Creating safety and trust for children who have experienced trauma: a parent’s view

The reality is that experiencing some type of trauma is real and very common.  Trauma doesn’t discriminate.  It happens across all communities and all cultures.

However, it affects everyone, including children, differently.  Did you know that severe emotional trauma makes physical changes to the brain that is responsible for regulating emotional responses?

Yes, physical changes to the brain.

Cassy, a local parent, shares her journey as a mother to biological and adoptive children.  “Although we went to training, nothing could have prepared us. Initially, you don’t know how to respond.  The fight or flight response can be alarming.”

Creating safety and a sense of belonging

Cassy explains that spending time together as a family and focusing on each family member’s unique strengths has helped create a sense of safety and belonging at home.  Sharing lots of hugs, loving touch, and positive interactions all help to build trust.  “When you set a positive tone, children can rise to that occasion.”

Even on tough days, children benefit when parents make a conscious choice to overflow with warm acceptance and love: “I’m doing this right now because it will help them regulate and feel safe.”

Looking through a different lens

“Kids need love, guidance, and expectations.  They need structure so they can function.  Because their brain is different, if you start to see them unregulated, you see the behavior differently.” 

Cassy has learned that trying to understand her children and using different approaches can prevent a downward spiral.  Once a child gets in a downward spiral, it’s difficult to get out. “Every year I get to know my children better, I know how to help them better.”

What can I do to help my child?

  • New situations can be difficult because a child’s trust has been affected.  When going to new places, prepare them and make connectors so they feel comfortable.  “You know this person” or “You’ve been here when….”
  • Use a safe place when meeting people.  Hosting others in her home for meals has been an incredibly positive experience for Cassy’s family.
  • Communicate with your partner, family, school, and those who are involved in your child’s life.  Be on the “same page” for the benefit of the child.
  • Find hope in community and your own village.  Look for resources, read books, and find community in talking with others.  Even parents talking with adults that experienced trauma builds your community.

The return is very sweet

It can be easy to say I don’t want to deal with this. 

Dealing with trauma and children stretches and challenges you.  Challenges are not necessarily negative. “We have been challenged in new ways to be creative in parenting and consciously think through how we’re showing our children love.”

It also fosters empathy and kindness.  “Learning about trauma has made me more aware of everyone’s unique experiences and more understanding of all people.”

Building trust with a child who has experienced trauma is tough work, but it is an incredibly rewarding experience.  As the relationship grows deeper, “You get to see the child’s personality that you don’t see at first because the trauma is so glaring initially.  You will see change. The return is very sweet.”

Want to hear more?  Listen to an interview with Cassy as she shares her perspective and what she has learned from her journey.

Great advice, Cassy! Moms, dads, guardians, family members…You’ve Got This! Central Rivers Area Education Agency (AEA) and your local school district are here to help. For more information, contact Amy Knupp, Executive Director of Special Education.

(You’ve Got This! is a new series of blog posts designed to provide advice, support, and guidance. For more information, contact Kelsey Baker, School Psychologist.)