February 14, 2022

When Love Isn't Enough for Children Who Experienced Trauma

Love is in the air as we celebrate Valentine’s Day! We often associate Valentine’s Day as a ‘Hallmark holiday’ with the cards, chocolates, and red roses. We celebrate with lavish gifts and expressing our love to our loved ones. Yet how do we express love in a way that matters to our children from hard places? More than simply saying, “I love you” or giving a tangible gift, children who have experienced trauma require something different. They require connection.

We know that the brain that has experienced trauma needs more than just love to grow, develop, and heal. TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) offers us three foundational principles for raising children who have experienced trauma: connection, empowerment, and correction. I often find that it is difficult to follow these principles in the moment and it does not always feel intuitive to parent in this way. Sometimes expressing love to our children feels easier when we can just buy them a new toy or tell them how we love them instead of showing them how we love them. As humans, we are hard-wired for connection and children who have experienced trauma crave connection in a variety of ways. What works for one child to feel connected does not always work for another. Love does not “fix” a history of trauma, but connection can help establish trust and create nurturing bonds.

Below are some great ways to connect and show love to your child:

  • Connect by playing a game by making intentional eye contact and copying each other’s facial expressions. This is also a great way to discuss feelings and emotions and how to define them.
  • Connect by mirroring each other’s body movements as if looking in a mirror. This is a great way to connect through body awareness.
  • Part of being able to connect is ensuring that the child feels safe in their environment. Connect by using “I wonder” questions. It takes the pressure of the child needing to have a direct response and gives a safe space to answer with multiple options for responses. For example, reword the sentence of “What were you thinking?” with “I wonder what you were thinking about?”
  • Connect by preparing and cooking a meal together and discussing the importance of nutrition. Talk about how you feel when you eat a balanced meal and how you feel when you do not.
  • Connect by doing a mindfulness activity together. Take a nature walk and point out what you notice about the sounds you hear, the colors you see, the smells you smell, or how being outside makes you feel.

Showing our children how we love them instead of just simply telling them that we love them helps establish deeper bonds of trust. What are your favorite ways to connect with your child? How do you show them that you love them?

By: Amanda Arata

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