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Connection Before Correction: Supporting Parents to Meet the Challenges of Parenting Children who have been Traumatised within their Early Parenting Environments

Abstract

This paper is based on a presentation I gave to the Childhood Trauma Conference in Melbourne, Australia, August 2014. Children traumatised within their biological families are described as children who have experienced complex trauma, also called developmental trauma because of the profound impact it has on their development. These children present a range of challenging behaviours within their foster or adoptive families. They respond less well to traditional behavioural management and benefit more from regulatory and relationship-based parenting. This is parenting that focuses on helping the children to regulate their emotional experience through the emotional connection between parent and child before attention is given to the behaviour. Developmentally traumatised children have a foundation of mistrust of parents and thus experience management of behaviour as signs that they are going to be hurt or rejected again. These children need parents who can connect with the child's experience before, or when appropriate instead of, discipline. This is described here as ‘connection before correction’. Correction in this context means helping children to develop pro-social behaviours and to find safe ways to express intense emotional experience. This paper explores the difficulties that the children can experience living in families; how this is expressed through behaviours, and how parents can connect in ways that promote the building of trust and allows successful management of their behaviour.
Connection Before Correction
Supporting parents to meet the challenges of parenting children who
have been traumatized within their early parenting environments
Kim S Golding
Abstract:
This paper is based on a presentation I gave to the Childhood Trauma Conference in
Melbourne, Australia, August 2014.
Children traumatized within their biological families are described as children who have
experienced complex trauma, also called developmental trauma because of the profound
impact it has on their development. These children present a range of challenging
behaviours within their foster or adoptive families. They respond less well to traditional
behavioural management and benefit more from regulatory and relationship based
parenting. This is parenting that focuses on helping the children to regulate their
emotional experience through the emotional connection between parent and child before
attention is given to the behaviour. Developmentally traumatized children have a
foundation of mistrust of parents and thus experience management of behaviour as signs
that they are going to be hurt or rejected again. These children need parents who can
connect with the child’s experience before, or when appropriate instead of, discipline.
This is described here as ‘connection before correction’. Correction in this context
means helping children to develop pro-social behaviours and to find safe ways to
express intense emotional experience. This paper explores the difficulties that the
children can experience living in families; how this is expressed through behaviours and
how parents can connect in ways that promotes the building of trust and allows
successful management of their behaviour.
Key Words:
Attachment; Developmental trauma; Relationship; Connection; Behavioural
Management
Introduction
Parenting children who have been frightened within their early parenting environments
poses particular difficulties for parents, whether they are parenting through fostering,
adoption, kinship care or some other arrangement. Having experienced fear without
resolution in their early environment the children have developed styles of relating to
parents which can make it difficult to nurture, comfort and protect them in the present.
Ordinary parenting, especially the provision of boundaries and discipline, triggers fear
within the children. This leads to increasing insecurity and escalating challenging
behavior. The children mistrust the parents’ motivations and anticipate rejection or hurt
instead of comfort and nurture. If the children can consistently experience emotional
connection with their parents they will build trust and security. The correction implicit
within discipline and boundaries can then be accepted for what it is; a loving parent
helping the child to behave in socially appropriate ways (see also Hughes, 2009;
Golding, 2008, 2013).
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Challenge One: The Development of Mistrust
Secure parent-infant interactions rely on parenting that is attuned, sensitively responsive
and empathic. This experience is necessary for the development of a healthy nervous
system. This provides the foundation for the development of social, emotional,
cognitive and physical health.
When infants do not receive this parenting, but instead experience a frightening early
environment without parental protection, their development will organize around a
nervous system that is prepared for danger. Erikson (1963) suggested that during the
first stage of life the infant’s experience of the world, which comes primarily from the
caregivers, provides an experience of either safety or danger. Erikson calls this the crisis
of trust versus mistrust. Consistent, predictable, reliable and stable nurturing care will
lead to a sense of trust. Erikson describes this as the development of hope. If the care
has been frightening, unpredictable and unreliable then the infant will develop a sense
of mistrust leading to the development of fear. It is this sense of hope/trust or
fear/mistrust that is taken forward to later relationships and will determine whether a
child can feel secure and trusting of others even when threatened.
This development of trust and mistrust, in relation to children traumatized by the early
parenting they experience, has been expanded upon (Baylin, personal communication,
2014). The infant stage of development is a unique time in the parenting of children.
Infant behaviour is relatively simple and focused on eliciting care and learning about the
world, beginning with the social world. At this developmental stage the young child is
not considered to be responsible for his behaviour and therefore does not need
discipline. Because the parents are not concerned with teaching acceptable behavior
they can focus their parenting efforts on providing the infant with nurture and
responsive care. This leads to the experience of trust, leading to the development of a
secure attachment. The infant experiences being loved unconditionally; with this person
I will be loved ‘no matter what’.
Towards the end of the first year increasing maturity leads to a range of skills and
abilities which allow children to move further away from parents to explore the world
around him. The children are becoming mobile and can start to get into mischief!
Something additional has to be added to parenting. This is the process of socialization;
the parents ensure that their children are kept safe and they start the long task of
teaching them how to behave; matched to the values of the community they are living
within. Parents are starting to put boundaries around the children’s behaviours. The
children experience safety in this new aspect to their relationship with their parents
because they already have the experience of being unconditionally loved. They know
they will be loved no matter what. They can manage boundaries upon their behaviour
because of this.
Children who have difficult early experiences have a very different development. The
first year of life for these children is a breeding ground for mistrust rather than for trust;
the children experience love as conditional. Provisions of boundaries and restrictions,
especially in the absence of empathy or warmth only serve to reinforce this
conditionality; ‘you will only be loved if…’, rather than ‘no matter what’. The children
experience unregulated shame and learn to associate boundaries with their developing
sense of self as bad.
This early experience has a profound impact upon the development of the nervous
system as described in Polyvagal Theory (Porges, 2011). The social monitoring system
is becoming sensitised by the early experience of abuse and neglect and the lack of
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safety that this signals. The child becomes hyper-alert to danger, for example
perceptions of rejection, anger, or neglect. This deactivates the social engagement
system, and activates the social defence system within the brain. The children are left
socially defensive and not open and engaged to the influence of others. The nervous
system becomes sensitized to perceptions of danger leading to mobilization (fight, flight
and freeze) and immobilization (faint) in response to this perceived danger. These
behaviours which are not considered to be socially acceptable only serve to increase the
child’s sense of badness and to reinforce the mistrust of others.
Children who mistrust therefore learn to resist authority and to oppose parental
influence. They don't trust in their parents' good intentions. They don't trust in the
unconditional support and love that's on offer to them. They trust in themselves rather
than others. These children develop controlling behaviours as they try to take charge of
their own safety. It feels safer to be in charge than to be influenced by another.
Later as the parenting environment changes, whether because children are placed with
new parents or because of changes the biological parents have made, the parents try to
provide the children with the experience of trust so necessary for emotional wellbeing.
This is more challenging now. The children are older and therefore cannot be shown
unconditional love and care without the parents also attending to their behaviour.
Children need discipline and boundaries but they still need to experience unconditional
relationships. The development of trust and the provision of socialization experience,
through discipline and boundaries, have to develop together rather than sequentially.
Parents try to get around this by telling the children that they love them, but they don’t
like the behavior. The children however experience such strong feelings of shame;
experienced as a sense of being bad, that they cannot make this distinction; if their
behavior is bad it is because they are bad. To help a child recover from mistrust the
parent has to help him to develop a different less shame-based sense of self. The parent
offers the child connection and understanding through which unconditional love is
communicated whilst also empathically providing structure and boundaries.
Challenge Two: Avoidance of an Intersubjective Relationship
An intersubjective relationship is one within which experience is shared. This is a
reciprocal relationship because each person is open to influencing the other and being
influenced by them. This is based upon an experience of shared affective states, joint
attention and congruent, complimentary intentions.
Safety and intersubjectivity are interwoven. The attachment relationship, which is a
hierarchical relationship, "I look to you to keep me safe and well, I do not need to keep
you safe and well" (Bowlby, 1973; 1980; 1982) is complemented by the intersubjective
relationship which is non-hierarchical. “I influence you, I'm open to influence from
you” (Trevarthen, 2001). Children need both relationship experiences to thrive.
Imagine a parent and infant both absorbed in the relationship with each other. The only
thing in the parent's mind is the baby; the only thing in the baby's mind is the parent.
This is an important, early experience for an infant. It is the beginning of connection;
the beginning of intersubjective relationship. The infant is already discovering that he is
effective in relationships. The infant is experiencing a sense of efficacy which will later
allow the development of a sense of autonomy.
Imagine instead an infant being held by a depressed parent who is not able to achieve
this absorption with her infant. The intersubjective connection is absent. The infant
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looks in the parent's eyes and sees nothing. Alternatively the infant might look in the
parent's eyes and see fear, or terror or hatred. These experiences are frightening; the
infant stops looking. Later the child is with a healthy parent who is ready to show love
and kindness to the child. The child does not look into this parent’s eyes. The memory
of the fear stays with him and he avoids her gaze. This child is no longer open to the
intersubjective relationship.
Children who experience neglect, lack early intersubjective experience. They feel not
special. They feel not loveable.
Children who experience anger, fear or rejection, experience terror and shame when
they seek connection.
These children learn to avoid intersubjective experience. They disconnect from
relationships and become controlling instead.
Parenting children who are not open to connection within the relationship can have a
negative impact upon the parents. The parents offer relationship and the children
respond with rejection and hostility or with a clinginess that suggests the parent cannot
soothe and comfort the child. This can trigger worries, fears and beliefs within the
parent. “Am I a bad parent?”; “Maybe I can't do this.”; “Maybe this is the wrong
placement?"
The lack of intersubjectivity impacts on the parents’ beliefs about themselves. They
start to feel a sense of failure as parents. They feel unsafe with the child. The parents
now withdraw from the intersubjective relationship. They try to manage the children
without connecting with them.
At this stage the parents need support more than they need behavioural advice. Support
leads to resilience to continue caregiving despite their fears and doubts.
If the parents can find ways to stay connected to the children, then they can help the
children to become more open to relationship. As intersubjectivity becomes possible the
children experience a relationship within which they can heal.
Challenge Three: Overwhelmed by Shame
Shame is an emotion that develops in toddlers at the same time parents are starting to
provide boundaries and discipline. The experience of shame is part of the process of
teaching children acceptable behavior. Imagine a child running out into the road. What
does the parent do? She pulls him back. She tells him: "Don't you ever do that again."
The parent and child are no longer in an attuned relationship; there has been a
relationship rupture. This is such an unpleasant experience that the child experiences
shame. The parent then repairs the relationship. This helps the child to regulate the
experience of shame and the relationship returns to a state of attunement. The parent lets
the child know that no matter how bad he feels it will always be okay again. The child
learns that the relationship is stronger than any particular moment in time. The
attunement – break – repair experience (as described by Schore, 1994) is an important
part of the parenting the child needs in order to experience being loved unconditionally
whilst having limits put on his behavior.
When children experience poor attunement and the parent does not repair the
relationship the children become trapped in feelings of shame without being able to
regulate this emotion. The experience of shame builds up into toxic unregulated shame
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which influences the children’s developing sense of identity; the children develop a
sense of being bad. The children have to develop a shield to defend against how bad this
feels. This shield against shame is demonstrated through a range of behaviours
including lying, blaming others, minimizing and raging.
Figure 1. Shield against Shame (Golding & Hughes, 2012)
Behavioural management strategies, aimed at the children reducing these behaviours,
demonstrating remorse and making amends, just serves to increase the sense of shame
and the shield is reinforced. The children need parents to help them to regulate the
shame. This is done through connection with the children’s internal experiences. As the
children experience the parent understanding their anxieties, worries and fears, the
behaviours will start to reduce. Now the children can experience remorse and want to
make amends. Connection before correction allows children to experience an attuned
relationship. They learn that relationships can always be repaired, and that they are
loved unconditionally.
Challenge Four: Miscuing parent about attachment needs
Bowlby (1973; 1980; 1982), in his development of attachment theory, demonstrated the
compatibility of two innate drives; to attach and to explore. Much like the connection
between the two ends of a seesaw, attachment and exploration inter-relate. When the
child needs comfort and protection attachment needs are activated, and the child seeks
comfort and protection. As these needs are met the attachment needs can deactivate and
exploration needs increase with the associated drive to learn about the world. The secure
child moves smoothly between seeking comfort and seeking exploration, supported by
the attuned, sensitive caregiver. This in turn leads to the development of an internal
working model of self and others. The child develops a sense of self as effective,
worthwhile and loveable and others as loving, supportive and protective. This model
builds resilience, helping the child to be successful in later relationships, and to manage
adversity when it arises.
These children have a secure attachment; the attachment pattern of relating that a child
develops when a parent is experienced as sensitive and responsive to their emotional
needs. The child learns to trust others and also age-appropriate self-reliance.
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Rage
You always blam e me.
I’m rubbish
Lie
I didn’t
do it
Mimimize
It wasnt so
bad
Blame
Its his
fault
Figure 2. See-Saw metaphor: Secure Attachment
Children who do not have the experience of a secure attachment will develop patterns of
relating adapted to the anticipated unavailability of the parent. They miscue the parent
as to their attachment needs by displaying attention needing behaviours (ambivalent,
resistant attachment pattern) or self reliant behaviours (avoidant attachment pattern).
The children behave in ways that maximize the chance that parents will be available
when needed. The disorganized controlling pattern emerges as children take these
patterns to extremes in the face of frightening caregiving. These children anticipate that
parents will be frightening and therefore make strenuous efforts to take control in order
to reduce their sense of fear. When this fails their behavior disorganizes into highly
stressed, dysregulated or dissociated behaviours.
Mary Dozier studied what happened to attachment patterns of relating when toddlers
moved into their foster/adoptive homes. These children would lead the attachment
dance and the parents responded in kind. Therefore parents would behave as if the
children did not need them when the children demonstrated avoidant attachment
patterns or would behave angrily when the children demonstrated an ambivalent-
resistant attachment pattern and would not be comforted by them. (Dozier et al, 2006).
It appears that the parents respond to the miscuing of the children and try to meet the
needs that are being expressed but overlook the pattern of hidden needs that the children
are not displaying.
To return to the see-saw analogy, children with an ambivalent-resistant pattern are like a
see-saw stuck in one position; with attachment needs permanently activated. This is the
attachment pattern or style of relating that develops when attachment needs are
triggered but the child has experienced the parent as inconsistent and unpredictable. The
child maximizes the expression of attachment need in order to maintain the availability
of the parent.
Figure 3. See-Saw metaphor: Ambivalent-resistant Attachment
These children express their continuing need for comfort and protection. They express,
"You are unpredictable, I can't trust in your availability. I need you to attend to me all
the time." In order to keep expressing this need they have to hide their exploration
needs. "I will not show my need to separate and explore. I will pull you in and push you
away to keep you noticing me." The parents are miscued about what the children are
experiencing because the children are expressing their needs on the basis of their
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EAAttachment activated
Need comfort and
protection
Exploration activated
Explore and learn
Attachment activated
Need comfort and
protection
A
E
expectations of the parents rather than upon how they feel internally. They express,
"Stay with me, notice me, attend to me," they hide, "Okay, I can do this. I'm
comfortable enough to be apart from you at the moment."
The parents try to meet the expressed need, "I will reassure you that I am available. I
will be here when you really need me." This does not soothe the child and the parents
express frustration that they can’t meet the need. The child’s expectation that parents
will be inconsistent and unpredictable is confirmed.
Parents need to provide a high level of structure and consistent routines so that the child
can begin to trust in the predictability of the parenting. They need to co-regulate the
emotion that the child is expressing but not managing. They also need to be mindful of
the hidden needs. Mary Dozier suggests that they gently challenge the hidden needs.
The child needs help to be apart and to feel secure that the parent will be there when
needed.
Children with an avoidant attachment pattern have the seesaw stuck in the opposite
position. This is the attachment pattern or style of relating that develops when
attachment needs are triggered but the child has experienced the parent as rejecting. The
child minimizes the expression of attachment need in order to maintain the availability
of the parent.
Figure 4. See-Saw metaphor: Avoidant Attachment
These children display a lack of need. They miscue the parent by acting like they want
to explore at times when they need comfort. The children anticipate that any displays of
need will lead the parents to withdraw and become unavailable when they are most
needed. They express, “I will do it by myself. I fear my need of you. I will push you
away”." they hide, "I will not show my need for comfort and soothing."
The parents try to meet the expressed need by letting the children manage on their own.
The children’s expectation that parents will not be their when needed is confirmed.
Parents need to gently challenge the hidden needs by providing comfort and safety at
times when they predict that the children will need this. The children can begin to trust
that their emotional needs will not overwhelm the parents. Parents also need to co-
regulate the emotion that the children are hiding but not managing. In this way parents
can help the children to feel comfortable needing and being helped by them.
Children with disorganized, controlling patterns of relating are more complex. This is
the attachment pattern or style of relating that develops when attachment needs are
triggered but the child has experienced the parent as frightened or frightening. The child
experiences difficulty organizing his or her behaviour at times of stress. As they grow
older children with these patterns of relating under stress learn to control relationships
to force predictability. Controlling relationships develop instead of reciprocal
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Exploration activated
Explore and learn A
E
relationships; the child wants to influence the other without being open to influence
from the other.
The secure base is frightening the world is scary and so the children try to take charge.
They express "I will not rely on you. Relying on you is dangerous. I must be in control."
They control through highly self-reliant, rejecting behaviours that keep parents at a
distance and/or through highly coercive behaviours that keep parents attending to them.
They hide away their need to explore the world and their need for comfort and nurture,
except on their terms. It is a challenge for the parents to meet the hidden needs whilst
trying to deal with the impact of the expressed needs. These children need safety and
low stress environments but behave in ways that reduce safety and increase stress.
Therefore when attachment and connection feel dangerous, prior experience influences
how a child responds. Miscuing occurs through patterns of hidden and expressed needs.
Parents need to be available, responsive and gently challenging. The parents are
challenging hard-won beliefs. "Parents can't keep you safe”; “Parents are dangerous”;” I
am so bad, nothing you can do or say will change this”; or, "I should take care of you,
and not expect you to take care of me". They need parents who can accurately interpret
the child's need for nurturance despite the miscues the child is giving. They connect
with the hidden experience of the child whilst at the same time providing the boundaries
needed to keep the child safe; connection with correction.
Meeting these challenges: Therapeutic Parenting
Therapeutic parenting helps children to trust in the parent and to become comfortable
with reciprocal intersubjective relationships; being open to influence as well as
influencing. Parents will have to regulate powerful feelings of shame in the child and
meet hidden as well as expressed attachment needs. All of this occurs alongside
parenting that provides consistent and developmentally appropriate boundaries and
discipline. Connection with correction is a useful parenting approach to achieve these
goals. This approach relies on the caregivers having good mentalization abilities and
being able to understand and use PACE (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity and
empathy) within their parenting.
Mentalization (the ability to be mind-minded)
Mentalization; being mind-minded towards self and others is an ability that we develop
as we mature (Fonagy et al, 2002). It relies on having good Theory of Mind; the ability
to understand that you and others have minds, with their internal world of thoughts,
feelings, beliefs and desires. In order to connect with children the parent first has to be
able to make sense of the internal experience of the child. In turn the parent can help the
child discover his own mind, to organize his experience, and eventually to help him put
into words what he is experiencing. This increases the child’s capacity for regulation
that has begun to develop within the relationship with an attuned, sensitive parent.
It is also important that parents notice their own minds; especially understanding and
managing the emotional impact that the child is having upon them.
This is different from more traditional parenting advice based on social learning theory.
Traditional advice relies on problem solving based on understanding the environmental
contingencies that make behaviours more or less likely to happen. Parenting techniques
are suggested with the goal of managing these contingencies in order to increase the
frequency of behaviours the parent wants the child to display. Put simply the parent is
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advised to reward good behaviour and ignore or provide a negative consequence for bad
behaviour.
Parenting advice which focuses on connection before correction has much less focus on
immediate problem-solving and advice giving and more focus on curious exploration.
The parent notices her own experience of the child and is compassionate towards
herself. The parent is then curious about the experience of the child and finds ways to
connect emotionally with that experience. This is not instead of discipline; the parent
also provides structure, supervision and/or consequences to help the child feel safe and
to learn appropriate behaviours. Understanding the emotional age of the child is
important to guide the correct level of these.
PACE
The parenting attitude of PACE was developed by Dan Hughes in order to help parents
to emotionally connect to their children (see Hughes, 2011; Golding & Hughes, 2012).
PACE is an acronym to express the importance of having a playful connection,
accepting the child’s inner world, being curious about the meaning underlying behavior,
and empathically connecting with the child’s emotional state.
P = playfulness
The main aim of playfulness is to enjoy having a relationship with the child. This helps
the child to experience and be open to positive experiences. In relational play, the child
experiences a sense of fun and enjoyment. A different part of the brain is active
compared to when the child is experiencing a state of shame. Playfulness is therefore
protective. A playful relationship helps everyone to feel good, to experience joy and
laughter. It facilitates social bonding. A playful attitude conveys optimism that things
can change. It demonstrates that the child is experienced positively.
A = Acceptance
Acceptance creates an experience of psychological safety. The focus is on acceptance of
internal experience; the thoughts, feelings, wishes, beliefs, desires and hopes that all
people carry inside themselves. In accepting the internal experience of the other we are
communicating our understanding of this experience, that we are comfortable in
knowing it and that we are not going to disregard or challenge it. Your experience is
your experience; it is neither right nor wrong, it just is. When parenting children we
may not tolerate particular behaviours, but we will accept the experience underneath
this behaviour. Acceptance therefore means becoming aware of the inner life of another
without trying to change it. When inner life is accepted, behavioural conflicts are easier
to resolve and also less likely to occur.
C = Curiosity
Curiosity is a powerful tool in parenting. If we're not curious, we make rapid judgments
leading to non-reflective action. This can shut down our relationship with another. By
staying curious we avoid becoming defensive. In other words the parent stays open and
engaged to the child; this in turn reduces the child’s defensiveness and leads him into
being open and engaged to the influence of the parent. Curiosity is an attitude of not
knowing, making guesses; wondering rather than interpreting. It is a tentative
wondering that comes out of the experience of the child. Curiosity is what helps the
parent to be mind-minded. The parent attunes to the child’s inner experience;
connecting emotionally with this. Parenting that builds relationships is parenting that is
also curious and reflective.
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E = Empathy
Empathy is the ability to feel with someone. We experience the other’s emotional state
whilst staying in a regulated state ourselves. The parent matches the affective
experience of the child. If a child is angry the parent will match the intensity of this
experience without getting angry herself. Empathy is at the heart of what makes us
social. Through empathy we build relationships and make connections. When we
express empathy, we're expressing our understanding of the other. Empathy helps us to
stay with the feelings for longer, avoiding a precipitous desire to reassure, to make
things better or to solve the problem. We instead share the experience, leading to a
deeper relationship within which we might eventually be able to help, built on a more
solid foundation of understanding and acceptance.
A parent can't directly change a child's experience. A parent can change her response to
it. If a parent responds differently over time she will notice the child changing the way
he behaves or communicates. PACE helps the parent to do this. Play brings pleasure
and joy; a fun connection to the child. Curiosity is the search for knowing when you do
not know. Curiosity leads to different understanding. You come to know the other's
experience more fully. With different understanding comes a deeper acceptance of the
child and his experience. The child experiences this increased understanding and
acceptance through empathy. Empathy builds attachment. The child feels more secure
in being deeply understood.
Connection with Correction
Mentalization and PACE within parenting allows the parent to emotionally connect with
the child. This provides the child with the experience of being understood and
unconditionally loved. This connection provides the security that allows the child to
cope with restrictions on behaviour. Correction becomes about behaviour when the
child is confident in the unconditional love from the parents. Without this confidence
correction signals that the child is bad and this parent will be lost too. Building
connection whilst also providing correction is challenging; the parent has to help the
child to experience an unconditional relationship whilst also providing conditions on his
behaviour.
Parents of children traumatized within early parenting environments have to build trust
and security whilst also managing behaviour. They need to combine PACE with
behaviour management. PACE is the connection; behaviour management is the
correction. The child experiences discipline in a more open and trusting manner because
they are also experiencing that they matter to the parent. They are loved no matter what.
PACE expresses this unconditional love. The child can be confident of the parent's good
intentions and belief in him. PACE brings parent and child back to the relationship.
Principles of parenting with connection and correction
1. The two hands of parenting
Hand one provides connection with warmth and nurture. It gives the child
appropriate autonomy matched to his developmental and emotional age.
Hand two provides structure, supervision and boundaries.
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A child needs both of these; connection and correction.
2. Connection before correction and no correction without understanding
The parent needs to reflect on the behavior they are experiencing from the child,
gain some understanding of what might be underneath this behavior and connect
to this internal experience. This will reduce and regulate the shame the child is
experiencing. Correction will be tempered with empathy, and will be more
easily accepted by the child.
3. Avoid lectures and delay problem-solving
Lectures increase shame and defensive responding, therefore they have little
impact upon a child’s behavior. Making sense of behavior is more like telling a
story. Children can become much more open and engaged to understanding
themselves through this story. This can lead to some useful problem-solving
later, so that correction becomes part of developing pro-social abilities rather
than learning to avoid punishment.
4. Avoid punishing with the relationship and the adult takes responsibility for
relationship repair
The relationship is unconditional and therefore should not be withdrawn to
encourage the child to improve their behavior. This would give a message of
conditionality instead. Sometimes the parents need to withdraw in order to take
care of themselves. The child is helped to understand that this is about the
parents looking after themselves and it is not about coercing the child to behave
differently. In the same way relationship repair is the adults’ responsibility,
again giving the child a powerful sense of being important to the parents.
5. Provide a parenting cycle of attunement-rupture-reattunement
Children need to experience attunement. There will be inevitable breaks to this
attunment which lead to ruptures in the relationship. The relationship repair
ensures that the relationship is back on track and that the child is again
experiencing attunement.
Putting it all together: 7 steps for parenting the insecure child
Parenting a child with connection and correction can be understood by breaking it down
into 7 steps. By keeping these steps in mind it is easier to stay open and engaged with
the child rather than becoming defensive within parenting. This in turn helps to make an
emotional connection with the child whilst also providing some behavioural
management. When a parent connects before correcting, the child will experience
unconditional love and acceptance alongside the safety which empathic boundaries and
discipline can provide.
Step one. Notice what is happening. Do I need to step in? What immediate steps do I
need to do to ensure everyone’s safety?
Step two. Pause for a moment and think: "What is the impact on me? Am I regulated?
Can I stay open and engaged? Am I becoming defensive? If I'm becoming defensive, do
I need a break or can I get back to being open and engaged? Can I be compassionate to
myself?" Obviously in the midst of behaviour, the parent may not have much time to do
this but just taking a moment to notice this can help the parent to stay regulated. It may
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also be helpful to notice reactions which can be reflected upon later with more time and
with a trusted other.
Step three. Do I need to help regulate the child? Is the child open for some reflection?
What part of the child's brain is activated at the moment? Do I need to provide sensory
regulation? Do I need to emotionally regulate? Or can I help him to reflect.
Step four. Curiosity and understanding. Reflect with the child, or if this is not possible
on his behalf. Make sense of what's going on. What is my best guess of what the child's
internal emotional experience is at this moment, remembering that internal experience is
neither right nor wrong, it just is. I'm not going to judge it.
Step five. Demonstrate acceptance and empathy to connect with the child around the
best guess of what his emotional experience is. How can I help him to know that I get
it?
Step six. The correction. Do I need to do anything further? Do I need to provide a
consequence? Do we need to do some problem-solving?
Step Seven. Repair the relationship. Let the child know he is loved unconditionally. It
may have felt tough but the relationship is stronger. Together we have got through it.
In more traditional parenting the parent is likely to jump from step one to step six with
steps two to five getting lost on the way. Connection before correction is the longer
route to parenting as the parent works through all seven steps. It is this longer route that
will allow trauma to be healed and the child to be able to experience safety within
parenting.
Conclusion
When the parent-child relationship is the source of insecurity, and even more so when it
is traumatic for the child, the attachment relationship becomes compromised.
Additionally the child becomes fearful of entering into an intersubjective relationship.
The child experiences mistrust and fear and enters a state of pervasive shame. The child
feels helpless even when experiencing ordinary, safe parenting. He anticipates
abandonment as he anticipates that love will be conditional.
The parents may also withdraw from the intersubjective relationship as they experience
rejection, hostility or clinginess.
The child miscues the parents by developing a pattern of expressing and hiding needs in
order to maintain some fragile feeling of security. The parents need to be compassionate
to themselves so that they can maintain the resilience needed to parent the child. They
need to understand the child’s fears and how these have led to the patterns of relating.
Meeting expressed needs only maintains insecurity. The parent has to also gently
challenge the child to meet the hidden needs.
Therapeutic parenting increases safety, builds trust and facilitates connection. The child
experiences healthy dependency as they enter into an intersubjective and more secure
attachment relationship. This healthy dependency provides the foundation for successful
independence. Therapeutic parenting also contains and manages behaviour whilst
maintaining this emotional connection. Connection and then correction provides the
child with a sense of unconditional love, worth and safety within the relationship from
which they can learn socially appropriate behaviours and a healthy ability to relate.
- 12 -
“In a time so filled with methods and techniques designed to change people, to
influence their behavior, and to make them do new things and think new
thoughts, we have lost the simple but difficult gift of being present to each
other”. (Nouwen, et al. 2008, pp11-12)
References
Bowlby, J. (1969/1982) Attachment and loss, Vol. 1 Attachment (2nd Edition 1982),
London: Hogarth Press; NY: Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1973) Attachment and loss, Vol. II Separation, anxiety and anger. NY:
Basic Books. (1975, Harmondsworth: Penguin)
Bowlby, J. (1980) Attachment and loss. Vol. III Loss: Sadness and depression. NY:
Basic Books (1981 Harmondsworth: Penguin)
Dozier, M.; Knights, M. & Peloso, E. (2006) Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up:
An intervention for foster parents. In K. S. Golding (Ed) Briefing Paper: Attachment
Theory into Practice. The Faculty for Children & Young People of the Division of
Clinical Psychology, The British Psychological Society
Erikson, E. H. (Ed.). (1963). Youth: Change and challenge. New York: Basic books.
Fonagy, P., Gyorgy, G., Jurist, E.J., Target, M. (2002). Affect regulation, mentalization,
and the development of the self. New York: Other press.
Golding K. S. (2008) Nurturing Attachments. Supporting Children who are Fostered or
Adopted London: London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Golding K. S. (2013) Nurturing Attachments Training Resource Running Parenting
Groups for Adoptive Parents and Foster or Kinship Carers. London: Jessica Kingsley
Publishers
Golding, K. & Hughes, D. (2012). Creating Loving Attachments. Parenting with PACE
to nurture confidence and security in the troubled child. London: Jessica Kingsley
Publishers.
Hughes, D.H. (2009) Attachment focused parenting. Effective strategies to care for
children. New York: WW Norton co & Inc.
Hughes, D. (2011). Attachment-focused family therapy workbook. New York: Norton.
Nouwen, H. J. M.; McNeill, D. & Morrison, D. (2008) Compassion: A reflection on the
Christian life. London: Darton, Longman & Todd Ltd
Porges, S. (2011). The polyvagal theory: neurophysiological foundations of emotions,
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Schore, A. N. (1994) Affect regulation and the origin of self: The neurobiology of
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Trevarthen, C. (2001). Intrinsic motives for companionship in understanding: their
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journal, 22, 95-131.
- 13 -
Note: The author would like to acknowledge the contribution of Dan Hughes.
‘Connection before correction’ is a term that he used in his training and this, and other
wisdom of his, developed Kim’s understanding leading to the development of this
parenting approach.
- 14 -
... Importantly, these results are in line with previous research (Selwyn et al., 2016) and support the premise that the group content facilitates an increased ability for individuals (professionals and coprofessionals) to be better able to support, 'parent' (Golding, 2015) and care for traumatised children. The findings for the PRFQ do however require a contextual perspective as this is the first study to use the PRFQ for professionals and co-professionals following completion of the Nurturing Attachments Group. ...
Article
Background: Evidence indicates that the more traditional and behavioural parenting strategies are ineffective when parenting a child who has experienced developmental trauma. Recognising the need to parent with an attachment focus, the current paper evaluates the effectiveness of running the [Enfys] Nurturing Attachments Group, virtually, within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Method: A pilot feasibility study evaluated eight bespoke groups. Consenting professionals and co-professionals completed the Brief Parental Self-Efficacy Scale (BFSS), Care Questionnaire (CQ) and the Parental Reflective Functioning Questionnaire (PRFQ). Results: One hundred forty individuals attended the groups, with 51 (36%) completing both pre-and post-measures. The results provide evidence that professionals and co-professionals reported statistically significant positive increases on both the BPSS ( d = .55) and CQ ( d = .62). For the PRFQ, the results showed a statistically significant decrease on the Pre-mentalising sub scale, a non-significant mid-range score for Certainty about Mental States and a non-significant increase for Parental Interest and Curiosity in Mental States. Conclusion: The study has demonstrated initial viability of effectively facilitating the [Enfys] Nurturing Attachments Group, virtually. Importantly, it has also shown that the group can be run with professionals alongside co-professionals.
... 'Laughing together' illustrates the role of intersubjectivity in developing relationships (Trevarthen & Aitken, 2001). In infancy, the attachment relationship, in which the child seeks proximity to the caregiver, is complemented by intersubjectivity, the non-hierarchical, reciprocal sharing of affect and attention (Golding, 2014). Within Ther-aplay®, connecting through intersubjective experience is viewed as necessary for building a trusting relationship and developing a child's sense of themselves as worthy (Booth & Jernberg, 2010). ...
Article
Aim: This article explores the experience of a team of staff from psychology, occupational therapy and educational backgrounds in setting up a play-based therapy group in a secure hospital for adolescents. This is a specialised environment for adolescents with complex presentations, who have often experienced early relational trauma and have a variety of emotional and developmental difficulties which have impacted on their access to play earlier in childhood. Method: Thematic analysis was conducted on interviews with the staff facilitating the group. Findings: The staff team reflected on the group's aims of building confidence, improving social skills, enhancing relationships between young people and staff and regulating arousal. Emerging themes illustrated the benefits of a more permissive forum, characterised by 'less correction, more connection,' within an environment requiring extensive risk management. Deeper connections with others were felt to allow the young people to feel 'safe to explore' and become 'disarmed.' Limitations: Whilst this study offers a rich description of the group within the service context and the perceived benefits, further research is required to draw statistical conclusions about the benefits to the individuals attending. Conclusions: Piloting the group demonstrated feasibility and a variety of potential benefits to the adolescents involved. The group was relatively easy to implement and could be of interest to child and educational psychologists in a variety of settings.
Article
Importance: Exposure to adverse childhood experiences substantially increases the risk of chronic health problems. Originally designed to treat child conduct problems, parent management training programs have been shown to be effective in preventing children from being exposed to further adversity and supporting children's recovery from adversity; however, there are increasing concerns that a core component of these programs, the discipline strategy time-out, may be harmful for children with a history of exposure to adversity. Objective: To investigate the comparative benefits and potential harms to children exposed to adversity that are associated with parenting programs that include time-out. Design, setting, and participants: This nonrandomized waiting list-controlled clinical study was conducted at a specialist clinic for the treatment of conduct problems in Sydney, Australia. The self-referred sample included children with conduct problems and their caregivers. Eligibility was confirmed through clinician-administered interviews. Data were collected between February 14, 2018, and February 1, 2021. Interventions: Caregivers participated in a 10-session, social learning-based parent management training program. Caregivers were provided with parenting strategies aimed at encouraging desired behaviors through effective reinforcement and managing misbehavior through consistent limit setting, including the use of time-outs. Main outcomes and measures: The primary outcome was the parent-reported Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire score, and secondary outcomes included subscale scores from the clinician-administered Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children, Adolescents, and Parents. Multi-informant measures of child adversity were collected using the parent-reported Adverse Life Experiences Scale and the clinician-rated Maltreatment Index. Results: A total of 205 children were included in analysis (156 in the full intervention and 49 in the control condition; 158 boys [77.1%]; mean [SD] age, 5.6 [1.8] years [range, 2-9 years]). Compared with children with low adversity exposure, children with high adversity exposure showed greater reductions in the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire score from baseline (mean difference, 3.46 [95% CI, 1.51-5.41]; P < .001) to after treatment (mean difference, 1.49 [95% CI, -0.46 to 3.44]; P = .13) and in the internalizing symptom subscale score (baseline mean difference, 1.00 [95% CI, -2,00 to 0.00]; P = .50; posttreatment mean difference, 0.06 [95% CI, -0.82 to 0.94]; P = .90). No significant differences in the externalizing symptom subscale score were found. Conclusions and relevance: In this nonrandomized clinical study, children with high exposure to adversity experienced equivalent, if not greater, benefits associated with parenting programs that include time-out compared with children with low exposure to adversity. Results suggest that time-out was an effective component of parenting programs for children exposed to adversity. Trial registration: anzctr.org.au Identifier: ACTRN12617001472369.
Chapter
This chapter looks at teaching approaches, assessment, inclusion and exclusion, and special educational needs in the light of neuroplasticity. These include concerns about general mental well-being, behaviour, trauma-informed teaching, teaching approaches that encourage inclusion and the social aims of learning communities. There is a consideration of positive behaviour-changing solutions. The latest psychological advice and evidence is discussed around how childhood experiences affect teenage and adult mental development. There is an explanation of current thinking about trauma-informed, adaptable approaches and therapies. There is a discussion around cultural diversity, valuable differences and similarities and the urgent need to encourage the establishment of friendly; culturally informed and respectful; accepting and supportive learning communities. Relevant and current backup data references are included in the references list for topics discussed in this chapter.
Article
Background The Gwent Attachment Service trained four pupil referral units (PRUs) staff in attachment- and trauma-informed work. Education staff received 2 days of training and then attended six skills development sessions (SDSs) on a monthly basis to embed the training concepts into their work. This model takes a “whole systems approach” to intervention, drawing on evidence suggesting that having a supportive and consistent system around a child that takes into account their attachment needs leads to better outcomes. Methods Self-reported knowledge of attachment- and trauma-informed work, confidence in carrying out this work, and worries about implementing this work were collected from 64 education staff members across the four PRUs. Measures were repeated at three time points: pre-training, post-training, and post-SDS. Results Knowledge and confidence increased from pre- to post-training. Knowledge did not significantly differ between post-training and post-SDS. Confidence was lower at post-SDS than post-training but remained above pre-training ratings. Worries decreased from pre- to post-training and decreased again post-SDS. Conclusion Training and SDSs can improve teaching staffs’ perception of their knowledge and confidence, while reducing worries about working in an attachment- and trauma-informed way. SDSs decreased worries about working in an attachment- and trauma-informed way over and above training alone, indicating that the SDSs contribute added value. This study presents a promising starting point for improving the lives of children and young people who have experienced trauma and have attachment difficulties.
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