As much as we want to protect our children from scary or life threatening events, at times our kids may experience events that overwhelm their ability to cope. This is especially true for very young children whose bodies, brains and nervous systems are still developing. Things like life threatening medical conditions, a painful medical procedure, witnessing domestic violence or experiencing sexual abuse can impact behavior and development. Without intervention this can lead traumatized children to have long-term academic, social and physical and behavioral problems.
Very young children are unique in that they need the help and support of the caregiver to help them heal from distressing events and experiences. Child Parent Psychotherapy (CPP) is an evidence-based treatment for children under 6 who have witnessed or experienced at least one traumatic event. The CPP therapist works collaboratively with the parent(s) and child. The CPP therapist is the bridge between the parent and the child, helping each understand the other’s motivations and experiences as well as finding pleasure in the other’s company.
Think of CPP as interconnected lenses through which to understand the family. These lenses include:
• Safety: Is the child safe now? Is it over?
• Development: What is the impact of the trauma on the child’s development? Is the child regressing? Are they exhibiting new problematic behaviors like crying, stomach aches, angry outbursts, sleep problems?
• Attachment: What is the relationship with the parent? How does the parent’s own growing up experience impact their ability to understand or attend to the feelings of the child?
• Trauma: Did both parent and child experience the event? For example, domestic violence or a car accident? How does the parent understand the child’s experience? How has the trauma impacted the parent? Are they also struggling to heal from the trauma?
In CPP, the therapist collaborates with the parent to help the child get back on developmental track. A key component is strengthening the attachment relationship. Attachment is the special emotional relationship or bond between parent and child. The child finds security and safety in this relationship. The relationship involves soothing, comfort and pleasure. The loss or the threat of loss of this relationship evokes distress in a young child. And sometimes trauma can disrupt this relationship. Finally, CPP therapy seeks to help parents and children process the distressing event and put it to rest so that it no longer impacts the the child’s ability to function, grow and thrive.
The Clingy Thing and Inside Him are two short videos that can help parents understand the connection between a child’s behavior and distressing events. This Circle of Security video highlights the challenge of attending to our child’s feelings when we as parents are triggered by our own difficult past experiences.
If you would like to discuss concerns about your child or traumatized children in general or if you have any questions about CPP, please contact me at 630-290-8460.
~ Judy Petrushka, LCSW, CDVP