Trauma-Informed Parenting

Boy downcast in class

Written by: Where Parents Talk Staff

Published: Feb 13, 2024

by Katherine Martinko

“When people think of trauma, their mind goes to neglect or physical abuse, sexual abuse, or car accidents—things like that. [But] it is more nuanced … There is community violence, terrorism, medical trauma, bullying at different levels. A lot of those things are considered trauma.”

Dr. Nadia Huq is a clinical psychologist and mother of two from Montclair, New Jersey. She is trained in cognitive behavioural therapy and parent-child interaction therapy. She spoke to Lianne Castelino, host of Where Parents Talk, about the concept of trauma-informed parenting, which she believes to be more important than ever in today’s world. 

The idea of being “trauma-informed” is common in the education realm, but less so in reference to parenting.

Trauma refers to an event that a child has experienced or perceived or witnessed as dangerous or frightening. This can have a lasting impact on the child, causing them to feel “triggered” and upset once again by experiences that remind them of the traumatic event.

Dr. Huq believes that parents should be aware of the various ways in which kids can experience trauma and to keep an eye out for signs and symptoms. These include intrusive thoughts, avoidance behaviours, irritability, changes to memory and eating habits, difficulty sleeping. In some situations, a child could be self-harming, e.g., cutting themselves.

If these atypical behavioural patterns are ongoing, a concerned parent should always reach out for professional help without making the child feel as though they are in trouble. But there are also steps that adults can take to reassure children on a day-to-day basis to mitigate the effects of trauma. 

“Number one,” Dr. Huq says, is “parents letting their kid know that ‘I’m the adult here and I’m going to keep you safe’ and having a plan if this [worst-case scenario] were to happen.” Without being too alarmist, she says, “the most important thing is to have a plan for communication.”

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Consistent parental responses matter, too. A child should know what to expect from situations that could distress them, such as active shooter drills at school. Many kids dislike surprises, so talk in advance. In the home, treat behavioural problems with consistent disciplinary strategies, as well. 

Dr. Huq explains, “If you have two kids and they fight, as kids do siblings, they may get aggressive. If, one day, you send them to their room, but another day, you take away their cell phone for the rest of the day, and another time, you just ignore it, that’s inconsistent. A trauma-informed approach would be if siblings [do this or that thing], you lose your cell phone for the rest of the day—a consistent approach.”

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Kids are resilient, Dr. Huq says, and with the right support, they can recover from many traumatic experiences and gain the resilience to get through more. She feels hopeful that families are talking more about mental well-being and thinking about kids’ emotional health, and she witnesses profound transformations in her practice:

“[Some] kids have a lot of disruptive behaviours and parents are really stressed, and then at the end, [I] see families laughing together, playing together, enjoying each other again. [This] is probably the biggest thing that gives me hope.”

Related links:

Related articles:

Parenting through Youth Mental Health Challenges

Strategies to Address Violence in Schools

The Current State and Future Vision for Youth Mental Health Services

How Bullying Affects the Brain in Kids and Adults and How to Repair it

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