Complex Trauma in Children and Adolescents: white paper from the National Child Trauma Stress Network Complex Trauma Task Force

This morning I printed out the white paper titled above, and I’ve attached the link here for you:

Click to access ComplexTrauma_All.pdf

There is so much important information provided in this paper, but I am going to focus today on the topic of how children learn to identify internal emotional experiences. I think this is an area that parents can utilize to support their children’s wellbeing. The authors state that the ability for children to differentiate between different states of arousal, interpret these states, and apply appropriate labels (symbols), ties into their ability to accurately identify their own emotions. What stands out in this statement for me is that this skill requires the experience of relationships with others. Children need others in order to understand and regulate their emotions. That’s why caregivers provide soothing for a baby by rocking, shushing, feeding, etc. (all external actions to give input and restore balance and regulation to the child who cannot yet do this for themselves).

The best way to help children develop these self-soothing capacities on their own is to show them accurate emotional pairings. For example, when the parent is hurt, the parent should not smile and say it’s okay to the baby. That is confusing and does not help organize the baby’s own internal emotional identification system. Instead, the parent should calmly, but accurately, show the baby that they are sad (frown, cry, etc.). “When children are provided with inconsistent models of affect and behavior, or inconsistent response to affective display (e.g. child distress met inconsistently with anger, rejection, nurturance, neutrality), no framework is provided through which to interpret experience.” According to the authors, when adults consistently offer confusing affect or responses to affect to their children, deficits in the ability of the child to understand their own emotions occurs (Beeghly & Cicchetti, 1996).

Up next: Expressing emotions safely, and regulating internal experience

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