As the parent, you ARE your child’s best advocate. While it would be fab if all the professionals on your child’s team were trauma-informed and used connective strategies, the reality is that the professional world is usually lags behind the unrelenting research of a parent on a mission to help her child.
Ideally, the therapist on your team would be trauma-informed, TBRI-trained, and understand attachment theory. Not to mention experience with art and play therapy, adoption, and children. Obviously all therapists are not created equal and the success your family has with therapy is largely dependent on the the therapist. This is probably the only professional on your team where trauma-informedness is non-negotiable. If he is inexperienced with children coming from hard places, find out if he is willing to become trained or at least watch videos. If you can’t find a good fit for your child and family, it can be just as effective to just find a great listening ear for you, the parent. Find someone who can validate your emotions and keep you accountable for self-care.
If you are working with a psychiatrist mostly for medication management who is not trauma-informed, be specific on what you want from a medication. Do you want to manage anxiety, mood, inattentiveness ? Look for a clinic who uses EEGs to find if your child suffers from high or low brain activity. Trauma kids often have symptoms that mirror other psychological diagnoses, so this information can help your psychiatrist use the most effective medications for managing your child’s symptoms.
Hospitalization can cause more trauma but is sometimes necessary for the safety of your and your child. If you decide to admit your child for an acute stay, plan on using it as documentation that your child needs more services, not as a service in itself. Do not expect your child to come home improved. In the ER before you decide to admit, see if you can get a staff person to help facilitate a connection between you and your child. Sometimes a third party giving both the parent and child “voice” can help diffuse a misunderstanding or crisis moment. If you end up admitting, work closely with the staff to reconnect with your child, and make sure to check in with your therapist for insight on how to make the most of the admittance and avoid as much trauma as possible. Visit and call often so your child understands you are still on his team, but you will do what is necessary to keep everyone safe. Be mindful that children who have been institutionalized in the past will often look really successful in a hospital setting because there is not a primary attachment figure to trigger them.
Schools can be a tricky place to navigate without the trauma implications. Know your rights and where the burden of proof for getting resources lies in your state. The school makes decisions based on hard data so be sure to collect evidence-based information before approaching the school. By law, students need to be provided accommodations so that they can access the general curriculum. Most trauma kids who struggle at school (either behaviorally or academically) are being impacted by severe anxiety. Your child’s behavior may not look like the traditional anxiety schools and teachers are used to seeing, so it is your job to voice, “It’s anxiety!” again and again. See if there are volunteer parent advocates (or granted funded ones) that can help you learn the system where you are. Keywords are really important when navigating education services. Know which ones will get your child the appropriate accommodations.
Behavior plans are a connected parents worst nightmare. They may pop up at any of the above places. While you can’t really completely skirt around them, there are ways to not fall into the behavior-modification-cause-and-effect trap. If you are asked to identify levels of behavior (the traffic light analogy seems popular), this can actually be great tool for communicating expectations clearly. In our family, yellow light behavior is when it can be corrected and redone without excessive drama, opposition, and disrespect. Red light behavior is when yellow light behaviors escalate and become unsafe for anyone. This was helpful because it helped our daughter realize she didn’t have to be perfect, but she did have to accept correction from us. When asked to match consequences to behaviors, we used natural ones. Red light behaviors meant we would do what we needed to create safety for everyone. Sometimes that was calling crisis stabilization, sometimes the police were involved, and sometimes it just meant she had to go live somewhere else where she could regulate better. We committed to connecting tools for yellow light behaviors. The professionals working with you may look at you sideways, but just go with it.
What are ways you have managed to stay connected in the midst of less informed professionals?