Setting the Stage for Healing: 3 Must Haves for Parents
Did you know one of the most powerful factors of resilience from childhood trauma is a relationship with a caring adult? Furthermore, you have been placed in your child’s life for a reason and have the ability through Christ to meet their needs. According to research conducted at the University of Washington, a child’s brain neuroplasticity, or the ability of a child’s brain to grow and learn after a trauma or injury, is highly influenced by their environment. The stage you set for your child or the environment you create at home can help your child’s brain cope, learn, and grow after trauma.
Let’s explore three ways in which you can set the stage for healing in your child’s life.
Many situations can bring trauma into your or your child’s life. Maybe your child is adopted and experienced abuse or neglect in their early years. Perhaps they have experienced a life-threatening event, from a natural disaster to a school shooting. No matter where you and your child find yourselves, it is important to know that as an adult, you set the tone of the environment, and you do this through awareness. Getting into the habit of asking yourself, “What do I need right now?,” “What does my child need right now?,” and “How Does God answer those needs?” are a great place to start.
Having the mind of Christ entails being aware of yourself and those around you. Jesus practiced this through the disciplines of prayer and service. He reflected through prayer on the will of the Father and how it looked in His life. He also practiced putting others’ needs ahead of His own and getting the heart of the need with His disciples.
So how do we apply this to our lives as parents?
First and foremost, we must continually be pointing our kids to Jesus, who offers eternal healing of our souls. Second, we need to practice! Practice is a powerful concept because it frees us from the expectation of perfection in parenting. Know where you are and start from there. When I began practicing awareness in my parenting and in my counseling practice, I recognized my tone of voice would be a good place to start. I asked myself these questions and committed to practicing a new way of communicating with the children in my life without judgment.
- Am I being mindful of the thoughts, attitudes, feelings, or expectations that influence this tone of voice?
- Does my body posture, facial expression, and touch communicate safety and stability?
- Can I pause right now, breathe, and choose to respond calmly and compassionately?
These are powerful questions that we can ask ourselves when we are interacting with our kids that can set the stage of awareness in us. Through Christ, the author of healing, we help provide them safety, stability, and compassion as they heal from trauma.
The most challenging part of this concept is the practice of slowing down. When we live life at a rapid pace, our focus becomes activities and not relationships. As we know now, a relationship with a caring adult is a crucial way to heal from trauma. Suppose we don’t have time to build relationships because we run from one activity to the next, always staying busy. In that case, we are missing the opportunity to set the stage for foundational healing through relationships for our kids.
Try these things to practice awareness:
1️⃣ Be an investigator of your reactions and intentions. Ask a trustworthy, wise person in your life for honest feedback about your level of awareness. This takes vulnerability. Know who you are in Christ so that feedback given is heard in a constructive way.
2️⃣ Continue researching parenting strategies from a Christian perspective at sites like TheParentCue.org or with books such as Parenting or The Gospel Centered Parent by Paul David Tripp.
3️⃣ Take steps toward emotional health and get to know yourself better by reading books like The Gift of Being Yourself by David G. Brenner or The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabile.
4️⃣ If you experienced the trauma with your child and need professional help with trauma processing, seek evidence-based therapies like TBRI, EMDR, or TF-CBT, depending on the type of trauma experienced. (This is not an exhaustive list.)
As we set the stage with awareness, we simultaneously set the stage with intentionality. Being intentional in a relationship with your child communicates value and worth — the foundation of a caring relationship. Do not underestimate the power of this strategy. When we meet a child who has experienced trauma where they are and spend time with them, we are giving them time and worth. Time spent together builds trust and communication, which are necessary for setting the stage for healing through trauma.
Relationships also give hope. We see Christ’s example in this throughout the Gospels. Immanuel, God with us, lived among us through relationships to accomplish His ministry and, ultimately, our saving grace. Even if the trauma experienced by your child happened through a destructive relationship, the relationship you have with them can provide powerful healing.
When we set the stage through awareness and practice intentionality with our kids, it will ultimately lead to communication about the trauma and what happened to them. Kids who have experienced trauma have big emotions, and they feel them intensely. We, as parents, have the incredible opportunity to teach our kids and practice ourselves how to maneuver through emotions in a healthy Christ-honoring way. Let’s call it the “Feel and Release” Plan! Dan Siegel’s book The Whole Brained Child describes this process as “letting the clouds of emotions roll by.” Key concepts include:
- Teach your child the difference between “I feel” something and “I am” something. When we acknowledge a feeling as real (not necessarily true), discuss it, pray about it, meditate on it and release it, you are practicing healthy emotional processing. Feelings are meant to be let go. We do not want to give them a permanent home in our identity because they change so often.
- Don’t dismiss or deny your child’s emotions. Acknowledge them and teach them how to let feelings go so they don’t consume them. Use statements like:
- I hear you…
- I know that’s how you feel right now…
- Feelings come and go; how you feel right now may change [A helpful resource is Chip Dodd’s The Voice of the Heart].
Dr. Karyn Purvis, who I had the privilege of training under, made an astonishing discovery in her work with children. She discovered that it takes about 400 repetitions to create a new synapse in the brain. This means for a child to learn a new skill, an emotional strategy, etc., it takes 400 repetitions to learn it unless play is involved. If play is involved, it only takes 10–20 repetitions. When we are playful and use play as a teaching tool, we set the stage for faster and more connected learning. When a child feels safe and is ready to play, they are ready to learn and grow. It may take some strategy to determine the skill or emotional strategy that can help them overcome their trauma, but it will be worth it if done through play. When we as parents prepare ourselves through awareness and intentionality, we set the stage to see our children and respond to their needs.
When you join your child in an activity they enjoy, you are building a relationship with them. No matter what age your child is, take steps to join them in an activity of their choosing. There are multiple resources online for free or low-cost activities for parent and child. Print the list out and let your child choose one, knowing that the time is valuable because it sets the stage for healing through relationship!
To be aware, intentional, and playful with your child who has experienced trauma will be costly. There is no beating around that bush. It will cost you time, energy, and self-sacrifice. However, the return on this investment is of great benefit as it will set the stage for the healing process. Remember, it’s not about perfection but practice.
If you, your child, or someone you know has experienced trauma please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Our Campus Pastors can connect you to counselors and walk through the healing process with you.
Written by: Lauren Armstrong, MAMFC, LPC TBRI Practitioner
Lauren Armstrong has been practicing Child, Adolescent, and Family Counseling for 15 years. After receiving her counseling degree in Marriage and Family Counseling she had the opportunity to receive training in Multi-Systemic Therapy, an evidenced-based therapy for At-Risk Youth as well as Trust Based Relational Intervention, an attachment-based, trauma informed intervention that is designed to meet the complex needs of vulnerable children. She is currently on staff at Oakland Christian School as a Social Emotional School Counselor.
Published by Woodside Bible Church, www.woodsidebible.org