Attachment Styles

What Is Developmental Trauma?

Developmental trauma occurs at some point between infancy and childhood for children facing abuse or neglect. These individuals can develop issues later in life when forming relationships with others or coping with life’s stressors. Many people with developmental trauma struggle to connect with others due to an insecure attachment style, resulting from being abused or neglected in early life. Fire Mountain’s Aaron Huey and Dr. Barry Weinhold talk during the episode “Developmental Trauma” on “Beyond Risk and Back.” Dr. Weinhold discusses common misconceptions and beliefs about parenting that can unintentionally contribute to developmental trauma. He also talks about some of the signs of individuals with an insecure attachment style and offers solutions to make positive changes.

Contributing Factors to Developmental Trauma

Abuse at an early age can influence a person’s probability of having symptoms of developmental trauma. However, according to Dr. Weinhold, neglect is cited as a widely known contributing factor. Neglect can happen unintentionally during early childhood due to common misconceptions about parenting. Some of these misconceptions are things like:

  • “We have to let our child ‘cry it out.’”
  • “We will spoil or enable our child if we give them attention every time they are distressed or acting out.”
  • “We need to be tough and authoritarian as parents.”
  • “‘Time-outs’ teach kids how to calm down on their own.”

Many of these beliefs come from how our parents raised us. Our parents might have ignored us when we were upset and crying to teach us to be independent. They might have sent us to our rooms following a tantrum to “think about what we did.” While these are commonplace, they are not necessarily useful or the best means to teach children how to regulate their emotions. 

The Problem of Shame-Based Parenting

Children need guidance and support to regulate their emotions. They need someone to teach them what to do and how to calm down. When our children are upset, we can show them ways to calm down instead of reacting quickly to their heightened emotions. When we shun or ignore our children when they are displaying that they are upset, we are unintentionally using shame to enforce their behavioral responses. We are not teaching them how to calm down; we teach them that other people do not like these responses. We are using shame and teaching our kids that they need to behave appropriately or face rejection. 

Our need to connect with others is highly motivating; people can go through life, displaying a “false-self” to be what others want them to be. When we isolate or ignore our children when they are upset, we do not teach them to resolve the issue that is causing their behaviors. We are unintentionally sending the message that if they display undesirable characteristics, we will reject them. 

Solutions for Developmental Trauma

Solving this issue requires awareness of what we might be unintentionally teaching our children to prevent the problem from occurring. As parents, we will make mistakes. We might have sent our child into “time-out” following a meltdown just so we could take a breath. We may have rejected our child during a crying fit, thinking this was the best approach to take. Acknowledging mistakes to our children can help us rectify these issues. We might need to go back and say, “I’m sorry for how I treated you just now. Let me help you now.” As parents, we might feel like we need to maintain the illusion of perfectionism for our children to respect us. However, by admitting mistakes and reconciling, we teach our kids to do the same. We can go back and start over by changing our approaches and talking with our children about our mistakes. 

We can now start to bring solutions-based approaches to our parenting style. Instead of using “time-outs,” we can incorporate what Dr. Weinhold calls a “time-in.” During a “time-in,” we reach out to our children and sit with them while they are upset. When we sit calmly with our children, we are showing them how to relax and calm down. “Time-in” shifts our focus from correcting the behavior to connecting with our child. By connecting to our children and validating their emotions, we do not use shame and rejection to “enforce” peace in our household. We are providing support and comfort as they learn to regulate their emotions. Instead of withholding our love and attention when our child acts out, we can show them unconditional love and guidance. Unconditional love is incredibly important for young children who are developing attachment styles.

Developmental trauma can impact a child’s ability to form connections with others later in life. When children are neglected or abused during early life, they might experience developmental trauma. Sometimes, parenting styles can unintentionally create conditions for this type of trauma. Parents might think that they need to be the enforcers of order in the home and use time-outs or other forms of punishment when a child is upset. These techniques might be shaming the child to behave appropriately and do not address the underlying causes of their behaviors. Children need guidance and support to learn emotional regulation. As parents, we can learn to admit our mistakes to teach our children to own up to their mistakes as well. If you have a teenager exhibiting problematic behaviors, they might need to form stable connections with others to feel secure. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Centers is here to help parents during times of crisis. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.

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