Children who have been abused or neglected need safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments to recover from the trauma they’ve experienced. If you’re parenting a child with a history of abuse or neglect, you may have questions about how you can help them heal.
Steps for Helping a Child Heal
There are behavioral strategies you can take to help your child begin rebuilding their confidence and resilience after suffering from abuse or neglect.
Although exposure to abuse raises the risk of negative psychological, social, and emotional short and long-term outcomes, a child’s resilience can be developed to help protect them from developing physical or mental health problems in the long run.
According to the American Psychological Association, resilience in children enables them to thrive despite difficult situations. The process of developing healthy resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that can be learned over time, and nurtured through positive and healthy relationships with parents, caregivers, or other supportive adults.
Some of the measures you can take to begin helping your child or loved one begin to build resilience include:
- Model a positive outlook: When faced with an issue, show your child that the problem is only temporary and things will get better.
- Children learn from your ability to bounce back from difficulties.
- Build confidence: Let your child know when they do something well, like demonstrating kindness or honesty.
- Express support: Express love, empathy, and support your little one verbally and physically. Express your love through words, notes, and hugs.
- Build connections: Create bonds with friends and family that can support your child through their challenges.
Allow children to express themselves: Teach them how to identify and describe their feelings, and commend them for expressing feelings of hurt or sadness without acting out.
- Be consistent: Be there for your child and listen to them. It will help teach your child that people can be trusted.
- Be patient: Children’s responses to trauma vary as widely as the types of trauma one can face, so be patient with them throughout the process.
The healing process isn’t linear. After experiencing trauma, resilience takes time to develop. You can help them heal by:
- Address their physical safety first by assuring them that no one will physically touch or harm them. This will help your child develop feelings of trust and openness to psychological and emotional healing.
- Address the past as the past. Help your child identify elements of their current life that are different from the past. Use this as a chance to discuss expectations and personal boundaries. To encourage feelings of belonging and attachment, offer regular routines in meals, naps, and bedtime. Talk to them about the importance of feelings, and teach them to solve problems in age-appropriate ways.
As kids can be taught to be resilient, so can parents. By improving your own resiliency, you’ll help to improve the long-term well-being of your child.
Build a Strong Relationship With Your Child
A child’s earliest relationships are some of their most crucial. A strong and secure emotional bond between children and their caregivers is critical for healthy physical, social, and emotional development, including their ability to form trusting relationships and showcase positive behaviors.
Parents should learn and practice the nurturing skills that lead to strong, secure bonds with their children. This helps to improve the likelihood of positive outcomes for children.
If children lack an attachment to a caring adult, get inconsistent nurturing, or experience cruel punishment, the consequences can impact their lifelong health, well-being, and relationships with others. In certain scenarios, children may lack a strong attachment because their parents work multiple jobs to provide for them, so less time is spent together building a strong and secure emotional bond.
To help build a secure relationship with your child, you should:
- Be available: Provide consistent support to your child to help them develop feelings of trust and safety.
- Be supportive and empathetic: Comfort your child when they’re upset, modeling appropriate displays of affection, and building self-esteem.
- Be encouraging: Listen, and be involved and interested in your child’s activities. Make note of their interests and friends, and stay actively supportive.
Spread Awareness and Make a Difference
If you are the parent of a child who has experienced abuse and neglect, helping them through that trauma can seem like a daunting task. Remember, however, that many children who have been abused or neglected grow up to live happy, healthy lives.
You and your family play a critical role in your child’s healing. You can find more resources and options for support at the Children Advocacy Center of Hidalgo and Starr Counties. Our mission is to protect all children from neglect and abuse, and help those who have suffered heal and restore their childhood.