Fostering resilience: Strategies for empowering children affected by trauma

Children who end up in the care system often experience a home life plagued by sorrow. In this week’s long-read, two industry experts examine the best parenting strategies that can be adopted to ensure children are given the best start in life. 

Sair Penna is the director and founding member of The National Association of Therapeutic Parents (NATP) and Alison Douglas is the operations manager at TRUE and SAfER fostering.


Parents and caregivers, including birth, adoptive, foster parents, kinship carers, stepparents, and special guardians, are instrumental in shaping the lives of trauma-affected children. Often these children, burdened with the memories of distressing experiences, require more than just a home; they need a haven that actively promotes healing and growth and this is why we advocate and promote therapeutic parenting strategies. Insights from both personal experiences and our therapeutic fostering agencies have consistently shown the necessity for a customised, trauma-sensitive approach in care.

Understanding Resilience: Unpacking the concept

True resilience goes beyond mere recovery; it encompasses the extraordinary ability of children to adapt, overcome, and evolve in the face of adversity. This concept is pivotal for children who have survived trauma, marking an essential milestone on their path to recovery and a hopeful future. It is about equipping them with the tools to transform their challenges into strengths.

Creating a safe and nurturing environment 

The first step in cultivating resilience is establishing a secure and nurturing environment. Countless children in care have endured severe trauma, including abuse and neglect. Within a safe space, trust begins to grow, forming the bedrock of resilience. Parents and caregivers need to keep their promises, provide a lot of emotional support, and actively demonstrate their commitment to the child’s wellbeing.

This is why therapeutic parenting stands as a cornerstone in the journey of fostering resilience in children affected by trauma. It’s a nurturing and empathetic approach tailored for children who have faced trauma, neglect, or attachment difficulties. Central to this approach is the understanding of how a child’s past experiences influence their behaviour and emotions. Therapeutic parenting focuses on providing a consistent, structured environment, rich in empathy and validation. It prioritises building secure attachments, understanding that children with trauma histories often grapple with trust and forming healthy relationships. This method also emphasises teaching emotional regulation techniques and adapting parenting styles to meet the individual needs of each child. 

Crucially, it acknowledges the emotional challenges faced by caregivers themselves, highlighting the importance of their own well-being in creating a healing environment. Therapeutic parenting is not just a set of actions but a transformative mindset, essential in guiding children towards a path of recovery and emotional well-being.

This seamless integration of therapeutic parenting into the existing framework of care enhances the overall approach to nurturing resilience in children who have faced trauma. It further emphasises the depth and complexity of the care required to support their journey towards healing and growth.

Building healthy relationships and community connections

In a secure environment, children are encouraged to build meaningful relationships with peers, mentors, and support networks. These interactions are crucial in helping them forge a sense of belonging and resilience. Activities like group sports, arts, and community events provide vital platforms for these connections, reinforcing their sense of identity and belonging.

Promoting open communication: Embracing the therapeutic approach

Effective communication is key to building resilience. Many children in care struggle to express their emotions due to past traumas. By establishing a warm, empathetic atmosphere, caregivers can encourage children to share their thoughts and feelings openly. Regular check-ins, coupled with activities that align with the child’s interests, provide safe avenues for expression. Active listening and empathy are vital in creating an environment where children feel heard and understood.

Empowering with coping skills: Emotional regulation as a tool

Trauma can disrupt a child’s ability to regulate emotions. Therapeutic parenting approaches arm caregivers with effective strategies, such as mindfulness, deep breathing exercises, and journaling, to teach children emotional regulation. These skills are essential for children to manage their emotions constructively, paving the way for resilience.

Harnessing support and resources: A collaborative effort

The journey to build resilience often requires a diverse range of support systems. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to seek out therapy or counselling services for the child and engage in caregiver support groups. These resources provide additional strategies and insights for nurturing resilience in children who have faced trauma.

Prioritising self-care for caregivers: Essential for sustained support

While focusing on the children’s needs, the wellbeing of caregivers is equally crucial. Preventing burnout and compassion fatigue is essential for providing optimal care. Regular breaks, a supportive network of friends and family, and professional help form the pillars of effective self-care for caregivers.

Conclusion: Embarking on a transformative journey

Fostering resilience in children who have faced trauma is a challenging but profoundly rewarding endeavour. It encompasses creating a nurturing environment, enhancing communication, imparting coping skills, and leveraging support systems. The principles of therapeutic parenting empower caregivers to significantly impact the lives of these children, helping them transcend their past traumas and build a resilient future. By cultivating resilience, we contribute not only to their immediate wellbeing but also to their ability to thrive and flourish. This journey of hope, transformation, and empowerment is a testament to the vital role caregivers play in shaping resilient, strong individuals, despite the challenges they have faced.

Images: Sair Penna, Alison Douglas and Pexels

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