The very earliest years of a child’s life provide experiences that are critical for the child’s later development and ability to make close relationships. When children experience warm, sensitive and responsive parenting they will develop a secure attachment. Many children in foster homes, however, are likely to have experienced disruptive and even traumatic childhoods. Traumatised children often find it difficult to let go of their defensive behaviours or fears and insecurities, which can make it difficult for them to develop physically, emotionally and socially.
Structure & Nurture
For children to develop well, learn independence and build secure attachments, they need to feel safe and loved first. Therapeutic parenting requires putting firm boundaries and routines in place to keep them safe and to support them to manage even minor changes and transitions. Dealing with challenging behaviour requires a different kind of approach than we would use for children who have not experiences past trauma – imagine how scary a “time out” would feel for a child with history of abandonment. Read our page on PACE for more information.
Children who have a history of neglect or abuse might be quite resistant to a caregiver posing structure on their lives, so it must be done with an attitude of love and respect for the child. Children need reassurance and to feel warmth from their parents and caregivers. A smile, physical contact and comfort can help the child to understand that you care for them and wish to keep them safe. Try to communicate your empathy for how your child is feeling by naming and validating their feelings to help them gain an understanding of their own emotional state i.e. “I can see you’re feeling really angry at the moment."
A therapeutic approach to parenting can help children learn how to make safe attachments and overcome developmental gaps, by repairing the hurts from their past experiences and reducing feelings of shame.
Sarah Naish is a qualified Social Worker, an adoptive parent to five children and a champion of therapeutic parenting. She has written several books on Therapeutic Parenting, including:
She has also produced a series books aimed at children and adults, using different characters who demonstrate different aspects of behaviour linked with trauma and attachment difficulties. You can find a list of these books here. She also has a YouTube channel teaching Therapeutic Parenting techniques. Watch her video about Therapeutic Parenting below.
For More Information
- The National Association of Therapeutic Parents offers resources and training on therapeutic parenting
- The DDP Network: a body that promotes therapeutic approach to parenting adopted and looked after children.
- Let's Learn Together: A Guide on parenting children who have experienced trauma
- 10 Therapeutic Approaches to Trauma Rages - An adoptive parent shares the 10 ways she handles her children's trauma rages