The Kinship CARE Project is an initiative of Secure Start®.
At Secure Start, we believe that Kinship Carers make a highly valuable contribution to the care of children in need, and to society. Yet, kinship carers do not always get the support they need.
The Kinship CARE Project reflects our commitment to providing kinship carers with knowledge and strategies that supports them in the kinship carer role.
Kinship carers are a large and diverse group, though they share many things in common. Chief amongst these is their commitment to caring for children with whom they have a relational connection, when the children cannot be at home with mum and/or dad.
Though they perform a similar role to other out-of-home carers (including those who foster or adopt), kinship carers have their own circumstances and needs. Kinship carers must have training support that is tailored to their own circumstances and needs.
The Kinship CARE Project incorporates training and resources that are strengths-based, user-friendly, and practical. In the first phase of the project, which reached 250 kinship carers across 24 metropolitan and regional implementation groups in South Australia, more than 98% of kinship carers rated each training session as informative, practical, and useful, and indicated that they would recommend the training to other kinship carers. Among kinship carers who completed the training and a follow-up survey:
84% reported experiencing improved relationships with the children in their care;
89% reported feeling more confident in the kinship carer role; and
98% reported that they had received helpful strategies …
… as a result of their participation in the Kinship CARE Project.
Recently, an Australian Aboriginal Grandmother who participated in the Kinship CARE Project produced the artwork below to represent her experience of the Project. It blew us away. Her story of the artwork can be accessed by clicking here. Both the story of the artwork, and the artwork itself, are displayed with the consent of the artist, who hoped that it would support access to the Kinship CARE Project among Indigenous Kinship Carers. The artist also gave consent to being identified in connection with the artwork and the Kinship CARE Project.
The Kinship CARE Project incorporates complementary training for professionals who support kinship carers. Contact us to discuss your training needs or subscribe to join our mailing list. As a member of our mailing list you will receive details of upcoming training events for kinship carers and professionals who support them.
Phase one of the Kinship CARE Project, which was delivered in South Australia in the Department for Child Protection’s (DCP) Kinship Care Program, will come to an end in March 2020. This initial phase spanned more than two years and incorporated training for both kinship carers and DCP staff who support them. In addition, staff from other service providers, including Connecting Foster and Kinship Carers – SA, the State’s peak advocacy body for foster and kinship carers, were also trained in the Kinship CARE Curriculum.
In Phase Two of the Project we are delivering in Victoria through 2020 as part of the Carer KaFE. We are also in discussion with a number of organisations who support kinship carers in the UK and Ireland.
In Phase Two, we are looking to make training in the Kinship CARE Curriculum available to kinship carers, and professionals who support them, across Australia and overseas. We are available and willing to discuss face-to-face training. We will also be offering a range of online training options. Subscribe using the form below to join our mailing list and receive information about forthcoming training events.
Information for Professionals and Organisations
To access A Short Introduction to the Kinship CARE Project, which includes additional information about the content and delivery of the Project during Phase One, please click here.
In The Zahir, author Paulo Coelho tells the story of two firefighters who take a break from fighting a forest fire by a stream. The face of one of the firefighters is dirty and sooty. The face of the other is comparatively clean. One of the firefighters then washes his face in the stream. Coelho poses a question to the reader: which firefighter washes his face? The answer given is the firefighter whose face was clean. Why? Because he looked at the other firefighter and thought he was dirty.
This is an allegory that is reflective of my practice over more than two decades; in particular, the message that people see themselves as they experience others to see them. This is the so-called Looking-Glass Self, coined by Charles Horton Cooley in Human Nature and the Social Order at the turn of the 20th century (1902).
Returning to the firefighter who washes his face, I wonder if he would respond differently if he already thought of himself as dirty and ugly anyway. Would he wash his face, or would he think that it makes no difference?
Working with at-risk families, and supporting other professionals who do, has always been a particularly rewarding aspect of my practice. There is a great deal at stake as there is no doubt in my mind that the ideal solution for the children is to achieve an outcome where they can be safely cared for in their own home, keeping the family intact. These outcomes offer critical benefits to the children, in terms of their emerging beliefs about themselves, others, and their world (Attachment Representations), their emotional functioning (Arousal), and their learning about the accessibility and responsiveness of adults in a caregiving role (Accessibility, to needs provision). These three factors, which I refer to as the ‘Triple-A Model’, play an influential role in a child’s approach to life and relationships and, in turn, their growth and development.
One of the first hurdles to working effectively with at-risk families is minimisation, by the adults, of the concerns that have brought (or may bring) the family to the attention of child protection authorities. This, in turn, can result in the adults being resistant to accepting, and/or dismissive of, well-intentioned and needed support and guidance. In this article I share a little of my work with these families, and other professionals who do, about an approach which, across more than two decades of practice, is encapsulated in what I now refer to as the CARE Curriculum (previously, The CARE Therapeutic Framework).
Achieving relational connection is the primary task of the CARE Curriculum. When you achieve a good relational connection with another person, they experience themselves as having worth. As a result of the sense of worth they experience via the relational connection they have with you, they place value on the relational connection. The combination of these two factors are feelings of wellbeing for the person you are working with (which supports success in their endeavours) and an enhanced capacity for you to influence their approach to the parenting role.
Relational connection is an outcome of a process that begins with accepting and adopting the mindset that nobody does anything for no reason. If we accept that nobody does anything for no reason, we must consider that minimisation of the concerns that have or may bring the family to the attention of child protection authorities, and resistance to support and guidance, occurs for a reason.
In my work, shame is a major consideration for understanding minimisation and resistance. When working with the adults in at-risk families there are a number of sources of shame, often occurring together. These include (but are not limited to):
Shame that this has happened to their family;
Shame about being seen as having failed in the parenting role (judged);
Shame about factors that impact family functioning and capacity to fulfil the parenting role;
Shame that they are not the parent they would like to be;
Shame about having let their children (and their own families) down.
The effect of their shame is that they can fail to acknowledge the full extent of the challenges faced by them in providing the safe and nurturing care their children need and may resist well-intentioned and necessary guidance regarding their approach to the parenting role.
When working with at-risk families there is always the requirement to identify areas of concern and provide guidance regarding required changes that benefit all members of the family; particularly the children. Timing is the key. If we attempt to do this too early the parents can feel even more inadequate, and more ashamed. The result is that they become ‘defensive’ in relation to the concerns that have or may bring them to the attention of child protection authorities and continue to (and steadfastly) adhere to caregiving practices that are inadequate for the needs of their children.
In order to achieve an outcome where the adults in at-risk families are more accepting of the seriousness of concerns that exist and the benefit to their children (and themselves) of receiving practical feedback and guidance that builds their capacity to fulfil the parenting role, we need to build them up. We need to help them to feel better within and about themselves and about the parenting role they are performing. We need to regulate shame.
One way of doing this is to turn our minds to what they are doing well in the parenting role; that is, their strengths. The CARE Curriculum identifies four key aspects of parenting, supported by psychological science, that promote optimal development for children and young people and recovery from a tough start to life:
It is important to identify and acknowledge positive signs of these aspects of parenting in at-risk families, even if it is very small.
It is also important to acknowledge and validate their experience of the parenting role and the challenges they face. If the adults in at-risk families feel heard they are more likely to hear what you want to say:
First, in relation to their strengths – the things they are doing well; and then
The seriousness of the areas of concern, their impact on the children, and how best to ensure that the children can remain home with their family.
If the adults in at-risk families feel acknowledged and heard, they are more likely to accept a relational connection that regulates their shame and provides a platform for supporting and guiding them to achieve outcomes:
of the family remaining intact; and
the children experiencing care that is safe and satisfying of their needs.
What aspects of the parenting role are implemented consistently?
When does the parent attend to their child?
How does the parent acknowledge their child’s experience?
What does the parent do to cater to their child’s needs?
What activities or tasks do the parent and child enjoy doing together?
A straightforward guide to keeping things on track in the home during tough times. Includes printable worksheets – see preview below. 18pp
When children cannot be cared for at home with their biological parent or parents, other adults who have a caring concern for them, or children more generally, take on the caregiving role. In many cases this is a member of the child’s family (Grandparents, Aunts and Uncles, even older siblings). It might also be a family friend or other person who has a relationship with the child and/or their family. It might be a member of the community who has a caring concern for children and a desire to ‘give back’. It might also be a person who cannot, otherwise, have a child of their own and wishes to provide a loving home to a child in need. For those children and young people who are yet to be placed in a family care arrangement, it can be a paid carer.
The intent of all of these people is to provide care and protection to children and young people who are in need.
There are many challenges in providing care in these roles. One of these arises when the child or young person asserts “you’re not my parent (mum/dad)”. Often, this occurs in the context of the child or young person resisting parental authority. In many instances, it is an expression of feelings of hurt, loss, and abandonment that can be keenly felt by children and young people who cannot live with their biological parents. It is also a form of rejecting behaviour that stems from the child’s own feelings of rejection, which can occur irrespective of the reasons the child cannot be cared for by their biological parents and the love the biological parents have for their child.
It can be distressing to hear and experience as the caregiver for the child; the person or persons who are, in fact, performing the role of parent. It is important to keep in mind that the comment is not necessarily about you; nor is it a reflection of the care you provide. Rather, too often it is a reflection of the child feeling different and inadequate in some way; as if they were not loved or lovable enough to be cared for by their biological parents. Often, it is also a reflection of the child or young person’s displaced anger and frustration at their biological parents.
It is not healthy or helpful for the child or young person to maintain such thoughts and feelings. The low sense of self-worth that arises when children and young people think of themselves as unloved and/or rejected is implicated in a range of self-destructive and self-defeating behaviours that, ultimately, have a negative effect on life trajectory. It can also result in you pulling back a little from the child due to your own feelings of hurt, notwithstanding your best intentions. This can compound the child’s low sense of self-worth.
Three steps I use to support understanding that the child or young person does, in fact, have parents follow.
First, when the child or young person is relaxed and able to talk (such as when travelling for some distance in a car), ask them what does a parent (mum/dad) do for a child. If possible, keep some form of record of their answers. I anticipate that you will get a list of caregiving behaviours. Allow the child or young person time to process their own answers to the question (this can be a longer or shorter period, depending on the child or young person. It may also be appropriate to wait a day or so before proceeding to the next step).
After the child or young person has had time to reflect on the question at step one and their own answers, ask what you do for them. Again, a record might be kept. The child should again be given time to consider the question and their own answers to it before proceeding to the next step. It is anticipated that the aspects of the parenting role you are acknowledged to perform substantially overlap the list made in response to the first question.
Finally, acknowledge that though they sometimes feel different and feel like they do not have a parent (mother/father), a parent is someone who looks after them, and you are that person. You are their parent (mum/dad). And they are cared for (wanted/loved) the same as other children and young people.
The anticipated outcome is the child’s realisation that they do, in fact, have a parent.
(Note: In many instances it might also be appropriate to reassure that their biological parents love them too)
In my therapeutic work with children and young people I incorporate play activities in order for them to experience themselves in a way that challenges existing unhelpful ideas. My intent is to support and strengthen an alternative self-concept that is reflective of attachment security and secure attachment representations (a.k.a. internal working models). That is, I utilise play to support and strengthen positive beliefs about self, other, and world, including:
that the child or young person is capable and a person of worth;
that adults understand them and can be relied upon; and
that they are safe in their world.
A particular focus of my therapeutic work is supporting experiences of mastery. Experiences of mastery help to promote beliefs that the young person is capable and able to positively influence their world. It promotes a belief that they are (inherently) safe. These beliefs are necessary for all children and young people to explore, learn, and develop, unimpaired by the restricting and debilitating effects of anxiety. It is particularly necessary to support and strengthen these beliefs when children are recovering from a tough start to life.
One of the ‘mastery activities’ I often do with children and young people is to play ‘Balloon Volleyball’. This is a favourite of the vast majority of children and young people who have consulted with me across the past two decades. They invariably win, but they have to ‘overcome adversity’ in order to do so. I temper how much ‘adversity’ each child experiences based on how capable they believe themselves to be. Adversity comes in the form of me making rallies last longer or shorter, or me winning a proportion of rallies. In fact, the majority of games over the years have been decided by a single point!
So, there is always a balloon in my consulting room.
Across the last few weeks of last year there was an aqua-coloured balloon. I have been using balloons of some quality, such that they have been lasting for weeks at a time without popping or deflating. The aqua balloon survived at-least a couple of weeks without popping or deflating. However, when I returned to work after a three-week break over Christmas and New Year the aqua balloon had lost much of its air. It was deflated. This was not through overuse. Rather, it happened during a period where it received no attention and interaction.
In contrast, children and young people commonly grow during holiday periods (in Australia, the Christmas and New Year break falls within the long summer break from school). In my therapeutic work I have a ritual where I check on the growth of children and young people when they attend for consultations. It is such a ritual that they often position themselves to be measured at the beginning of a consultation and remind me to measure them if I forget. I am not too precise with how I record their growth, such that they almost always seem to have grown between consultations! This is very important to a great many of the children and young people who consult with me. This ‘growth’ is often quite pronounced during the summer holiday, where there is a longer gap between the consultations before and after Christmas.
The first child to consult with me in 2020 found the aqua balloon in its shrunken and deflated state. This led me to comment that, though it had survived many weeks of use prior to Christmas, it seemed to have shrunk as a result of no attention and interaction.
I concluded that attention and interaction must be good for us . As the child had not shrunk (a rare event and relief to most children and young people) and, in fact, had grown, they must have received sufficient attention and interaction for their growth.
The child smiled that smile you see in moments of pure happiness and contentment. They knew they were loved.
I was talking to an overseas colleague today about the provision of psychotherapy services to young people who are in the most desperate of circumstances. This includes young people who are no longer able to be cared for in a family-based care environment, who find themselves bouncing between residential care, secure care, youth training centres (juvenile justice facilities), and homelessness. Often attempts are made to refer these young people to conventional mental health services, only for the young person to “not engage” or not meet service eligibility requirements. The latter often occurs when the young person does not have a stable care placement, and where mental health professionals express concern that without a stable attachment figure in the young person’s life there is a risk that the young person “might form an attachment to the therapist”. In many instances, this is seen as an adverse outcome for the young person.
For more than a decade I have been an option of last resort for deeply hurt and troubled children and young people. After speaking to my colleague I thought about sharing some insights about this work and what I offer that has helped many, if not all such children and young people. In this article I will share some general themes, which I will return to in more detail in follow-up articles. For readers who would like to access a broad description of my therapeutic approach, I would recommend accessing A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder (Second Edition), for which I will provide links below.
In the meantime, here are a number of key ideas that inform my approach and which I will endeavour to elaborate on in future articles:
I do not believe that a child or young person should be excluded from receiving a psychotherapy service just because there is a risk that they may “form an attachment” to the therapist. If this was a generalized exclusion criteria for accessing mental hearth service provision, these children and young people might never receive a service.
In the absence of any other potential attachment figure, I believe it is permissible (as well as likely) for the therapist to be an attachment figure and provide reparative attachment experiences in therapy, just as teachers, coaches and other adults often fulfill an attachment role.
This means that therapy is necessarily frequent (at-least weekly to begin with), consistent and long-term. In fact, there is no set number of sessions and the therapist should be prepared to provide therapy for as long as the young person needs it (in many cases, this is a period of years) to approach life and relationships in a positive and self-promoting manner. This may pose a difficulty for some services and necessitate a change in their service model to cater to the needs of these young people.
Psychotherapy needs to be experiential and process-oriented. Deeply troubled young people need to experience themselves and others in a different way, so that they might, ultimately, see themselves and others in a different way.
Psychotherapy needs to promote ideas of self-worth and trusting relational connection to others. These are two of the most important regulating influences over the way in which the young person will approach life and relationships.
Psychotherapy with these young people is, essentially, relational. The therapeutic relationship is the most important aspect of the therapeutic process.
Though many find these young people challenging and, indeed, unlikable, I generally find them to be likable in one or more ways. As a result, the young people I work with experience themselves as likable (and capable, and worthy) when they interact with me.
The young people I have worked with randomly check in with me during adulthood. One such young person once asked me what the age cut-off for accessing a service from me is. I replied “thirty-eight”. The young person looked perplexed. I clarified that they can continue to access a service from me as and when they need it until I retire. Their relief was palpable and, as I expected, they have been able to get on with their life independently of the need to access regular psychotherapy across almost five years since this interaction occurred.
If you enjoyed reading this article and would like me to write about related topics, please leave a comment.
This short article is a brief follow-up to Disaster Relief: Helping Children During (and After) Community Traumatic Events. You can access the full article by clicking here.
Here are my five tips for supporting children impacted by natural disasters, such as the current bushfire crisis in Australia:
As far as possible, maintain normal routines, including in relation to mealtimes, bedtime, and daily activities.
Check in with your child or children regularly throughout the day, without them having to do anything to get your attention.
Instead of asking children what they are thinking or how they are feeling, say what you think is the answer to the question. Say what you see. Similarly, if you can anticipate a need or reasonable request that a child in your care might express to you, address the need/request before the child asks or does anything else to satisfy the need/request. Be proactive!
Allow yourself to show/express your own matched distress/concern/worry about the traumatic event to the child, through briefly and in a measured way. A connection will be made with the child and their emotions. Return to calm. The child should follow.
Provide accurate/factual information, that is tailored to their age and maturity.
For more information, including explanations for each tip, access the full article here.
If you received useful information this article and would like me to write about related topics, please leave a comment.
One of the more common struggles reported by parents and caregivers is getting children off to sleep in their own bed. What follows is a simple method to address this issue that I often recommend, and that I used with my own children.
Before I get to the method, I want to advise that there are many and varied reasons why children have difficulty getting off to sleep in their own bed. Time and space do not permit me to go into all possible reasons here. What I would say is that the method presented here is appropriate for many of the reasons why children have this difficulty. It is offered as general advice and is not a substitute for a full assessment and recommendation from an appropriately qualified paediatric sleep specialist.
Firstly, children’s sleep patterns are subject to a sleep-wake cycle, which is physiological in nature but strongly influenced by bed-time and wake-time routines. A stable and consistent bed-time and wake-time are important for establishing a stable sleep-wake cycle. That’s right, a stable wake-time is just as important as a stable bed-time. If your child is having difficulty getting off to sleep, don’t let them sleep in. Wake them up at a consistent time every day, regardless of how long it took them to go to sleep. Their wake-time should usually be approximately twelve hours after their bed-time (depending on their age).
The sleep-wake cycle is also affected by exposure to light and its impact on melatonin production. Melatonin production is implicated in the onset of sleep. Light is thought to suppress melatonin production. So, ensure that your child is in a light-reduced environment for at-least thirty minutes before their bed-time. If your child requires a night light, use an orange one as it has been suggested that orange light does not suppress melatonin production as much as other forms of light.
Now, I will explain a bedtime routine I used with my own children, and recommend in my practice. Before doing so, I would advise that this is a routine that I sustained across years. My children and I enjoyed this special time together, and in the context of the ongoing juggle of work and family commitments, it became a regular time for togetherness. Indeed, I maintained a consistent (though evolving over time) bedtime ritual with my youngest child until he reached his teens. This is not to say that the methodology described below takes years to work! In fact, I anticipate that it will assist with getting your child off to sleep in their own bed within days. However, in order for there to be a lasting effect I would suggest that you be prepared to implement this methodology for at-least three months before gradually weaning the child from it (more on this below).
To the methodology! Once it is bed-time, I suggest that you put your child to bed and sit or lay alongside them for approximately twenty minutes. In that time, and depending on the age of your child, you might read and sing lullabies to them. When my own children were pre-school aged, I read two or three books before singing to them. As with other aspects of parenting and caregiving, consistency is important here. Consistency is soothing. I suggest rotating through a small number of books and a small number of lullabies across consecutive nights. Children draw comfort from the predictability of the bed-time routine, thus preparing them for the separation involved in going to sleep. After a while, the books lullabies are likely to become associated with feelings of comfort and sleepiness, with the result that the child begins to feel sleepy when the same books are read and lullabies are sung.
When my children reached school-age, we transitioned to longer books, reading approximately a chapter each night. I read books that they were interested in but not able (yet) to read themselves. I remember reading the Magic Faraway Tree to my older children. The last books I read to my youngest son were the Harry Potter series of novels. I stopped singing to them when it seemed developmentally-appropriate (for them) to do so. This was when they were four or five years of age.
If your child falls asleep during the above, you are free to leave the room. If they are still awake after you have read (and sung) to them, you move to the next stage of the methodology. This is more likely to be the case when you are implementing this methodology for the first time with a school-aged child. In such instances, and depending on their age, your child may still be awake after twenty minutes of reading. The next stage involves providing the profound reassurance children require to cope with separation and go to sleep. If it works, it will circumvent your child’s effort to engage in proximity-seeking behaviour, such as calling out, getting out of bed, searching for you, complaining of having a tummy ache, asking to go to the toilet, and so on.
After you have read (and sung) to your child, say to them something like “I am just going to put the light on in the next room and I will be right back. You can stay awake until I come back”. Then, you literally walk out of the room and walk back in almost straight away. You acknowledge that your child is okay and then say “I am just going to put the kettle on and I will be straight back. You can stay awake until I come back”. You then do this and when you return to your child you say something like “I am just going to the toilet and I will be straight back. You can stay awake until I come back”. You then do this and when you return to your child you say something like “I am just going to have my cup of tea and I will be straight back. You can stay awake until I come back”. With each separation, you tell your child that you are doing an activity that takes longer and longer to complete. You keep doing this until, when you return to your child, you find them to be asleep.
Speaking of activities that have temporal (i.e.time) meaning is more easily understood by your child than saying “I’ll be back in a minute”. Choosing longer and longer activities involves exposing children gradually to separations, such that they do not become overly anxious, call out or get out of bed. It is important to return to your child before they call out or get out of bed, because parent-initiated proximity is more reassuring than child-initiated proximity. So adjust the separation as required to ensure that you get back to them before they leave their bed to find you! Telling your child to stay awake is an important way to circumvent potential conflict and associated parental frustration, with the result that your child is calmer and more likely to fall asleep. Put in a different way, this is a helpful way of making use of “reverse-psychology”.
If your child is an infant and, therefore, pre-verbal, I suggest leaving the room for longer and longer intervals, and returning, though you need not use the words I recommend. Rather, try to return before they start crying or otherwise become unsettled. This is a gentle alternative to controlled crying and one that I also used effectively with my own children.
If you are looking to wean your child off an extended bedtime ritual, I suggest gradually reducing the amount of time spent reading (and singing) to them, and implementing the second stage of temporary separations and reunions. Eventually, you might only being doing the separations and reunions, before finally being able to put them to bed to go of to sleep themselves.
Finally, playing relaxing classical music softly in your child’s bedroom is a useful adjunct to the above. Try starting the music when you first put your child to bed (i.e. while you are reading and singing). Set the volume so low that it can only just be heard in a quiet room. Set it to play all night. Relaxing classical music soothes the nervous system and can be expected to further assist your child to go to sleep, stay asleep, and sleep more deeply and restfully. It can also reduce the incidence of nightmares. Your child is likely to be happier during the day that follows as a benefit of a deeper and more peaceful sleep. I used the Dream Children Compilation by the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. You can access this compilation via the links provided below. If you find that your (older) child is distracted by the device you are playing the music on, put the device in an adjacent room or in the hallway outside the child’s bedroom. If your child complains that the music is “keeping them awake” try putting it on after they are asleep. Remember, keep the music on all night, every night.
Finally, enjoy this special time spent with your child. I did, and experienced sadness when my youngest said “dad, I don’t need you to stay with me anymore”.
In summary, my five tips to get your child off to sleep in their own bed are:
Set a consistent bed-time and wake-time
Reduce exposure to white light or thirty minutes before bed-time
Have a bedtime ritual
Play relaxing classical music while your child sleeps
If difficulties persist, seek advice from a paediatric sleep specialist.
To purchase Dream Children via Amazon, please click on the links below:
Or search for Dream Children by Ron Spigelman in the Google Play and iTunes stores.
If you enjoyed reading this article and would like me to write about related topics, please leave a comment.
An article for parents and caregivers by Colby Pearce, Clinical Psychologist, Secure Start®.
Traumatic events include any adverse event that challenges, or overwhelms, a child’s normal feelings of safety and everyday coping capacity. Traumatic events often occur suddenly and without warning.
Exposure to traumatic events is relatively common. Australian and international figures suggest two-thirds of children will experience at-least one traumatic event during childhood. Traumatic events can be experienced directly, such as being present during the traumatic event, or indirectly, such as through exposure to images and stories (and the reactions of others) about the traumatic event.
Exposure to traumatic events impacts individual children differently, but there are some common impacts. Exposure to traumatic events can impact how children think and feel. In turn, this can impact the way they behave.
Children who have or are experiencing a traumatic event, such as the current bushfire emergency in Australia, are more prone than usual to negative thinking about:
I am helpless
They will not be there for me when I need them
Bad things happen
I am unsafe
They do not understand me
My world is unsafe
I am inadequate
They do not love me
This kind of negative thinking increases their proneness to anxiety. Common effects of anxiety include:
Sleep disturbance (wakefulness/nightmares)
Feeling unwell (headaches; tummy pains)
Reduced exploration or clinginess
Poor coordination (clumsy)
‘Big’ emotional displays
Bladder and bowel disturbance
Regression to ‘younger’ emotions and behaviours
Reducing children’s anxiety and helping them to cope with traumatic events involves providing extra attention to the CARE you provide, where CARE involves enriching the children’s experience of:
Emotional-Connectedness (Pearce, 2016)
Children need consistency. Consistency calms. Consistency supports experiences of order and predictability that buffer children against the experience of unpredictability and uncertainty that occurs during traumatic events. Consistency supports experiences of normality.
Recommendation: As far as possible, maintain normal routines, including in relation to mealtimes, bedtime, and daily activities.
Traumatic events challenge children’s normal coping capacity and increase their need to experience caring adults as accessible to them. Parental accessibility is reassuring during times of duress. Parental accessibility is calming. Children are most reassured about parental accessibility when we attend to them whether proactively (i.e. whether they are crying or quiet).
Recommendation: Check in with your child or children regularly throughout the day, without them having to do anything to get your attention. (Note: Only begin what you can keep up for at-least a week or two).
Traumatic events increase children’s need to experience that caring adults understand them and their needs and are here to help. Showing understanding of the child’s experience through our words and actions reassures the child that caring adults can be depended upon in difficult times, that they are deserving of care, and that they are safe.
Recommendation: Instead of asking children what they are thinking or how they are feeling, say what you think is the answer to the question. Say what you see. Similarly, if you can anticipate a need or reasonable request that a child in your care might express to you, address the need/request before the child asks or does anything else to satisfy the need/request. Be proactive!
Traumatic events upset children and adults alike. It is natural to be upset by traumatic events. Children need to know that their feelings are natural. Equally, they also need to be able to regulate to calm and even to happiness. They may need your help to do so.
Recommendation: Allow yourself to show/express your own distress/concern/worry about the traumatic event to the child, through briefly and in a measured way. A connection will be made with the child and their emotions. Return to calm. The child should follow.
A Final Word
Children may be prone to exaggerating the magnitude and impact of the traumatic event. This may be especially true of traumatic events they hear about but are not directly involved in. In such instances it may be important to ensure that they have accurate/factual information, that is tailored to their age and maturity. Provide information clearly and concisely. Observe and acknowledge the child’s reaction in your words and expressions. Your words and actions should be reassuring.
Children do recover from traumatic events. Depending on the event, this can be within a few days. If they continue to show signs of anxiety for more than a week or two, they may benefit from some extra help from a mental health or counselling professional. In such circumstances, consult your General Medical Practitioner (GP) about mental health and counselling services in your area.
Pearce, C. (2016). A Short Introduction to Attachment and Attachment Disorder (Second Edition). London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers