Children react in different ways to traumatic experiences. Of course, this is partly due to genetic differences (some children are more genetically vulnerable to the effects of trauma than others).
However, the psychologist Perry, an expert in the area of childhood trauma, has identified six key strengths a child needs to possess to maximize his/her chances of coping with traumatic experiences successfully. The six strengths that Barry describes are as follows:
The role of the primary caretaker is, of course, vital in helping the child to develop each of these strengths. This is why a dysfunctional relationship with the primary caregiver can be so profoundly disruptive to a child’s psychological development.
Let’s look at each of the six key strengths in turn :
1) ATTACHMENT – as I state above, the quality of the bond a child forms with the primary caregiver (usually the mother) is crucial. A healthy bond will help ensure that the child is able to develop and maintain other supportive relationships in later life.
2) SELF-REGULATION – this refers to the ability to control feelings and emotions such as fear, anger and anxiety. The ability is NOT innate, but, rather, it is learned as the child gets older.
The provision of emotional support from the primary caregiver (e.g. soothing the child when s/he is frightened) for the child, especially in his/her earliest years, is vital if the child is to learn the skill of self-regulation successfully.
NB : Children who suffer very severe trauma sometimes go on to develop a condition known as borderline personality disorder (BPD), or other psychological disorders, in adulthood. Early therapeutic intervention for those at risk is therefore of the utmost importance. However, always consult a relevant, experienced and well qualfied professional when making decisions about therapy.
One of the hallmarks of BPD is an inability to control strong emotions. CLICK HERE to read my article on this.
3) AFFILIATION – this refers to the child being able, successfully, to integrate within groups. This is normally first learned within the family and, later, if all goes well, the child is able to comfortably fit in with other groups.
4) ATTUNEMENT – this refers to the skill of being sensitive to the needs and feelings of others. However, if the child is not properly cared for in early life, this ability may well be severely impaired.
Being attuned to the needs and feelings of others helps the child to affiliate (as described above in 3).
5) TOLERANCE – this refers to the child’s willingness to accept others who differ from him/herself. In a functional and healthy family, this can be learned by modelling behaviour on that of the parents/primary caregiver.
6) RESPECT – refers to valuing, and seeing the worth in, self and others. It has its foundations in the skills already described above.
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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE)Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2014 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery