Children with Complex Trauma/RAD suffer from a combination of poor executive functioning, characterized by chronic boredom and emotional dysregulation, along with under-attachment, which makes the child’s ability to receive guidance and nurturing very challenging.
Because of the special challenges young people with Complex Trauma/RAD possess, the usual parenting approaches often don’t work. Because these children have such an upside-down beginning in life, we have found an upside-down approach to parenting to be effective.
We observe our children emotionally dysregulated, untrusting, and full of shame and fear. When they are in any of these emotional states, it is nearly impossible for our words to reach them—which would be like someone trying to teach them quadratic equations while running from an attacking lion, and their brains would be fully engaged in a fight/flight/freeze mode (hopefully, flight!). At that point, the reasoning part of their brains has largely gone offline so that all their powers of self-defense and survival can function.
When this happens, the question that faces parents is “What can I do to connect with my child when s/he is in distress?”
In such instances, parents ask for “keys” for successful parenting: maybe a quick two-point technique to calm their children, or perhaps a three-step intervention to address a compulsive behavior; or, a “brilliant” comeback when they are telling far-fetched stories (you may have thought of a few yourself). If only these worked . . . what does work is so simple, it is right in front of us.
Actually, YOU, the parent or primary caregiver, are the most powerful and effective “key” to a successful relationship and successful interventions with your child. When you come along side your child with a non-judgmental stance and engage your child with Playfulness, Acceptance (of them, not necessarily of what they do), Curiosity, and Empathy – P.A.C.E. * (*Dr. Daniel A. Hughes, Attachment Focused Parenting), everything is possible. Great changes start with little steps . . .
Recognizing your role in your child’s progress — what we refer to as learning to become a therapeutic parent — requires a paradigm shift in us: from focusing on our child’s behavior to focusing on the underlying causes of the child’s behavior. At RADical Healing, we provide specialized training to help parents make the shift from traditional parenting approaches to therapeutic parenting.
NVC - nonviolent communication - is another excellent “key” that helps parents successfully connect with their child. NVC was developed by the late Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, who was taught and mentored by the famous psychologist, Carl Rogers.
NVC begins with the perspective that people do what they do in an attempt to meet their needs. When their needs get met, they feel pleasurable feelings; and when their strategies to meet their needs is unsuccessful, they experience painful feelings.
The paradigm shift in parenting occurs when parents view their child’s behavior through the lens of needs and feelings, rather than good and/or bad behaviors. Instead of using rewards and punishments, when parents shift their perspective to understand that needs and feelings fuel all behavior, parents become less reactive to their child: this opens the door for them to connect to their child with Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity, and Empathy – P.A.C.E.
To find out more about NVC, enjoy this brief video introduction to Nonviolent Communication presented by Marshall Rosenberg.