Finding Balance in Your Parenting Style to Help Your Adopted Child with Trauma Learn to Trust and Heal
Parenting can be challenging when you are raising an adopted child with trauma. Often, many of the popular parenting approaches, even those regarded as “biblical,” may not actually be the best methods regarding your child’s history and background. Parenting children with trauma often requires different techniques to help your child learn to trust and form healthy relationships with others.
But what constitutes the right parenting techniques for your child with trauma? In her book, The Connected Child, Karyn Purvis looks at traditional parenting styles and the techniques that you might find helpful. Here are our top takeaways from Chapter 6, in which she explores these very questions.
You Need a Willingness to Evaluate Your Parenting Style
Purvis notes that you must “honestly engage the question, ‘Am I willing to unlearn and let go of certain ways of parenting?’” Beyond that, Purvis notes that you might not only need to unlearn certain parenting techniques, but that you need a willingness to learn new techniques that bring about better results for your child.
Extreme Parenting Styles Don’t Work Well for Children with Trauma
Many popular parenting styles tend toward the extremes. On one end is Authoritarian parenting and on the other end is Permissive. Both of these parenting styles tragically compound the problems they intend to address. This can leave both parents and children feeling more frustrated, disconnected and discontent.
Authoritarian parenting focuses almost exclusively on structure. Here, misbehavior is met with more structure, including consequences and punishment. But because adopted children with trauma have lost their trust in adults, any attempts to establish authority in this harsh manner often prove ineffective. In fact, research has shown that children from homes with high structure and low nurture are more likely to engage in hard drug use and other behaviors of acting out as teens.
On the other end is permissive parenting, which focuses nearly exclusively on nurture and often ignores a child’s need for structure to learn and regulate behavior and relationships. It can be easy to fall into this parenting technique. Purvis gave an example of this seen in one parent who allowed their “child to behave in hurtful and even cruel ways because, as she said, ‘he has already been through so much I simply want to show him God’s love and grace.’” As a result of failing to set some structure, this approach also fails to bring about the lasting change parents desire to see in their children with trauma.
You Must Find Balance
Instead of using one parenting extreme or the other, you must find balance. This balance in parenting will allow you to better connect with your children who have painful histories, leading to healing and lasting, healthy connections with others. Purvis notes that this balance isn’t found by mastering the “right” parenting technique, but rather is about understanding and applying the principles of Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 6:4 to “take our children by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master” (The Message). Purvis also notes that while different translations may use slightly different terms, “the essential idea remains: as parents we are responsible for connecting with and correcting our children in a way that shows them the love of Jesus.” In other words, it is about providing a consistent balance of nurture and structure.
This idea of a balance in parenting styles is supported by child development research, finding that children who experience an ideal balance are at lower risk for poor behaviors in adolescence. This balance in techniques is known as authoritative parenting, and is rooted in the conviction that the Law (structure) is our teacher and that Grace (nurture) is our guide. In fact, this balance is how God relates to us, His children. His tender mercies nurture us while His guiding hand directs and corrects us is his structure.
“God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.” (Romans 2:4, The Message)
Learn New Ways to Relate
Besides discarding or unlearning certain parenting techniques, you will also need to learn new ways to connect with and relate to your adopted child with trauma. In The Connected Child, Purvis believes that this “new way” of relating to your children is “learning and applying the IDEAL response and using Re-Do’s to correct misbehavior.” IDEAL stands for:
I – Immediate
D – Direct
E – Efficient
A – Action-based
L – Leveled at the behavior (not at the child)
Opportunity for a Second Chance
There is a beautiful example of Jesus giving Peter an opportunity to try again, found in John 18 and 21. These Biblical passages exemplify both the human condition of sin and weakness but also of grace and mercy. And as Purvis notes, they also serve as a great model for us as followers of Christ and as parents. It is a reminder that we, as parents, should be just as intentional in offering our children with trauma an opportunity to “try it again.” This can be a great way to correct behavior, particularly for less serious behaviors, and guide your children to learning to do the right thing. It also offers us the opportunity as parents to give praise and encouragement to our children once they re-do the task or follow the instruction. These outcomes can then help to deepen our connections with our children as well.
Remember, it’s not about using what is considered a popular parenting technique because everyone else uses them. Rather, it’s about finding balance and using those techniques that actually help your child with trauma to heal and learn to trust.