Because children at such a young age are impressionable, what they experience during their formative years, for better or for worse, have significant effects for the rest of their lives.
Traumatic events in childhood modifies a person’s psychological make-up well into their adulthoods, sometimes even later.
“For this, and many other reasons, children who have been maltreated are particularly vulnerable,” says Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist in the UTS Graduate School of Health Dr. John McAloon.
“They may be born to parents who have not had good models of parenting, to parents with their own trauma histories, or to parents with significant mental health difficulties,” he adds. “Every parent makes mistakes, but abusive or neglectful parenting goes beyond mistakes and into the realm of trauma.”
Unfortunately, many people do not know how to respond to children who have experienced emotional and psychological trauma.
Part of Dr. John McAloon research focuses on helping parents deal with such situations, and in the process find better ways to parent.
“Teaching parents about self-control, ways to regulate their own emotions, helps them better manage frustrating situations that are part and parcel of parenting,” he says. “Often it can be the difference between them taking their frustrations out on their children and not doing that.”
According to a Medical Xpress report, the UTS Family Child Behaviour Clinic, which McAloon established in 2015, has also developed a program of therapeutic foster care.
“The 10-week, group-based program offers education and therapeutic skills to foster carers and kinship carers (family members or close family friends who help to care for children when their parents cannot),” said the report. “It focuses on areas like child safety, trauma, attachment, relationships and skills-building within the context of foster and kinship care.”
Dr. McAloon says that what often happens is that children are removed from their biological parents and are placed in foster homes to be taken care of fostering families, or sometimes with members of their own extended families.
But he says this damages children’s development because their attachment relationships are repeatedly broken.
“In a situation like this,” he says, “a child has only limited ability to develop a stable idea of who they are, what they are worth, and how they might behave before their trust is broken.”
He added: “If the first foster care placement, or the second, can be supported to withstand the difficult emotions and behavior that often follow early maltreatment, then those children can have a better chance.”
READ: Padma Lakshmi opens up about overcoming trauma of sexual abuse
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