Parenting and Family Strategies and Rules
- Spend “special" time with each child each day, even if only 10 to 15 minutes
- Be a good listener
- Notice the behaviors you like in your child ten times more than the behaviors you don’t like
- Don’t tell a child ten times to do something.
- Expect a child to comply the first time
- Never discipline a child when you are angry or out of control - take a time-out
- Enforce consequences in a matter-of-fact and unemotional way
- Don’t nag or yell or criticize your child
- Give a child choices between alternatives: you can choose A or you can choose B and this is the consequence - it is your choice
- Get on the “same page” with your partner or other parent and support each other.
- Never disagree or go against the other parent in front of the child: talk about your disagreement in private and, if you change your mind, present a united front to the child
- Remember, you are always role-modeling how your child will act – good and bad
- Make sure you take time for yourselves as parents so that you can nourish each other and yourself
- Teach your children from your own experiences - children love to hear about their parent’s lives and how they dealt with their own problems.
What The Best Dads (and Moms) Do To Raise Badass Daughters Or [What Dads and Moms Do to Empower their Daughters]
If my dad hadn't been so supportive, I probably would have never traveled the world solo at nineteen, let alone founded my own company.
There's plenty of discussion on how to get more women to become leaders, entrepreneurs, engineers, and scientists, and I believe fathers play a big part in making that happen.
While the community I grew up in molded young girls into future stay-at-home-moms, my dad was teaching me that the world was my oyster. His parenting has undoubtedly shaped me into the fearless female entrepreneur and rapper that I have become.
Dads (and Moms), here's what you can do to help your daughters become badasses, no matter what they want to become:
1. Let them know it's okay to be different
In our social media-driven world, it's extremely hard for people to not care about what others think. I'm not got going to lie: my mom and I haven't always loved my dad wearing all camo, calf-high wool green military socks, and a floppy outdoors hat. But I've come to really respect how he is so unapologetically himself, without worrying what others think. It's kind of the ultimate freedom. Entrepreneurs get a lot of praise after they've become successful, but much of their journey is filled with criticism and people doubting or questioning them, especially when they're trying to do something really different that's never been done before. If you're going to survive the endless roller coaster of entrepreneurship, you can't let this get to you.
Even if your daughter doesn't want to be an entrepreneur, she should know that it's totally fine to be different and do things differently--whether that's how she dresses, thinks, or what makes her happy.
2. Teach self-reliance
My dad has never told me, "Don't worry, a [boy/guy/man] can do that for you." He always supported my independence, telling me that I could accomplish anything I wanted with enough hard work and the right strategy.
Since I was four, he encouraged me to think of ways I could make my own money--whether that was picking walnuts for cash, selling fruit, or some other side hustle. Around that time he helped me open my own bank account and taught me how to save and invest my money. By age five, I had already saved more than a hundred dollars and was buying the toys I wanted with my own money.
3. Sharpen their minds like a sword
For as long as I can remember, time in the car with my biologist dad meant solving math, science, or word problems. Asking questions and thinking about why and how things worked was always encouraged. And he would ask me questions to make me think too, whether we were observing animals in nature or how people make decisions.
Empower your daughters to ask "why" and teach them strong critical thinking skills so they can make better decisions for themselves.
4. Always have their backs
I've been a rule-breaker and rebel since kindergarten. Luckily, the world is now a much friendlier place for girls than it was for my mother or grandmothers, but girls still have lots of things up against them. I constantly got in trouble in elementary school for rejecting gender norms and fighting outdated rules and chauvinistic policies. Thankfully, no matter how many times the Principal would call my house, my dad always had my back.
Merely knowing my dad was there for me--even if the most he could give me was his sympathetic ear--meant a lot. This still gives me the strength to keep hustling and persevering on the toughest days.
5. Praise intelligence and work ethic --rather than looks
Instead of focusing on my appearance, my dad gave me praise for solving hard problems, getting good grades, and learning new things. Instead of saying things like, "You're so pretty," I would hear, him say, "You're so smart; you can do anything" or "I'm so proud of you; you're such a hard worker."
While these are simple little things, dads' comments have a huge impact on daughters' sense of self-worth and how they shape their identities and careers.
6. Encourage risk taking
I am a daredevil because of my dad. Whether I was jumping off the roof with a rope swing or traveling around the world solo as a teenager, he encouraged me to be just as fearless as any boy--if not more so.
I was at one of the lowest and most broke points in my life when I started my company. Pretty much everyone thought I was crazy and reckless; most of them told me to "try to go get a job with Google"--but not my dad.
He reminded me that if I didn't do this now, when would I ever do it? And better yet: if you have nothing, what do you really have to lose?
7. Love them even when they fail.
My dad has often been the first person I called when I'm facing a crisis. I always know that I can tell him anything, and that he will listen to my problems without judging me for my mistakes. He always ends these conversations with, "Okay, I wish you the best of luck, but just know I love you no matter what."
And somehow that always makes daunting challenges and failure a little bit less scary
Pick your battles and win the war (with pre-adolescents and teens)
There are so many opportunities with teenagers to argue and fight about what they want to do, who they want to do it with, how they want to dress, color their hair, insert metal into their mouth, nose, ears or other places that you’d rather not think about. But, you can’t argue or fight over everything-you won’t have enough energy to do what you want or need to do in life. You have to give a little (as long as the teen is not in any danger and it is up to you whether you consider tattoos or piercing is dangerous) so that you can stand up for what you believe is really important.
As a rule of thumb, there is an 80/20 rule that says 80% of the time, you can agree to disagree but 20% of the time, you will get your way. In other words, you will choose to fight 20% of the time and hope that nothing terrible happens to your child the other 80% of the time. In this way, what you fight for will take on added importance since you have not vetoed your teen on the other 80% of what he or she wants to do. And you can remind your teen of that percentage.
You are also role-modeling prioritization, making what’s important worth discussing and fighting for, even though you know you will win because, dear parent, you still control the money, the house, the car and your rules run the house. Given that you have all the power, you can be gracious 80% of the time and hold the line for the other 20%.
Age-by-Age Guide on the Effects of Divorce on Children
By Laura Broadwell
Learn how to discuss divorce with your child at any age based on their understanding of the situation and the impact it will have on their life.
Divorce represents a pivotal and often traumatic shift in a child's world -- and from his perspective, a loss of family. When told of the news, many children feel sad, angry, and anxious, and have a hard time grasping how their lives will change. The age at which a child's parents divorce also has an impact on how he responds and what he understands about the new family structure. Here is a brief summary of what children comprehend at different ages and how you can help ease their transition.
Effects of Divorce on Babies
Birth to 18 Months
During infancy, babies are able to feel tension in the home (and between their parents) but can't understand the reasoning behind the conflict. If the tension continues, babies may become irritable and clingy, especially around new people, and have frequent emotional outbursts. They may also tend to regress or show signs of developmental delay.
How to ease the transition: Children this age require consistency and routine and are comforted by familiarity. Therefore, it's helpful to maintain normal daily routines, particularly regarding sleep and meals, during and after the divorce. Provide your child with his favorite toys or security items, and spend extra time holding him and offering physical comfort. Rely on the help of friends and family, and be sure to get plenty of rest so you'll be alert when your baby is awake.
Effects of Divorce on Toddlers
18 Months to 3 Years
During the toddler years, a child's main bond is with her parents, so any major disruption in her home life can be difficult for her to accept and comprehend. What's more, kids this age are self-centered and may think they've caused their parents' breakup. They may cry and want more attention than usual, regress and return to thumb sucking, resist toilet training, have a fear of being abandoned, or have trouble going to sleep or sleeping alone at night.
How to ease the transition: If possible, parents should work together to develop normal, predictable routines that their child can easily follow. It's also important to spend quality time with your child and offer extra attention, and ask trusted friends and relatives to do the same. Discuss your child's feelings (if she's old enough to talk), read books together, and assure her that she's not responsible for the breakup.
Effects of Divorce on Preschoolers
3 to 6 Years
Preschoolers don't understand the whole notion of divorce and don't want their parents to separate -- no matter how tense the home environment. In fact, divorce is a particularly hard concept for these little "control freaks" to comprehend, because they feel as if they have no power to control the outcome.
Like toddlers, preschoolers believe they are ultimately responsible for their parents' separation. They may experience uncertain feelings about the future, keep their anger trapped inside, have unpleasant thoughts or ideas, or be plagued by nightmares.
How to ease the transition: Parents should try to handle the divorce in an open, positive manner if possible, as a child this age will reflect his parents' moods and attitudes. Preschoolers will need someone to talk to and a way to express their feelings. They may respond well to age-appropriate books about the topic. Kids this age also need to feel safe and secure and to know they will continue seeing their noncustodial parent (the one with whom they don't live on a regular basis). Set up a regular visitation schedule, and make sure it's adhered to consistently.
Effects of Divorce on School-Age Children
6 to 11 Years
If school-age kids have grown up in a nurturing environment, it will be only natural for them to have a fear of being abandoned during a divorce. Younger children -- 5- to 8-year-olds, for instance -- will not understand the concept of divorce and may feel as if their parents are divorcing them. They may worry about losing their father (if they're living with their mom) and fantasize that their parents will get back together. In fact, they often believe they can "rescue" their parents' marriage.
Kids from 8 to 11 may blame one parent for the separation and align themselves with the "good" parent against the "bad." They may accuse their parents of being mean or selfish and express their anger in various ways: Boys may fight with classmates or lash out against the world, while girls may become anxious, withdrawn, or depressed. Children of either gender may experience upset stomachs or headaches due to stress, or may make up symptoms in order to stay home from school.
How to ease the transition: Elementary-school children can feel extreme loss and rejection during a divorce, but parents can rebuild their child's sense of security and self-esteem. Start by having each parent spend quality time with the child, urging her to open up about her feelings. Reassure her that neither parent will abandon her, and reiterate that the divorce is not her fault. (Likewise, parents should not blame one another for the split, but explain that it was a mutual decision.) It's also important to maintain a regular visitation schedule as kids thrive on predictability -- particularly during times of turmoil.
Finally, since school, friendships, and extracurricular activities are of increasing importance to kids this age, encourage your child to get involved in events and pastimes she thoroughly enjoys. Help her rekindle her self-esteem, and encourage her to reach out to others and not withdraw from the world.
The Case for Family Rules (and What Those Rules Might Be)
Remember how easy discipline seemed when you only had to consider it in the hypothetical? Before you had kids of your own, you might have looked on in horror at that toddler in the restaurant—he was pulverizing a crunchy snack and making it “snow” all over the floor! You might have vowed never to be that parent who bribes their child with cookies just to peacefully exit the playground.
Yep, the whole “what I thought...how it is…” line is one of the most trite-but-true inside jokes of parenting—mostly because a huge part of parenting really does involve just winging it. This fact is never more obvious than when you find yourself (or watch someone else) navigating the muddy waters of discipline. And although there is no way around this, there might be a way to get a leg up: a solid foundation of family rules.
Worried this will just formalize your role as a buzzkill? Fear not. Really, it's just an opportunity to communicate values and impose structure, rather than merely reacting to a situation as it unfolds. Dr. Heard-Garris, a pediatrician at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, shared her view on the matter with the New York Times: “stable, consistent rules are the first step before you talk about the actual approaches to discipline.” In short, rules provide a healthy daily dose of consistency, which means you can breathe a little easier at times when it makes more sense to be flexible.
But what exactly are these rules? Well, the best ones channel proactive discipline into the creation of new routines, ideally fun and inclusive ones that give your child a sense of agency. Tovah Klein, child psychologist and toddler whisperer, sums it up neatly from the perspective of the child: “today may be different, but I have a routine to return to.”
Read on for some examples of rules that can help resolve real-life, blood-pressure raising scenarios. But before you draw up your own list, just remember that the benefit of family rules is lost if you have too many—be realistic, choose them wisely and make them fun!
PROBLEM 1: CHAOS AT MEALTIME
You aren’t alone if you’ve found yourself allowing your restless toddler to roam, or your picky preschooler to graze just so they get some calories. Still, it’s definitely not cool when you find a half-eaten drumstick from last night’s fried chicken in the playroom and a PB&J crust on your pillow. Or have you ever suffered the indignity of having your home-cooked meal turned into a food experiment (yes, that’s your lovingly prepared summer salad swimming in a cup of apple juice) by someone who will later demand a granola bar to fall asleep? Yeah, same.
Sample rules: Don’t play with food. Ask to be excused from the table when done with a meal. Try a bite of everything on your plate, before any alternative is offered. Two light snacks a day and/or no snacks after dinner. Your mealtime rules can be tailored to whatever food drama you most often encounter, and if you work in a new routine that makes your child feel “grown up,” it becomes all the more palatable. (Ask her to set the table, or help with light food prep, for instance.)
PROBLEM 2: TOO MUCH SCREEN TIME
As any parent who has ever tried to get a load of laundry done knows, screen time is sometimes necessary. But if your daily Paw Patrol fix has transformed the living room into World War III whenever you try to turn it off, or you've realized that evening hours TV is making your formerly good sleeper a manic beast at bedtime, it's time for a change.
Sample rules: Never more than X number of episodes of a show in one sitting (yes, this can be determined based on the length of a full washing cycle). Or you might make a family rule that bans screen time after dinner. The point is that your children know where you stand and that the rule applies to everyone equally, every time. (That means you too, Mama!) Sound hard to enforce? These rules can be made easier with a routine-based alternative to screen time—say, after dinner books or card games.
PROBLEM 3: OUT-OF-CONTROL ENERGY
We get it: Your kids are super high energy and you feel like you always need to manufacture excitement for them. Or maybe you just need to work in some down time that doesn’t involve a screen. Or maybe it’s just a matter of calming a child who’s easily overstimulated. Fear not: There are rules-based solutions to keep everyone off the wall.
Sample rules: A designated period of quiet, independent play—before bed, midday or any time that you consistently find everyone is in need of a chill pill. Kids need a lot of active time, but once they’ve had their fun and exercise, there’s nothing wrong with a family rule that teaches the lesson that IT’S OK TO BE BORED sometimes.
PROBLEM 4: INTERRUPTING
Got a chatterbox on your hands? It’s downright adorable...until your toddler gets downright angry with you every time you attempt to speak to another adult.
Sample rules: If you're the parent of a younger child, this one is sadly tricky because *realistic expectations.* At the same time, it’s a great example of a family rule that can evolve and become all the more effective. The message is always the same: let grown-ups talk. But for your 2- or 3-year old, your family rule might be to always say “excuse me” before blowing up a conversation. A year later, you can ask that he still say “excuse me,” but in response be told a reasonable length of waiting time. Think: “In 10 minutes, I will look at that drawing.”
PROBLEM 5: YELLING
You fell into the habit of “calling” to your kids from another area of your home, maybe because you wanted to check in on them without abandoning a quick task you had begun. Now it feels like your kids are summoning you with a scream all day long.
Rule: If you need something from a parent or caregiver when they are in the other room, find them and tell them in person. Remember though, parents have to follow their own rules—even if it means putting down the iron and walking all the way to the living room.
PROBLEM 6: KIDS WHO HATE CLEANING UP
You missed the Montessori boat and the playroom isn’t exactly a carefully curated, rotating selection of “just enough” toys. You can hardly blame your children for being too overwhelmed to clean up their own messes, but a little effort would go a long way.
Sample rules: For older children, your family rule might be that one activity must be cleaned up before another one begins. With younger kids, this would probably take an inordinate amount of time and energy to enforce. In that case, your rule might look more like the quiet time idea—for 20 minutes every night, we will all work together to clean up messes around the house and put the toys to bed. And if you want to add a little friendly competition (say, grown-ups vs kids), we won’t judge you.
5 Bad Behaviors You’re Actually Encouraging in Your Kids...and How to Stop Them for Good
We’ve all been there—getting sucked into parenting patterns that just don’t seem to work. (Cue yelling at your daughter to clean up her toys her OR ELSE, then stepping over said toys a mere 15 minutes later.)
The problem is that these (nonworking) patterns are habits, and “we perform habits based on past rewards, not the rewards we are getting right now,” says Wendy Wood, Provost Professor of Psychology and Business at the University of Southern California and author of Good Habits, Bad Habits: The Science of Making Positive Changes That Stick. Take “time out,” for instance. It may have worked for your oldest child, but not for your youngest, yet you keep doing it, even though she doesn’t see it as a punishment.
“This is the challenge of habits,” adds Wood. “Once we learn them, they pop into mind automatically, and we just keep acting on them, whether they are working for us right now, in the present, or not.”
The annoying part is that these parenting snafus could actually spill over to your kids’ naughty behaviors. Here, five all too common bad behaviors you’re actually encouraging in your kids…and how to break the cycle for good.
1. YOU MAKE MORNINGS STRESSFUL
Mornings routines are anything but Zen: It takes forever for your kids to get dressed (and you can forget about putting pj’s away), breakfast is a haphazard affair and you’re constantly late to school. No wonder you’re yelling at your kids every two seconds. They, in turn, snap back with “Leave me alone!”
According to Wood, you probably once used a snippy tone (“If you don’t pick out some clothes now, we’ll never get to school on time”) and got a reward in the form of released tension. Over time, your brain learned that “morning routine = snippy tone” and you revert to this habit memory, hovering over your kids even as they sit with a bowl of Cheerios, well on their way to getting out the door.
Break the habit: Prep the night before
By reducing friction (the decisions of what to wear/eat/etc.) you can make the morning more fluid. Professional chefs often use this tactic when cooking by putting everything in place in advance (mise en place). Create your own mise en place by laying out their clothes (and yours) the night before and placing all backpacks by the front door, for instance.
“Expect protests [at first] because your kids aren’t used to this new setup,” adds Wood. “But as it becomes more familiar, it will ultimately become your regular routine.” Bonus: Your kids just might internalize the whole thing and start wanting to help with the place-setting right along with you.
2. YOU RELY ON BRIBERY
Bribing your kids with gummy bears so that they empty the dishwasher works—sort of. That is, until those smart alecks realize there’s actually room to negotiate everything, and before you know it, your son quips, “I’ll fold the laundry if you take me to the trampoline park after.”
To be fair, we don’t blame him: Reward is the ultimate factor in cementing a habit, and that “something extra” teaches your brain to do a certain task over and over again. The downside, of course, is that it also teaches kids that the only reason to do something is to get a reward (money, food, screen time) and then they learn to tie tasks to similar rewards later in life. (“I had a hard day…I deserve this pint of ice cream.”)
Break the habit: Implement the “Fun Theory”
When you reward good behavior with things (e.g., gummies), you’re offering an extrinsic reward. Without the reward, good behavior stops. What you want to do is implement intrinsic rewards (i.e., a reward that’s part of the action). Meaning: Make your requests into something that your kids might actually enjoy doing. For instance, instead of bribing your kids to unload the dishwasher, ask them to stack up plates into a tower or see who can sort the utensils the fastest.
3. YOU’RE OBSESSED WITH YOUR PHONE
You get annoyed when your kids ask for their tablets, but the truth is that you check your own phone nonstop. In fact, you may very well be part of the latest Deloitte statistic that shows Americans look at their phones 52 times a day on average.
If it makes you feel better, it’s not entirely your fault. See, when you jump to check an Instagram like or email notification, you’re actually seeking a mini reward that can definitely make you feel good in the moment. The problem, of course, is that the feeling is not long-lasting. And more to the point, it teaches your children to engage in this same cycle of tech validation.
Break the habit: Change cues and triggers
According to Wood, consistency is the backbone of a habit and adding variety is a sure way to dismantle one. So if you have a nagging feeling to check your phone upon waking (because your phone is on your bedside table), leave it charging by the coffeemaker and only look at it when coffee is brewing. During the day, avoid temptation by keeping phones and other electronics out of sight, say in your purse or a drawer instead of the kitchen countertop.
Alternatively, tackle moments of boredom by sprinkling other types of “rewards” throughout the house. Keep puzzles, Play-Doh and your crocheting project on hand in order to keep yourself distracted from Minecraft and #Megxit. If your kids see that you have other forms of amusement, they’ll follow suit.
4. YOU DON’T HAVE A CLEAN-UP POLICY
The last time you saw a clear dining-room table was when you first bought it. Maybe you clean it frantically in the five minutes before guests come over, but for the most part, it’s a clutter zone.
Your kids, in turn, learn from this behavior: Messes are fine to leave out, and we clean on-the-go when we need a quick fix.
Break the habit: Opt for persistence over perfection
Don’t let the perfectly curated living rooms you see on Instagram shame you. No one expects you to live up to those standards, but you can bring order with the following mantra: “Persistence over perfection.” After all, habits form when you do them over and over again. So assign a small cleaning or organizing task to every member of your family and, most important, stick to it.
Here are some ideas: Make a point to toss catalogs and junk mail straight into your recycling bin instead of piling them on the counter. Teach your 6-year-old to dump his laundry bin into the washing machine every Friday after school. Encourage your 3-year-old to line up shoes in the mud room. Ask your partner to make the bed. One of the biggest benefits of habits is essentially eliminating the decision-making process. Once you have these cleaning behaviors on autopilot, your house will start to look pretty good.
5. YOU RELY ON NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT
One. Two. Three. If your daughter isn’t listening, you put her in time out or take away her favorite toy. And for what? Ten minutes later she’s back doing the thing that got her into trouble in the first place. Punishment should work, in theory, but it rarely keeps people from doing what they want to do. Even mice are more influenced by reward than punishment.
Sure, you may see some tears and remorse, but the bottom line is that your kids are already conniving new ways to avoid getting caught.
Break the habit: Reward, reward, reward
You’ve probably heard this already: Rewarding works better than punishing. “Yeah, yeah,” you say as your kids throw lollipop wrappers all over your car.
Hear us out. When you are rewarded for good behavior, dopamine (the feel-good chemical) floods your brain. The bigger the reward, the bigger the dopamine rush. The bigger the dopamine rush, the higher the likelihood of repeat behavior. And when good behavior is applauded in a meaningful way, your kids will be more motivated to stay on track. So, next time Junior is mucking up his brother’s Lego tower, tell him to stop, then compliment his own brick skyscraper. Before you know it, he’ll be too busy constructing Lego City to worry about what his baby bro is up to.
Understanding the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma can have devastating outcomes in adulthood, including health problems like heart disease or substance abuse disorders. But here's how parents can step in to prevent future issues.
Uchenna Umeh knew she needed to file for divorce in 2009. The relationship was not working, and she did not want her three children, then ages 9, 7, and 2, to grow up in that environment. As a pediatrician, she also knew divorce can cause childhood trauma, so she put all three in therapy. Two of her three boys struggled at first but overcame the trauma as they moved into adulthood. Her middle child didn't show outward signs of trauma until he turned 19 and began having outbursts.
"He just had a different way of processing it," says Dr. Umeh, author of A Teen's Life: Looking at Teens' Lives Through Their Daily Struggles.
Divorce is one of several Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), or potentially traumatic events that occur before a child is 17 years old. Bullying, witnessing or experiencing violence or abuse, the loss or incarceration of a parent, and car accidents are a few others. About 61 percent of adults surveyed across 25 states experienced at least one ACE, and 1 in 6 adults reported exposure to multiple, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The consequences are wide-ranging. As Dr. Umeh's sons showed, they may appear in different ways based on the person. This can make it difficult for parents and even those in the mental health community to recognize, diagnose, and treat childhood trauma. It also makes it important to have continuous discussions about it, regardless of a person's initial reaction to an event.
"Children don't have the understanding or complexity an adult may have," says Noel Hunter, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist at MindClear Integrative Psychotherapy based in New York, and author of Trauma and Madness in Mental Health Services. "The stories they may have around what happened may be distorted and self-blaming and can snowball over time into a story that is self-destructive…and much harder to change as an adult."
Effects of Childhood Trauma
Childhood trauma can lead to a variety of issues in adulthood. People who have experienced trauma may have difficulty maintaining healthy relationships, show poor academic or job performance, and develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse disorder, suicidality, disordered eating habits, depression, anxiety, and insomnia.
Trauma puts a person at higher risk for physical health problems, including obesity, chronic pain, heart disease, diabetes, and premature death. Stress-related disorders, such as PTSD, are also associated with autoimmune disorders, which can appear without biological cause, according to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) in 2018.
Trauma Should Be Treated on a Case-By-Case Basis
Someone can experience childhood trauma regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, religion, or socioeconomic status. And though women are twice as likely as men to have PTSD, both Dr. Hunter and Dr. Umeh caution that parents and medical professionals should treat each child on a case-by-case basis.
That's because one's personality can determine how they handle trauma. For example, extroverts may present signs of effects earlier, which makes the pain more noticeable, but can also result in damaging labels, such as “troublemaker."
"Then you get additive effects of being ostracized by your friends or peers at school, having problems with authority because you are always in trouble, getting messages that you are a bad kid," says Dr. Hunter.
Children who internalize the pain, on the other hand, may present later in life, after years of spinning a false narrative.
How to Help a Child Through Trauma
Regardless of the circumstance, experts say it's important to attempt to understand where children are coming from and let them know it's OK to be upset. Delegitimizing anyone's experience as "not that bad" is dangerous, says Dr. Hunter. "We tend to put these outside judgments onto things, and it leaves people feeling invalidated," she says. "Sometimes, it's the unseen, more subtle things that can be more damaging long-term."
And instead of pigeonholing a child who is struggling to behave or perform well, schools and authorities are beginning to take more trauma-informed approaches. Parents can try this as well. "When a kid is acting out or having trouble, instead of saying, 'I'm going to punish you,' they can turn around and ask, 'What is going on to make you do these things?'" says Dr. Hunter. "Try to make sense without shame, and help the kid learn new ways to express themselves that aren't destructive.”
Importantly, when a parent knows their child has experienced a traumatic event, they should have him talk to a therapist or trusted adult, regardless of whether they appear to be reacting. They should explain it's not because they are "in trouble" or because "they did anything wrong," says Dr. Hunter. "Telling a kid it's not their fault can help them open up more."
Helping a kid through trauma can be difficult for parents, particularly if they feel they caused their child's pain, such as by filing for divorce or being at-fault in an accident. In moments like those, says Dr. Hunter, parents should "step out of their own emotional reaction and be aware enough to say, 'I might be upset about this, but I have to be a parent right now.'"
For Dr. Umeh, that meant getting her own therapy and surrounding herself with positive people. If you miss a sign and it manifests itself later in a child's life, forgive yourself, she urges parents.
"There's no textbook," says Dr. Umeh. "You're winging it most of the time.”
The Bottom Line
Untreated Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can lead to various problems in adulthood, including poor job performance, chronic pain, and even premature death. But by taking the proper steps after a child experiences trauma, parents can help them overcome their difficulties and thrive in the future.