Most parents and carers have heard of different parenting styles such as attachment, helicopter, disciplinarian and permissive. Perhaps less well known is the style known as therapeutic parenting.
Therapeutic Parenting is a highly nurturing parenting approach, with empathy at it’s core.
It’s a holistic form of parenting techniques that uses encouragement, self-regulation and high nurturing to encourage a child to feel safe and nurtured. Therapeutic parenting has seen a significant movement in recent times from enabling a child dealing with emotional and behavioural issues, side effects to trauma and attachment issues to self-regulate and develop an understanding of their behaviours and ultimately form secure attachments which will, ultimately, minimise the impact of childhood issues or trauma. Therapeutic parenting is often regarded as being exclusively for traumatised children who have nearly always been in care, fostered or adopted. But this isn’t always the case and in recent times it’s found to enable positive and adaptive integrative therapies for all children. The benefits are hugely valuable to both children with emotional and behavioural difficulties and their parents and carers. With patience, support and work, the therapy can result in greater open communication and see conflicts resolved more easily, leading to less stress on both parts, increased shared interests and values and a stronger relationship between both parent and child. It certainly has its place in the therapy handbook as a useful technique to use.
Therapeutic Parenting uses firm but fair boundaries and routines to aid the development of new neural pathways in the brain so children may gain trust in adults and safe attachments but also learning to identify the link of cause and effect.
Using boundaries and routines helps children to understand that there is consistency and predictably in their lives, i.e. they know they will have breakfast, lunch, and tea plus snacks at certain times, they’ll play at certain times, or know when they need sleep, etc. Therapeutic Parenting advises you to use visual timetables to support you children with this.
Using therapeutic parenting, parents can respond with empathy using the PACE model:
P - Playfulness to connect and diffuse a situation,
A - Acceptance of the child whilst not accepting of aggression,
C - Curiosity to detect your child’s need,
E – Empathy to your child’s needs and issues.
Be safe parents to attach to. Safety over compliance is important in therapeutic parenting. Keep your faces and eyes soft. If you are upset, give yourself a time out to someplace kid free until you can get your soft face back. If the child insists on talking, insist on space for yourself first. If the child badgers you, sit silently and read a book. Offer the child a seat beside you. Promise to talk when you have calmed down. This models affects (emotional) regulation.
Punishment does not work. Consequences do not work. Emotional discussions do not work. Rejection does not work. Threatening does not work. Spanking, hitting or physical force does not work. Time out in isolation does not work. Reasoning with a dysregulated child never works. So what works, you ask? Emotionally regulated parent(s) using soft-eye nurture, empathy, engagement, and structure works to create the safety necessary to attach which is necessary for positive behaviour change.
Stop yourselves from talking, talking, talking to the child. This will create tuning out, blank stares, dissociation and reactivity. “Please remember that plastic can’t be microwaved, honey.” “Thank you for quickly stopping and doing what I asked you to do.” “Would you speak loudly please, or I won’t be able to answer you otherwise.” “When you are ready to finish your chores, then we can get on with the fun part of the day.”
Be on the same page with your co-parent. Use wait time to decide what to do. Consult each other before making parenting decisions. It is okay to say, “Something will happen, though I’m going to talk with Mom or Dad before deciding.”
Stay calm. Respond calmly and quickly only to real (not imagined) safety concerns that impact siblings, Mum or Dad, pets, or others. You can include property in this, but be careful. Sometimes “things” become more important than the heart of the child and that will not work long term. Use appropriately measured restitution for property destruction instead of emotional punishment or consequences. Have the restitution discussion only when all are emotionally regulated
Do not follow, lead. Your child needs you to be the leader. If there are choices to give, you initiate them and you give them with empathy and understanding. This is the kind of structure and nurture an attachment challenged child needs to feel safe.
Avoid saying “no.” This is very difficult. Find a way to say yes. “Yes, you can play with friends, when we come back from the store.” “Yes, you can have candy after dinner.” If badgering ensues, instead of ramping up your voice and thereby the emotional stakes, be a calm, broken record “Yes, after dinner. Yes, honey, after dinner.” Another way not to have to say “no” is to ask the child what s/he thinks the answer is? Ignore most negative behaviour. You get more of what you focus on, so focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want. Ignore the rest. Appreciate, compliment, and thank the child for behaviour you want. Give these things in a neutral tone rather than an exuberant tone. Good behaviour creates BIG anxiety in challenged children because they fear they will not be able to keep it up (as they think they are inherently bad somehow and it is only a matter of time before they do bad behaviour). These children sabotage themselves, so avoid big build up to going places, seeing someone special, or getting to do or get something great. The child will find some way to mess up the experience. This is due to a number of internalized messages, but largely excitement dysregulation and anticipation anxiety dysregulation.
Wait for regulation. Process situations with your child only when everyone is emotionally regulated. If one of you gets dysregulated during a discussion, simply say, “Let’s stop for now and finish this conversation later when we can all be calm.” Almost nothing requires a talk RIGHT NOW.
Play, be silly, and laugh together. Play is extremely important with challenged children. Engagement, Challenge, and Nurture. Stay away from winner/loser games. Try not to keep score even if the game usually is scored. Be lovingly physical. Roll around on the floor together and switch up the play when the energy gets too high or too low. Traumatized children get dysregulated by fun, too. That doesn’t mean they should never have it.
Give lots of hugs and kisses on your terms. It is okay to give them on the child’s terms, too; however, not only on the child’s terms. If this is a problem and it often is, then get your therapist’s support for ways to change the dynamic.
For every ten principles, there are 10 more. You have plenty of time to grow.