A dilemma many parents & carers of children with developmental trauma have is how to deal effectively with challenging behaviour. A relational approach to answering this, emphasises the importance of behaviour support, rather than behaviour management.
A traumatised child may struggle to accept boundaries, as they perceive them as being an evaluation of their core self, rather than of their behaviour. This is very anxiety provoking for a child with deep fears of being bad & who anticipates abandonment. Discipline becomes evidence of their badness & that the adults will get rid of them. Anxiety quickly leads to dysregulation, feelings of shame, & triggering of more challenging behaviour.
Before we can help a child to adjust their behaviour, focus first on the 3 R’s – relationship, regulation & reflection. Prioritise emotional connection in our relationship to create feelings of safety & help them regulate their shame, so that they can be more receptive to our support. It’s through the growth of trust in our good intentions when we set boundaries (a realisation that we are trying to help rather than punish them) that enables the child to give up their defensiveness & need to control.
Relationship security & regulation help the child reach the point where they can reflect with us on what has happened. Using PACE (playfulness, acceptance, curiosity & empathy) & a storytelling attitude can increase the sense of safety & connection. When we create an empathic narrative that helps them understand the thoughts & feelings that led to the incident, then they may become more open to doing things differently next time. It is the emphasis on regulating internal experience that means this approach is regulation based rather than behaviour based. An excellent training resource on this approach is Kim Golding’s Foundations for Attachment Training Resource.