Am I alone?

Dear Dena,

I am trying to be a “trauma-mama” and use new trauma-informed parenting skills.  What I am struggling with is this: My kids don’t respond to me speaking nicely and asking them if they will please go do such and such.  I find myself getting exasperated and ending up yelling (and feeling awful about it) but it simply does not work with my kids. I’m willing to try something new, but apparently my kids don’t respond to trauma-informed parenting techniques.

Signed,

Am I Alone??


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Dear Am I Alone,

You are most definitely not alone! But I am not sure the problem is your children…it may be your perception of trauma-informed parenting that is amiss.  Let me try and explain.

Many people get exposed to trauma-informed parenting and take away a message that as a parent you need to be kinder, expect less from your kids, and do whatever it takes not to trigger their emotional responses.  While there is a kernel of truth in these ideas…they miss the point completely if parents are feeling timid, fearful, and dominated by the moods of their children.

Karen Purvis, creator of Trust Based Relational Interventions is known for saying, “Trauma informed parenting is NOT permissive parenting!”  Likewise, Circle of Security, an international attachment parenting program, reminds parents that they are “Bigger, Stronger, Kinder and Wise” to ensure that children feel SAFE in the presence of an “all knowing” adult.  In other words, we actually trigger the very anxiety and reactions that we are trying to address when we as parents are walking on egg-shells and fearful in our interactions.


I regularly hear parents ask their children,

“Will you come put your shoes on?”

or

“Do you mind coming over here?”

or

“Is it okay if we go now?”

or

“What if you have a turn then you let your sister have a turn?  Is that okay with you?”

Needless to say most often the response from their children is a resounding “NO!”


I understand the desire to be respectful and courteous to our kiddos, but what we are actually doing in instilling them with the sense that we are insecure and that we don’t really know what is best for them.  This is scary knowledge to a young one! We need to reassure them we know what is best (because even when we are not certain, we obviously know better than a 4 year old!)) And we have the ability to protect them.  They get to be kids. We will be the adults.


Of course I suggest kindness and courtesy in all human interactions!  But let’s be sure we know what kindness is to a 5 year old. It most certainly isn’t feeling fearful of her parents’ uncertainty and it isn’t letting her call all the shots for her 5 year old world.  It is providing a safe, secure base from which she can explore and then return for recognition and delight. Without that safe, secure base she most likely will explore less, react more, and come to expect that others respond to her moods the way that her anxious parents do.  This is not a kind way to send a child out into the world.


So, when you try on your new trauma-informed skills, practice communicating confidence!  Less asking, more kind directing! Less fear, more comfort and security! Less hesitancy, more trust in yourself to have your child’s best interest at heart!  And if you truly lack the skills or info…go get it! After all, you are Bigger, Kinder, Stronger and Wise!

-Dena Johnson MA, LMHC

Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Attachment-Trauma Focused Therapist, TBRI Practitioner