Step by Step

Raising a child from a hard place can be one of the most difficult and rewarding endeavors of a lifetime.

I believe that there is not any other job as important as parenting. In my last two articles I wrote about the experiences that parents have “behind closed doors” that friends and extended family don’t get to witness. Often they just can’t believe that it really happens or they minimize your experience by suggesting that you are exaggerating or infer that you must be at fault somehow. In this issue I want to share that things can change. It is not your fault.  As the adults though, we do get the responsibility to do our best to help improve things and that is what I want to focus on today. Explaining how things can change and let each of you know there is hope for change, it does not have to stay this way.

Change is often met with resistance. Learning a new way to do something takes longer than learning the first time around. It takes repeated effort to change how we do things, it takes time away from more pleasurable endeavors, and I think deep down there is the fear of failure. This fear is often rooted in childhood experiences and it is important to acknowledge our fear about parenting. However, acknowledging it and naming it, whether through journaling or talking to a close friend, decreasing the power it has over us. Dr. Dan Siegel uses the phrase “Name it to Tame it.” Taming it releases energy to learn new ways of responding to our child’s fear which underlay’s all the misbehavior. Opening ourselves to change is the first step and once we are open to change we are in a position to take in new information.

The second step is to understand that there is new information. For us this is the latest research in brain development and the impact of early trauma. To really understand how early experiences and trauma impact your child I recommend that you view the DVD “Neurochemistry of Fear” by Karyn Purvis. Don’t let the big words put you off it is easy to understand.  What our children are suffering from used to be called Reactive Attachment Disorder but the current and more accurate language is Complex Developmental Trauma. There is a tremendous amount of hope in the latest research.  There is more and more evidence that nurturing is more influential in the development of a child than nature.  This is part of the reason why early experiences have so much influence on who a child becomes. Also research is uncovering how much our brains keep growing throughout our lifetime. This has two major benefits; for you it means that you can learn the therapeutic skills needed to parent a child from a hard place. For your child it means that new experiences can override old ones once your child is able to Feel safe in your family. Once a child truly Feels safe then the emotional reactivity reduces, their heart becomes available to them and to you, trust can then grow, and attachment develops. These are the building blocks that children get in typical family life. Children from hard places were on high alert watching for danger and did not have a loving consistent caregiver. This combination deprived them of the experiences needed to develop these critical foundational blocks. There is hope; parents can provide their children a second chance at building these critical foundational blocks.

There is a tremendous amount of hope in the latest research.  There is more and more evidence that nurturing is more influential in the development of a child than nature.  This is part of the reason why early experiences have so much influence on who a child becomes.

The third step is for parents to learn this new parenting approach. A good place to start is to read the book “The Connected Child” by Karyn Purvis. It is most effective to read and discuss this book with other parents. There is a free downloadable discussion guide available at Also on this site are many other resources including short video clips about using this parenting approach. Additional information can be found on on the Karyn Purvis Institute of Child Development website. There are multiple training DVDs, free downloadable articles, and a list of therapists trained in using this parenting approach which is call Trust Based Emotional Intervention (TBRI) and there may be conferences in your area.

The fourth step is to practice, practice, practice, and get help and more help and more help until it finally clicks for you. Take things slowly, practice the new approach for 15 minutes a day and when that starts feeling comfortable to you extend the time. Another approach may be to just start playing with your child for 15 minutes a day and then when this is going well to add another tool like time ins. Give yourself credit for the things that you are doing right and remember that learning something new is a process no one gets it right the first time through.

The fifth step is to celebrate your new skills. It has taken effort, time, self examination, mindfulness, patience, and practice to change how you parent. In times of stress it can be extremely hard to take that deep breath, calm down and reach through the tangle of emotions to access the new skills. When you blow it because you will we all do, just apologize to your child and do a re-do yourself. This is one of the most effective bonding experiences between parent and child, when the parent acknowledges a mistake, apologizes and then does it over the way they wished they had done it the first time.  This reparative interaction instills trust and hope in the relationship. Just keep trying and keep connecting.

Abbie Smith, LCSW | Former Holt team member

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