“Perception is the dictator of endurance or how hard something is.”
– Alex Hutchinson
Alex Hutchinson is an award-winning journalist who specializes in the science of endurance fitness. Stemming from his experience as a competitive distance runner, he recently wrote Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance.
In an interview about the book on this podcast, Hutchinson explained that distance running success requires physical as well as mental training. A common pre-race mental technique is to study the course so that the runner knows where the steepest hills are. During the race, anticipating the most taxing locations enables the runner to persevere through the most difficult parts of the race.
When parenting children with trauma, wouldn’t it be helpful to know when hard times are going to occur? Unfortunately, those times are nearly impossible to predict. When they occur, we are taken off guard. We are surprised. Most of the time, we are shocked so much that we don’t know how we are going to keep going.
So, if we can’t predict where the steepest hills of parenting will be, how do we press on during those parts of the “race”?
We can grit our teeth, clench our fists, and impatiently wait for the hard time to pass.
Or, we can embrace the following strategies that will get us up the steep hill with a stronger connection to our child by the time we get to the top.
First, we DO know that caring for children with trauma is going to be full of challenges. While we don’t know when they will occur, we know that they will happen. We can think of parenting like running a marathon while wearing a blindfold; we feel the hard places only after we are already on the hill. Parenting children who are in the process of healing from trauma is going to be challenging. Accepting that will help lessen the shock of the hard.
Next, we can remember. Reminding ourselves of what our child has experienced before entering our homes puts us in a place of compassion. Some practical ways to do this are to write down the timeline of the child’s history (beginning in the womb), determine your child’s ACEs score, or talk with your spouse or close friend about your child’s trauma. This act of remembering is not meant to discourage, but instead, it is meant to remind yourself just what your child’s past has done to his or her present. The resulting compassion can help us slow down and walk up those parenting hills when they come.
Third, we need to ensure that we’ve gotten our child the help essential for healing. Is your home a place where your child feels safe? Have you created an environment of routine, healthy food and hydration? Is your child receiving trauma-specific mental health assistance? Is there an issue at school that is causing additional stress? Are you searching for reasons behind the challenging behavior that you are seeing?
Finally, parents must have margin for self-care while running these parenting hills. Endurance will be harder if you are frazzled to the point of no return. Self-care doesn’t necessarily mean a week at the spa. It’s different for everyone. Creating margin can include things like stocking up on groceries, practicing your faith disciplines, or making a therapy appointment for yourself. If you haven’t determined what your own self-care needs are, running up those steep parenting hills is going to seem impossible.
If you are on one of these hills right now, understand that this is normal. Remember your child’s past and take an inventory of the current help you are receiving. Take an honest look at your self-care plan. If you need help with these suggestions, don’t hesitate to contact Chosen today. We love to help children heal from trauma by strengthening families.