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A starting point for understanding how best to support families and children affected by trauma.

The more healthy relationships a child has, the more likely he will be to recover from trauma and thrive. Relationships are the agents of change and the most powerful therapy is human love.

Bruce D. Perry

Bruce Perry’s work with children affected by trauma through the Child Trauma Academy has been well known for many years.

What happens when that optimal situation is disrupted? What sort of things might a whānau supporter notice in a 3-year-old who has encountered trauma, neglect or adversity?

The child may be openly distressed and acting out with troubling behaviour such as:

  • rage
  • aggression
  • tantrums
  • self-harm
  • lying and stealing
  • sexual awareness not matching their age.

Or they may be more inclined to internalising behaviours such as:

  • sleeping difficulties
  • toileting mishaps
  • health problems
  • withdrawing
  • being unable to focus or pay attention.

Very likely the parents or caregivers will talk about the challenges they experience with their child.

All children have similar needs from their parents or caregivers, whether they have had traumatic beginnings or not. The earlier and easier these needs are met, the fewer problems are encountered as the child develops.

The literature tells us that children affected by trauma need positive supportive relationships to build resilience. Children need adults who are able to build a respectful relationship with them; someone who can implement ngā tohu whānau (the 6 principles), which are summarised in the Tākai poster ‘Six things children need to grow up to be happy capable adults’.

Ara mātua (parenting pathways) are also based on the 6 principles, and provide whānau with specific tasks and goals to help them establish healthy patterns of behaviour and to build solid relationships.

The parent child connection is the most powerful mental health intervention known to mankind.

Bessel van der Kolk

Other resources

Psychologist Dr Karen Treisman highlights the significance of parent-child ‘serve and return’ interactions, and the importance of the guiding principles of trust, safety and investing in reciprocal relationships:

Good relationships are the key to healing trauma, Karen Treisman | TEDxTalks (YouTube) (external link)

Dr Perry discusses the disconnect between what our children need to thrive and what the modern world has to offer:

Dr. Bruce Perry, Childhood Development on LIVING SMART with Patricia Gras | Houston PBS (YouTube)(external link)

The Goodfellow Unit

The links below to free, online courses from the Goodfellow Unit each take approximately 1.5 hours to complete. They stress the importance of the need for children to have a stable and committed relationship with a supportive parent, caregiver or other adult.

Childhood Trauma: impact on development and behaviour | The Goodfellow Unit(external link)