Therapeutic Parenting

Therapeutic parenting is a general term given to ways of parenting children that offers a healing environment alongside the parenting that all children need. Children are helped to feel safe so that they can recover from past trauma or distress alongside helping them to fulfil their developmental potential (Kim S. Golding, 2017).

Therapeutic parenting helps a tamaiti (child) recover from trauma and loss. It is relationship focused, building connections through attunement (emotional connection mirroring the displayed mood) and responsive parenting. This helps the child to emotionally regulate (the capacity to control and modify emotions) and to make sense of experiences. Ideally, we would like all tamariki (children) and rangitahi (young people) to heal in care rather than be held in care.

In the last addition of Snippets, we shared a piece around ‘developmental trauma’ and because most tamariki in care have developmental trauma, we need to parent them in a different way from how we may have parented our own children.

To be able to provide therapeutic parenting there are some key elements that the caregiver will need to know.

Be Mind-Minded – Being aware of the thoughts, feelings, beliefs and desires of the child.

You need to have the ability to be mind-minded to understand the child’s emotional world. We also need to be aware of what we are thinking and feeling as this will impact on other’s thoughts and feelings. It is important as caregivers that we notice what is going on in our minds and that we understand the emotional impact that the child is having on you. This might be, for example, berating ourselves, feeling like a failure or reacting in frustration. These are defensive responses and reflecting on these can reduce the reoccurrence of these responses. Caregivers can remain connected with themselves through their emotions, and this therefore strengthens the connection with the child.

However, as human beings we are all going to become defensive at times. We get caught up in our own thoughts and feelings. Children will try to invoke a reaction from you and will often be very persistent. They do this to re-create the environment they came from, their normal, and to re-confirm their world view, that the world and the people in it are not safe – grownups are not to be trusted, they will let you down. This behaviour is not conscious which at times is hard to believe.

Remain Open and engaged – ready to actively listen and engage in the situation.

The caregivers’ capacity to stay open and engaged to their children rests on the strength of their ability to emotionally regulate. Remaining emotionally regulated, even when the child is behaving in a way that increases stress, will lead caregivers to be less defensive in their parenting. This is not by any means easy, but by remaining calm in these situations it allows us to stay open and engaged to children  so that we can connect emotionally with them. Young people need a regulated brain to be able to regulate themselves.

Maintain an attitude of PACE.

  • Playfulness, joy in the relationship
  • Acceptance, of the internal experience (what the child is feeling)
  • Curiosity, to discover the child’s world
  • Empathy, communicates understanding and compassion for the child

PACE facilitates connection between the child and caregiver which builds the trust and security in the relationship that may have previously been missing from the child’s experience of being parented. Caregivers who connect with PACE before discipline will help the child to feel understood. The child will be more likely to respond to discipline as a result. By learning to reframe the way we engage with the vulnerable children and young people we care for, we can lessen their meltdowns.

We will explore PACE further in the next addition of Snippets, and build on therapeutic parenting, with natural consequences in future additions.

Foundation for Attachment Training Resource, Kim. S. Golding. 2017

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