Parenting after trauma

Parenting is a challenge at the best of times! If we have additionally suffered from trauma earlier in life - especially abuse, neglect, or other harm done to us by someone close - there may be additional challenges to manage. The normal things kids do can remind us of upsetting things in the past, and therefore become much harder to manage. For example, my child has trouble managing his angry feelings, and perhaps starts fights with his younger sibling when he is angry at him. As a parent, I may struggle anyway to know how to help him manage his strong feelings and work out different ways to resolve the issue he is angry about. If, however, my child's behaviour reminds me of a parent or other person who may have hurt me when they were angry, I will have a strong emotional response to my child's anger that I may struggle to manage. I may also have difficulty separating out the part of my strong reaction that belongs to the past, rather than being an accurate reflection of the seriousness of the present situation. If I'm not easily able to identify that my reaction is about previous trauma, I may become overly harsh in how I deal with my child's behaviour. This can create more problems - if I don't help my child with his anger, he may (a) come to believe that his anger is 'bad', 'wrong' and out of control, based on my reaction, (b) not develop helpful ways of understanding what his anger is about and dealing with these in a way that both gets his needs met and doesn't hurt others, and (c) negatively affect the relationship between us - after all, he will no doubt feel that I don't understand him, or care about his feelings, based on my response. This is just one of many challenges that parenting after trauma may bring! The good news is - past trauma doesn't mean we cannot be fantastic parents! It's never too late to learn new skills in parenting that can make a great deal of difference to our capacity to communicate well with our kids, understand and help them with their emotional worlds, and have a great relationship with them. Processing our own trauma experience may be a key factor in what helps us to apply those skills, and not become overwhelmed by strong feelings that belong to another time and place.

Tuning Relationships with Music is a research study that offers free therapy for parents who have a history of trauma, to help them communicate better and have less conflict with their teenager. If you'd like to know more, check out the 'children and families' page of this website, and/or contact me.

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