When To Use Attachment Or Trauma Parenting

By | 2017-11-12T20:34:47+00:00 March 30th, 2017|

When should you use attachment parenting or trauma parenting?

There are many tools that can benefit a caregiver when they are working with and healing children who have Trauma and Attachment Disorders. One of the tools that can help heal a child with trauma and attachment disorders is the parenting style.

While working with children who have Attachment Disorder, histories of trauma, or chronic stress it’s important to know which parenting style to use, because if you are using the wrong tool it won’t facilitate healing in your child, instead it may actually make things worse!

Those who have undertaken this calling of working with children who have trauma or attachment issues, become familiar with and acquire the tools necessary for their work. Thus allowing the healing work to be intentional and specific to the child’s unique needs. Which in return, could encourage the child to experience a faster healing processes than if the caregiver were to pick random tools they might think would help.

In deciding which tools to use, you first need to clearly determine what the problem is and what the goal is. For example, you need to know that a screw is a screw, and decide if this is the problem. If so, you would need to know what tool would best be used to fix the screw, which in this case, would be the screwdriver. Or if there is a nail that needs to be pulled out, you would need to know that a hammer is the best tool needed to correctly pull that nail out.

Of all the tools, the parenting style is the most important, because ultimately, this is what holds the key to helping a child with trauma and attachment disorders heal. These disorders are characterized by breaches in core relationships, and thus it is through core relationships that the trust and attachment is repaired.

Other tools include various types of therapy, some that can be done in the home with trained professionals. However, before these therapies were developed, select families were healing their children who had severe trauma and attachment issues solely through their parenting style.

As you would expect, this is a different parenting style than what is commonly seen among less severe children who may range in normal development. For instance, you wouldn’t put a healthy baby in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, but for some babies, that is exactly what they need in order to heal and survive.

This brings to mind, Helen Keller and what her family did to successfully heal her from Trauma and Attachment Disorder. In fact, the way Ann Sullivan intervened in Helen’s life would be known today as Attachment Therapeutic Parenting! Helen’s story and how Ann helped her is an inspirational encouragement for parents who may find themselves feeling discouraged in the healing process.

Let’s look at the two different types of parenting styles that can be applied with success:

First, let’s discuss the importance of knowing which parenting style to use as a tool for healing children with trauma or attachment issues. Until healing has happened, the child will need one of these styles of parenting if they have trauma or attachment issues. Once you have established past or current trauma and/or attachment issues, you will need to know which tools would be most effective for your child. (If you’re not sure whether or not your child has trauma or attachment issues, you must start by determining if this is what is going on with your child before you continue with this blog.

We categorize the two parenting styles as Attachment Therapeutic Parenting and Trauma Parenting.

In this blog, I may refer to Attachment Therapeutic Parenting as Attachment Parenting, which is the program that a family participates in when trying to heal a child with Attachment Disorder. Trauma Parenting refers to parenting from a trauma-informed perspective with the tools and principles specific to working with a child who has undergone a trauma, yet has a secure attachment.

Attachment Or Trauma Parenting?

How does a parent know whether Attachment Parenting or Trauma Parenting will be more effective and healing for their child?!

This is where it can be confusing, because trauma and attachment issues commonly occur together. After all, at the core of Attachment Disorder is a relational trauma. The key point for you is to decide what the underlying problem is, and therefore, which tool to use to best determining whether the child has Attachment Disorder in addition to the trauma.

If a child has Attachment Disorder, merely parenting in a trauma-informed way will not be enough to heal a child or “build the bonds of attachment,” as Daniel Hughes states. Parenting in a trauma-informed way without addressing the disrupted relationship to self and others is a scenario where the child may continue to worsen over time as their disease progresses.

If a child does not have Attachment Disorder, Attachment Therapeutic Parenting will not be the right fit. Attachment Therapeutic Parenting is like trauma-informed parenting on steroids.

These parenting styles might be compared to Army bootcamp versus Navy SEALS bootcamp. If a person isn’t going into the Navy SEALS, that particular bootcamp would be overkill for them, not helpful, and feel very discordant to their life. Similarly, a person who was training to becoming a Navy SEAL would not get the necessary experience they need to survive and thrive with a different military bootcamp.

If you already know or strongly suspect that your child has an Attachment Disorder, you cannot go wrong with leaning more on the side of Attachment Therapeutic Parenting. You can always change to more Trauma-Informed either as they heal or as they begin to show more of a secure attachment than you expected.

The good thing about Attachment Therapeutic Parenting is that if the principles are followed, a parent will be able to quickly adjust to where their child is emotionally, and can adopt a style that looks like Trauma-informed on their own.

I have never seen a family or child be harmed, or even be set back much in their healing, by parents starting with an Attachment Therapeutic Parenting approach. That is because the principles allow rapid fluidity to respond quickly to where their child is at moment by moment.

Again, Attachment Therapeutic Parenting is the tool you will use when a child has an Attachment Disorder.

Trauma-informed parenting is what you will use when your child has a secure attachment, or a secure enough attachment, but has a current or past trauma or chronic stress that still negatively affects them.

In order for trauma-informed parenting to be an effective tool for a child, the child needs to be able to respond to nurture in a positive way. Tools, such as what Peter Levine teaches in It Won’t Hurt Forever, are especially helpful for these children.

Even for a child with an Attachment Disorder who has some reactivity to nurture and vulnerability, will have moments as they heal where they will display more trauma than attachment disorder attitudes and behaviors. Thus, these two parenting styles really are a fluid process as a child heals.

You could say that Attachment Therapeutic Parenting and Trauma-Informed Parenting is on the same spectrum, and depending on where your child is on the spectrum of attachment disorder, should determine where on the spectrum your parenting will be most effective for your unique child and helping them to heal their core issues.

For example, my son in the first year of adopting him would respond to nurture with either immediate physical aggression or with behaviors, in the moment or later, that indicated he needed to control the nurture. This was a sign that showed me that nurture and intimacy were triggers to him and that he had not developed trust yet. For him, Attachment Therapeutic Parenting was what he needed at that time.

Over time, especially once he completed the trauma therapy, he responded very well to nurture. In response to the changes in him, the parenting became more trauma-informed over the next several days, and he showed consistent positive responses to this.

If he had struggled with the changes in the parenting, I would have adjusted accordingly by moving back on the spectrum towards the attachment parenting. I would have then transitioned more slowly and in response to his emotional development, and more specifically to his ability to respond positively to nurture, to be comforted by it rather than to react to it. However, he responded very well to Trauma-Informed Parenting, and he even experienced a time of resorting back to infantile attachment behaviors that were very meaningful to him at the time.

Your child can heal too! Seeing the innocence and the happiness on my son’s face after so many years of pain, anger, and defiance – made it all worth it!

Have you identified your child’s underlying issues of trauma and/or attachment?
Are there behaviors that indicate your child is uncomfortable with nurture?

Does your child need Attachment Therapeutic Parenting or Trauma-Informed Parenting?

Have you seen either form of parenting style being used in the wrong way or at the wrong time? What was that result?

Looking forward to hearing your experiences,

Dr. Aimie

Have more questions about this or want to ensure you get better as a parent? Schedule a consultation with me and I’ll work one-on-one with you.


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