If you are caring for a child with developmental trauma, one of the biggest challenges is handling the compassion fatigue which can occur as your every effort is blocked.
As a child with developmental trauma attempts to avoid the pain of rejection, the way they communicate is often the opposite of what they really need. For example:
- I don’t need comfort;
- I don’t need support from you;
- I am not sad;
- I am not vulnerable;
- I don’t enjoy being with you;
- I don’t turn to you for happiness or comfort.
Your every attempt to show love and care is blocked, hence the name, “blocked care”.
Over time, this can drain the heart out of even the most caring of parents or teachers. While you may still be able to provide for the child’s basic needs, you are no longer able to open your heart to them, and are missing out on the joy that is usually part of caregiving.
Why Do Children With Developmental Trauma Block Care?
When a child with developmental trauma experiences caring from the adults in their lives – it’s exciting, it’s joyful, it’s loving – but it also scares them and makes them anxious. The child blocks their care and trust, making it extremely difficult to build a relationship.
In response, caregivers may begin to develop more self-protective and vigilant behaviours; guarding themselves against anything the child might do to hurt them, either physically or psychologically.
Not surprisingly, foster carers, parents, teachers and the like may find themselves struggling to keep caring. They do their job, but their heart is no longer in it. If they are being supported through therapeutic intervention, their main focus remains on the child’s behaviours; when questioned about what the behaviour means, they say things like, “I don’t care, I just want him/her to stop it”.
If the case practitioner suggests that “until we understand what it means, we can’t get it to stop”, the caregiver is likely to say, “I am sorry, I just don’t have any interest in maintaining the placement/position unless the child stops it”. They are in SURVIVAL MODE.
They are feeling drained, and don’t have the energy to stop and figure out the underlying causes of the child’s behaviour. They just want and need the behaviour to stop.
When in a blocked care situation, it can be hard to keep an open mind, or try new things, as you struggle with the same things day after day, week after week, month after month.
A common tactic parents and caregivers use when teaching children, is the use of consequences for behaviour. However this is not always appropriate, particularly in the case of developmental trauma. When caregivers and other supportive adults focus on the child’s behaviours and correction, they forget that correction does not work without connection.
So, if the behaviour is not stopping, they then add more pressure on themselves, the child, and other stakeholders, which tends to make the situation worse.
Children need to have a trusting and nurturing relationship along with enjoyment with their carers’ first. Without this, there are few incentives and reinforcements that are going to work effectively.
Are you experiencing Blocked Care?
The followings are some of the signs that you might be in a blocked care situation. Do you find yourself:
- Feeling defensive, and being more guarded to protect yourself from rejection?
- Feeling burnt out, chronically overwhelmed or fatigued?
- Being aware that while you are taking care of a child’s practical needs, it’s hard to feel any real pleasure in parenting or caregiving?
- Feeling very caught-up with the child’s behaviour, rather than the meaning of the behaviour?
- Being more reactive, rather than proactive?
- Feeling ‘stuck’, and unable to come up with new ways of helping the child.
- Increasingly sensitive to rejection?
- Becoming irritable with your partner or other family members?
- Withdrawing from friends and family?
- Feeling cynical about your situation and/or the help being offered by your support network?
- Finding it hard to tap into feelings of compassion or nurture – and then feeling guilty about this?
- Feeling that you have ‘shut down’ emotionally?
If you are a parent or caregiver needing some support, particularly if you are experiencing blocked care, seek out a mental health professional with the experience and training to help you with your challenges.
Vishal Patel is an Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, with significant experience in working with victims of trauma, abuse and violence. His area of interest includes addressing significant complex and challenging behaviours in children under the age of 12 years. He is able to provide therapy in English, Gujarati, Hindi and Urdu.
To make an appointment try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Brisbane on (07) 3067 9129.
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- Kraybill, O. (2019). What Is Developmental Trauma?. Retrieved 20 August 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/expressive-trauma-integration/201808/what-is-developmental-trauma
- Baylin, J., & Hughes, D. (2016). The neurobiology of attachment-focused therapy (pp. 1 to 16). New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
- McLean, S. (2019). The effect of trauma on the brain development of children. Retrieved 20 August 2019, from https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/effect-trauma-brain-development-children
- Rockville, M. (2014). Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioural Health Services Understanding the Impact of Trauma. Retrieved 20 August 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK207191
- Elliott, A. (2019). Blocked Care – The Child Psychology Service. Retrieved 21 August 2019, from https://thechildpsychologyservice.co.uk/advice-strategy/blocked-care/
- Baylin, J. (2019). Children’s Blocked Trust: How Compassionate Care Helps Reverse the Effects of Early Poor Care. Retrieved 27 August 2019, from https://www.nacac.org/resource/childrens-blocked-trust-how-compassionate-care-helps-reverse-the-effects-of-early-poor-care/