Raising a child, or children, with trauma takes a toll on a family. When you have friends and family that don’t understand why your child acts the way they do, you can face endless judgment and scrutiny. Trauma looks one way and acts another and means something completely different than it looks.
1. Talk to them about your child. One thing I’ve noticed in raising two children with trauma is that it looks surprisingly similar and vastly different in each of my children. Sounds backwards, right? Try parenting that! In all seriousness, it takes time. And patience. So much patience. But it is possible with therapy and love. I have learned what triggers them, what helps them, what makes things worse. There are times when soft and calm works best, and other times when a firm look or “no” snaps them right out of it. Often, my children feed off the vibe in the room. When I’m tense (even if it has nothing to do with them) they instantly trigger, and their brain stops working. I’ve learned—the hard way—that I need to avoid certain situations as much as possible.
2. Humor. It is a necessity. With one of my children, he will never be able to soak up enough nurturing and attention. We cannot possibly give him enough. It’s just who he is. We are very affectionate with our children, giving them hugs, kisses, high fives, and a lot of attention daily—hourly. With this child, if he’s hurt, he cannot move on unless we make him. To others it looks cold and hard. But we first acknowledge his hurt, hug him, hold him, rub his back. But he would camp there all day if possible. We have to encourage him to move forward, and he’s always fine in a matter of seconds. Some of my friends really get it, others don’t. I’ll send a text “Child is mommy shopping today,” and they know to acknowledge and encourage him to come home if it still hurts. Trauma is serious, but life goes on, and we get through it the best we can.
3. Recommend Training. There are so many wonderful publications. Numerous books of experienced parents and professionals. Wonderful books on trauma, parenting special needs; the possibilities are endless. There are videos, ACE’s training through a mental health office, books. There is more and more valuable information about trauma and its effects as we have more and more children who have experienced trauma.
4. Patience. When your family and friends see your children, they see the image. They don’t want to believe that this sweet baby boy with a dazzling smile can possibly be so full of hurt and hate that he screams endlessly for hours, that he steals from his siblings to protect his heart, that there is brokenness that you may never be able to heal. But he is sweet. He is everything and more. Your friends may not know that your daughter, with springing curls and the sweetest dimple, will sometimes wet herself when you simply ask her a question, that YOU didn’t cause it, but they act as if you did. It takes a boatload of patience.
5. Love. It will never be enough to navigate parenthood with children of trauma. But it helps me remain focused on finding whatever it is my child needs. I would go to the end of the earth for any of them. While each of my children has experienced physical abuse which has left scars, it’s the neglect that affects our daily life. Loving them, repairing the brain, it is possible. It can be hard and frustrating, but the moments that you see true and genuine attachment and love, it’s worth every single struggle.