Why Traditional Discipline Strategies May Fail With Traumatized Children

It is normal for children who have been severely traumatized over a protracted period to externalize and act out their inner psychological pain and such behaviour can be due to damage done to their neurological (brain) development by having been exposed to chronic, toxic levels as stress (see the ACE Study for examples of Adverse Childhood Experiences which can lead to such exposure).

Over time, when exposed to this kind of stress, the ‘higher’ and most recently evolved parts of the brain responsible for considered, rational thought can become impaired and fail to function properly whilst the ‘lower’ parts of the brain that evolved much earlier in human history and are purely reactive (i.e. they react to things such as perceived danger) become overly dominant or, to put it another way, essentially stuck in the ‘ON’ position so that the child becomes ensnared into a permanent state of ‘fight/flight/freeze.’

This means the child’s behaviour will often reflect unthinking reactions rather than thought-out responses. THIS IS BECAUSE OF THE WAY TRAUMA HAS CAUSED THE CHILD’S BRAIN, THROUGH NO FAULT OF HIS/HER OWN, TO DEVELOP.

Because these reactions happen so quickly and automatically and that the thinking part of the brain does not kick in on such occasions traditional approaches to discipline, because they depend on the thinking part of the brain, may not be helpful. Instead, the child needs help, best provided by an adult with whom there is a bond of trust and rapport, to stay calm in body and mind prior to the unwanted reaction behaviour taking place – this process is sometimes referred to as coregulation.

Coregulation is necessary because the child has not yet been able to learn how to self-regulate (i.e. calm him/herself down) due to his/her traumatic past).

According to parentingforbrain.com, the most effective ways a child learns to emotionally self-regulate include:

  • parental modelling
  • having responsive, warm and accepting parents
  • living in a positive emotional climate
  • being directly taught self-regulation techniques by a trusted adult
  • being taught self-care




David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).





Childhoodtraumarecovery.com is reader-supported. When you buy through links on this site, I may earn an affiliate commission.