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Trauma-Informed Parenting 101: Parenting a Child with PTSD

Trauma-informed parenting is deliberate parenting to patiently help a traumatized child heal. Read about kids’ needs and get parenting tips and strategies on HealthyPlace.

Trauma-informed parenting is a deliberate approach to parenting a child with PTSD or who has experienced trauma but doesn’t have posttraumatic stress disorder. Children are traumatized when they or a loved one experiences something that compromises their need for security, safety, and love. Trauma-informed parenting means that the child’s parents or other caregivers’ actions are designed to do no harm and to consistently meet these basic needs.

While children respond to trauma differently, every incident of childhood trauma causes lasting damage. The child’s fight, flight, or freeze instinct was turned on during the traumatic event and hasn’t turned off. This makes kids feel out of control and helpless. Parenting a child with PTSD or other trauma-related issues requires a special focus on creating a nurturing, loving, and safe home environment to help the child heal.

Know How Trauma Affects Your Child for Optimal Trauma-Informed Parenting

Many times, parenting a traumatized child is difficult because of how their behavior and emotions changed after the trauma. A trauma-informed parent learns how their child was impacted by what happened and what to watch for to help calm rather than aggravate.

After experiencing a traumatic event, children develop a variety of symptoms. To be a trauma-informed parent, it’s helpful to recognize what symptoms your child or teen may exhibit. Common symptoms have behavioral and emotional components such as:

  • Aggression/fighting
  • Frequently getting in trouble
  • Tantrums
  • Refusal to follow rules
  • Substance abuse
  • Running away from home
  • Defiance
  • Need for control (to avoid anything unexpected)
  • Withdrawal
  • Too friendly interactions with strangers
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Impulsivity
  • Hyperarousal (a state of being constantly on guard, looking for danger)
  • Strong emotions that are hard to regulate
  • Crying spells
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Trust issues, even distrusting of parents
  • Difficulty forming attachments and friendships
  • Low self-esteem

Many of these trauma symptoms are activated by triggers, or people, places, sights, sounds, or smells that activate an intense memory of the trauma. Therefore, trauma-informed parenting involves recognizing the child’s symptoms as well as what triggers them.

Parents need a special approach when dealing with a traumatized child. In knowing how your child expresses their trauma, you can meet your child where they are.

Unlike the parenting of other children, moms and dads must focus all their efforts on meeting their child’s needs for love, safety, and security.

Meeting those needs is often a struggle, however, because the above behaviors are seen as “bad” behaviors in numerous homes and schools. To shift away from seeing your child as a bad kid, adopt the trauma-informed perspective that it’s not your child that’s bad; instead, they’re a child who has had bad things happen to them.

After a traumatic event, a child’s emotions and behaviors are controlled by stress and a disrupted feeling of safety. Children become overwhelmed and unable to cope because trauma affects their entire being—brain, body, emotions, and behaviors.

Trauma-informed parents expect this behavior and understand that kids aren’t acting this way on purpose. Accordingly, they can choose their responses and tailor them to meet the child’s needs rather than punishing the behavior. This is sometimes easier said than done. The following strategies and tips can help you know how to deal with a traumatized child.   

Strategies for Parenting a Traumatized Child, Child with PTSD

Because your child doesn’t perceive and respond to the world the way other children do, typical parenting approaches don’t work. The following strategies do work, but because every kid is different, it may take time to discover the ones that work for you and make a customized parenting approach.

  • Be available and give them your full attention
  • When they’re needy, patiently comfort and encourage them
  • Respond calmly and quietly to unruly behavior instead of reacting with anger, irritation ("What to Avoid When You Discipline a Child with PTSD")
  • Listen and help them find words for their strong feelings
  • Teach your child relaxation and stress relief
  • Provide your child with choices to increase their sense of control
  • Establish consistent schedules and routines
  • Be predictable and caring to help build trust
  • Realize that a lack of trust, or insults your child throws at you, is not personal; these are trauma-related that are out of your child’s control now but will change over time with patient, nurturing parenting.

Trauma damages children in a deep way that erodes their ability to trust and feel secure. Trauma-informed parenting helps your child heal. It’s good for parents, too, to feel in more control and secure in the knowledge that they’re making a positive difference.

See Also:

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2019, July 18). Trauma-Informed Parenting 101: Parenting a Child with PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/parenting/ptsd/trauma-informed-parenting-101-parenting-a-child-with-ptsd

Last Updated: August 8, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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