Parenting, Infancy and Trauma: (Part 1)Jan 13, 2023
There are several approaches to parenting. So many books, experts and models presented as facts and “evidence-based” approaches, many of which are outdated, constantly changing and based on old science.
Parents are bombarded with techniques and strategies that make all kinds of promises. A major consequence of such approaches is that parenting becomes robotic, unnatural and by the book.
We lose our ability to be natural with our children, follow our gut instincts and just “Be” with them. So much of what we learn and are conditioned to believe disconnects us further from our natural and biological parenting impulses.
For example, picking up a crying infant and helping soothe him/her is a very natural response for a mother or father. Our whole being has a primal and instinctual drive to help soothe our children, but we are taught to disconnect from that impulse and go against it.
Going against this very natural desire to help ease a child’s pain causes damage to the child and high-stress levels for parents.
The mechanical approaches to many parenting styles feel more like a classroom or military school. We are taught to follow regimes as if there are step-by-step processes to follow that will create emotionally healthy and obedient little human beings.
Life is not like that, and humans are not like that. What these box-ticking regimes do is create a pseudo-sense of control and functionality within the household and society.
This gives the illusion that things are well and functional—the appearance of a healthy functioning household to the spectator, but below the surface is trauma, pain, resentment and disconnect.
Rather than tell you how to parent and give you a list of things to do and boxes to tick, I am going to offer a perspective that encourages you to reconnect with yourself and learn to trust your own instincts and internal guidance.
I’ll provide a basic outline from a trauma-informed perspective, including a basic understanding of how the nervous system develops and how children internalise their environment. This is based on the work of several prominent neuroscientists in the field and backed by my own extensive research into Ego Psychology and Object Relations Theory.
The truth is, none of this really matters because, as parents, we have an instinctual and biological drive, which we can attune to and follow when looking after our children. The most effective parenting style is not a style at all but a following of the natural, organic, paternal and maternal instincts.
When this drive is not veiled or inhibited by our own childhood trauma, we can parent in a very natural and spontaneous way and from a place of effortless presence.
There is a word for this natural driving force. It’s the same energy all species parent their children from—Love.
In infancy, the areas of the brain that govern self-regulation have not developed sufficiently for the infant to come out of stress on their own. The human infant is one of the most helpless animals on the planet as they are 100% reliant on their caregivers for survival.
An infant cannot even scratch their own itch, let alone regulate their emotions. The child regulates via co-regulation with the caregivers by touch, eye contact, soothing, resonance and coherence with the adult's nervous system.
When co-regulation happens over and over again, the child's nervous system begins to learn how to come out of stress. This process of contraction and expansion is what builds the foundations for a healthy nervous system, one that can experience stress and regulate on its own in adulthood.
If this co-regulation does not happen for a child, each time the child is left on their own to deal with it, the stress turns into chronic stress, and this results in a nervous system that is unable to self-regulate, resulting in what I would call a form of developmental trauma.
The process of co-regulating and soothing our children is hardwired into us. It is instinctual to help our children to feel held when they are in distress. As a species, we have forced ourselves to disconnect from this impulse due to either our own trauma or advice from professionals.
Infants and children cannot come out of distress without the assistance of a regulated adult. When understood by parents, this foundational piece of information can be a transformative piece of information, with far-reaching effects throughout the child's life.
If parents were able to reconnect to their own internal guidance system when parenting, I believe this would have the power to transform our world. The healthier the nervous system, the better our mental health.
The better our mental health, the better we feel within ourselves. The better we feel within ourselves, the more we treat others and our environment with care and compassion.
If a child experiences genuine attunement, connection, presence and regulation with their parents, their nervous system becomes wired for connection, thriving and growth. They set themselves up for healthy relationships and connected relational patterns, which then ripple and impact the people they are in relationship with and so on.
Peace & Blessing,
Matt Kay (Co-Creator of Embodied Processing)