PARENTING AND THE LEGACY OF CHILDHOOD TRAUMA PART 2: Positive parenting lessons we learned in reverse


In Part 2 of Parenting with CPTSD, Joyelle Brandt discusses some parenting strategies for survivors.

Parents who are survivors of childhood abuse face many obstacles that other parents don’t have to deal with. We often live in a state of hyper-arousal which makes it hard to manage the chaos of life with children. We wake in the morning after nightmares have plagued us, and have flashbacks while driving the kids to school. We often struggle to understand which issues we and our children have that are “normal” and which are trauma related. But there is one unexpected upside to being a parent who is a survivor of childhood trauma: we often learn lessons in parenting from our abusers. Some of the most important lessons come from learning what NOT to do, and working from there.

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As parenting survivors, our goal is to create a safe home for ourselves and our children. This isn’t easy, but the work we do now will change lives of generations to come.

Here are 3 family rules abuse survivors have adopted in direct response to their experiences with childhood abuse:

 1. In this family, we don’t hit, ever.

 A recent New York Times article shared the new guidelines on spanking from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which stated that they “advise parents against the use of spanking… and using nonphysical punishment that is humiliating, scary or threatening” to try to change children’s behavior. Recent scientific studies quoted in the article outlined some of the negative effects of corporal punishment, including a loss of trust in the parent, lowered performance I.Q. and increased aggression. But parents who were hit as children don’t need scientific studies to prove what they already know. They understand the damage that is caused by being hit, humiliated or terrorized by the person who is supposed to protect you. And they make a commitment to create a safe home for their children, because they know the damage done to the soul when home is not a safe place to be.

We also enforce this rule when our children lash out at each other. “I try to name feelings and say it's ok to feel xyz, it's NOT ok to hit/bite/pinch etc etc.” says Joyce, a mother living with Complex PTSD from childhood abuse. Which brings us to point number two:

2. In this family, we talk about our feelings.

Growing up in an abusive home often means that our feelings were never validated, or even allowed. This is especially true for feelings like anger, frustration and rage. The suppression of all these feelings leads to difficulty as an adult being able to correctly identify and process our emotions, which affects every single aspect of our lives, from our homes to our workplaces.

Lauren, another survivor mama, says to her kids: “You have a right to feel however you feel. Use your words to let people know how you feel.” James talks about the importance of modeling this for his kids, which includes both identifying his own emotions out loud, and also helping his kids identify their emotions with phrases like “It seems like you are feeling really frustrated right now. Is that how you are feeling?”

Identifying our emotions is a learned skill, both for our kids and for ourselves. It can help to use a tool, such as the Mood Meter or another emotion identifying chart. In an article on Building Healthy Communication Patterns with our Kids, Ris Phillips wrote about how this was an important tool for her family:

 “When my oldest was little, we bought an emotion chart for his bedroom. Sometimes before bed we went through the different emotions, copying the faces (he found this hilarious). If he was upset, but didn’t want to talk about it, we asked him to point to the way he was feeling on the chart. This helped us teach him how to name his emotions.”

For many survivors, it has taken years of therapy to be able to identify and understand our own feelings, and we want to ensure that our children don’t have to fight that same battle.

3. In this family, we respect each other's boundaries.

Teaching children to respect both their own boundaries and the boundaries of others is one of the best ways to prevent childhood sexual abuse. Adrianne Simeone, founder of The Mama Bear Effect and author of the children’s book My Body is Special and Private, says it like this:

“Talking to our children about body safety is an expression of love. It shows that we care and respect them as people, deserving of protection, by being honest and open about their bodies and the world. Being a parent makes them our responsibility, not our property.”

 Some guidelines that parents have created around boundaries include:

 It's ok to say no to anyone! Even grown ups.
Ask people before giving them a hug or a kiss.

Your body, you decide what feels right for you.

If you don’t like something tell the person.
If someone says no to you touching their body you need to stop.

Your body is yours, their body is theirs.
You don't need to apologize if you say "no" to someone.

Stop when someone says stop.

Pay attention to body language for cues that someone is uncomfortable.

Another tool many families and educators use is the My Body song, which explains in simple language the concept of respecting boundaries.

 “My body’s nobody’s body but mine,

you run your own body,

let me run mine.”

Some people feel that explaining the concept of consent to children is uncomfortable or confusing, but it can be as simple as a reminder that “When your brother doesn’t want to hug you, you need to respect his wishes” or offering options such as “If you don’t feel like giving Auntie a hug, you can give her a high five instead.”

 As parenting survivors, our goal is to create a safe home for ourselves and our children. This isn’t easy, but the work we do now will change lives of generations to come.

About the author:

Joyelle Brandt is a parenting coach who specializes in working with mothers who are survivors of abuse. As a speaker, mothering coach, and multi-media creator, Joyelle works to dismantle the stigma that keeps childhood abuse survivors stuck in shame and self-hatred.  She is the author of Princess Monsters from A to Z and co-editor of Parenting with PTSD, the groundbreaking anthology that breaks the silence about the long-term impact of childhood trauma so that parents can break the cycle of abuse.

When she is not busy raising two rambunctious boys, she is most often found playing her guitar or covered in paint at her art desk. You can keep up with Joyelle at or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for art and inspiration.