease undesirable behaviors by receiving consequences and learn new desirable behaviors by receiving rewards. This type of normative parenting assumes a healthy attachment between child and parent, with trust and safety securely intact.

Children who have experienced chaotic, inconsistent and/or abusive parenting will carry with them expectations of this type of treatment from all adults. This means that these children will be confused and will struggle with normal, healthy parenting. It won’t make sense and it won’t feel safe. These children are often afraid of “parents”.  As a result of this, they have developed a range of ways to manage these high levels of fear and to provide self-protection.

Parents, if unaware, will find it very hard to understand, explain and manage these children’s behaviors. Additionally, the parents will also find it hard to connect emotionally to the children. These difficulties are best understood as:

  • Difficulties in attachment, i.e. the children find it hard to feel safe and secure with their parents, despite the parents providing safety and security.
  • Difficulties in relationships, i.e. the children find it hard to give and take in relationships, often rejecting all offers of care or demanding high levels of care with no reciprocity of affection.

These difficulties are most obvious in the children’s strong need to experience control in their relationships. Controlling behaviors provide a fragile sense of security while the experiences of intimacy, closeness, attachment, and relationships is terrifying. Sadly, these behaviors make it harder for them to experience relationships with parents, some of the only relationships which can actually help them recover from the earlier trauma.

These difficulties will likely extend beyond the home. The children can have difficulties in lots of their relationships. This can impact friendships, school and leisure activities. All of this culminates in a high level of exhaustion and often unrelenting stress for all the family.

When these methods don’t seem to work for these complexly traumatized children, parenting strategies based on what we know from research about developmental trauma and attachment better connect with the child’s inner world.

Dyadic Developmental Patenting (Parenting with P.A.C.E.)

Dyadic Developmental Patenting is an important part of helping children heal and recover from trauma. It relies on parents being able to remain emotionally regulated to connect with the child, while providing empathy-based corrections through behavioral support.

Parenting using the principles of PlayfulnessAcceptanceCuriosity and Empathy helps parents understand the meaning of the child’s behavior and teaches how to stay calm and emotionally regulated, even at very difficult times. This, in turn, helps the child calm down and co-regulate, thereby serving to keep the parent emotionally available, open, engaged and connected to continue supporting the child.

P.A.C.E. is an attitudinal structure that is used to build safety where previously there was only terror, and create trust where there was only mistrust. This parenting approach suggests a range of parenting strategies which make the world feel safer to the troubled child. Based on Attachment Theory, this approach helps the parent show the child that they will stay with them as they develop new stories to find out where they have been, who they are, and what they want to become.

By Anne Zink

Sources: https://ddpnetwork.org/ | Daniel A. Hughes, Kim S. Golding & Julie Hudson. Healing Relational with Attachment-Focused Intervention. New York. WW Norton & Co, 2019.

Stay tuned for our next blog where we look at how DDP is actually used in Coalition cases.

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