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Child Therapist Post: Why Effective Discipline is Important for Children Who Have Experienced Trauma

Unfortunately, sometimes children have traumatic experiences.  As adults we try very hard to protect children.  The loss of a loved one, a serious illness in the family, a car accident, or learning about violence in the world are events that may be traumatic for children.  Trauma is a very individualized experience so the effects can vary from child to child.  It can often be hard to know how effected a child is by an experience.  Some children may act out through aggression and tantrums.  Other children may become fearful and struggle with sleeping or separating from their parents.  In these situations, it can be very hard to know how to use effective parenting or discipline.

The Need for Behavior Management

PCIT trauma

Children may act out in response to trauma.  They may have struggled with being able to handle their emotions and acting out before the event even happened.  The event may have made these behaviors more challenging.  As a parent, it can be hard to know how to respond to a child who is struggling with using appropriate behaviors and has experience trauma.  Parents may want to go easy on their children because of what they have experienced.  Sometimes parents worry that consequences for behavior may cause their child more trauma.

However, children who have experienced trauma and are acting out, really NEED parents to help them learn how to manage their behaviors.

Research shows that children need both a large amount of love and warmth from parents AND clear limits and predictable environments.  Children need warmth, love, and high regard from their parents to know that what they have to say is valued and their work of developing and playing is important.  Children also need to know what is expected from them and the consequences if they do not meet expectations.  Knowing the boundaries, expectations, and consequences for behavior helps children to understand how to be successful.  This type of discipline is healthy and respectful to children.  Children feel more secure and safe when they understand their role and that of the parent in a household.  Children who have experienced trauma, especially, need to know that their caregivers are keeping them safe by maintaining structure.

It can be very difficult to know how to parent a child who has experienced trauma.

PCIT trauma

Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) has been shown to help children who are acting out or showing anxiety and have had trauma.   PCIT is a therapeutic model based on the principal of providing children with high warmth and love but also high expectations. Parents are taught how to provide children with a high amount of warmth during therapeutic play and also how to teach children how to behave appropriately.  PCIT significantly reduces many of the acting out behaviors that children with trauma may show such as tantrums, aggression, and verbal defiance.  It does this by increasing positive interactions between parent and child, as well as effective discipline.

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