Across a career spanning almost 25 years I have spent much of my time engaging with caregivers of deeply hurt and troubled children.
Caregivers of these children often ask: What can I do to help this child?
This is an interesting question.
Which of the following statements best reflects the first answer caregivers would like to receive to this question?
- This is what you are doing wrong.
- This is what you should be doing.
- This is what you are doing right!
Which are caregivers more likely to keep doing over time:
- What they already know and do that is helpful for the child in their care?
- A completely new regime of care and management strategies?
I believe that therapeutic parenting must start with conventional care and relational strategies; that is, what caregivers already know and already do that supports recovery from a tough start to life.
Why? Two reasons, really:
- Because change is stressful, and children who have had a tough start to life are particularly sensitive to change (consistency and predictability, on the other hand, are reassuring and actually reduce stress).
- Because it is difficult to make significant changes to how we approach caregiving and sustain them over time (we all are susceptible to falling back in to old habits and ways in which we have always done things. This is a big problem for children who have had a tough start to life as to change the way one approaches caregiving, only to revert to old ways, is experienced by the child as inconsistency, which is stressful and can have the effect of further unsettling the child’s emotions and behaviours).
My recommended approach to therapeutic (re) parenting is to identify particular aspects of conventional caregiving and relating (that is, we all do them, at least some of the time) that we know from science provide strong foundations for children’s development and the achievement of their potential. I then ask that they be implemented intentionally and in an organised and ordered (that is predictable) way.
Why? Because children who have had a tough start to life have generally missed out on important experiences of caregiving and relating that support optimal development and wellbeing.
So, from my perspective, therapeutic parenting is an enrichment process, at least to begin with. It enriches conventional aspects of caregiving and relating that support what we know about how to raise healthy and happy children who achieve their developmental potential. For those children who are recovering from a tough start to life, it fills in the gaps in their experience of caregiving.
Though it is trauma informed, therapeutic parenting need not necessarily focus too much on the impact of trauma. Rather, therapeutic parenting must be strengths based. Children see themselves as they experience others to see them, so they need their caregivers to see their strengths and evidence of recovery. Similarly, there is nothing more demoralizing than being sensitized to see the impacts of abuse and neglect and associated challenges to the caregiving role, as opposed to evidence that the hurt child is recovering and growing in your care. A strengths focus, both in terms of what caregivers are doing right and signs of recovery and growth, is supportive of self-care. Good self-care enriches caregivers’ capacity to provide the sensitive and responsive care needed by children who are recovering from a tough start to life.
The CARE Therapeutic Framework and the Triple-A Model of Therapeutic Care are strengths-based, trauma informed approaches to supporting the recovery of children who have experienced adverse childhood experiences. I would love to hear from you about conducting an implementation project in your organisation, or in the organisation that supports you in the caregiving role.
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