Christine Kutzner M.Ed., RCC - Counselling Services

Parenting Matters Printable PDF version

Volume 22, April 2010

I have been quite busy this April with both attending and presenting parenting workshops! The parent workshop Calming the Storm: Managing Difficult Behaviours that Chasidy Karpiuk and I gave was very well attended both at John Braiwaithe Centre and at Cove Cliff Elementary School. So if you belong to an organization that needs or wants an informative talk, please pass along my contact information . There are several topics that I have set up as parenting workshops.

I attended an interesting workshop this past weekend on Hard to Heal Children. The presenter was Lorie Walton who uses attachment principles and theraplay when working with both adopted children or children who are in the foster care system. In this month’s PARENTING MATTERS I would like to summarize some key points that I feel will benefit parents of all children.

Hard to Heal Children - Part 1

A baby’s healthy attachment relationship to their main caregiver in infancy is the strongest predictor of feeling confident, positive about the world, developing resiliency, and regulating emotions later in life.. This means that when the parent is really in tune with their baby’s needs on a consistent and regular basis, the baby is not only learning to trust their caregiver, but the baby’s raw brain is mimicking how to soothe itself. A baby is constantly looking to its caregivers for cues on how to act and react. The interchange between a baby and the parent acts as a road map for the infant to learn how to take care of strong feelings such as anger or over excitement as it grows older. A person’s high self-esteem is directly related to having a SECURE ATTACHMENT relationship as an infant.

So what happens to an infant who did not receive consistent and regular attention to their needs? Or when they are not being touched affectionately? If an infant is living in a stressful environment their body produces a surge of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone released in the body that gets our adrenalin going in times of stress or danger and helps produce the fight or flight response. Infants who have repeated stressful experiences (not being attended to on a regular basis, absence of gentle touch, lack of appropriate stimulation to learn, and neglectful or abusive parenting) grow up being used to high coritsol levels. Cortisol “bleaches the brain” making it difficult for the child to connect properly with others. For example, babies who were raised in orphanages often act out as young children in their new families to keep their adrenalin activated. These children become difficult for the parents to engage with or in forming a bond.

When there is persistent fear or stress in a baby’s life it can lead to:

  • Negative coping behaviours
  • Physiological symptoms
  • Challenging behaviours

Lorie Walton’s states in both her theraplay practice and in brain development literature, "parents often misinterpret both the neurological effects and the coping behaviours as bad and as needing to be controlled. But these are signals of distress and are indicators of complete EMOTIONAL DISREGULATION.”

Negative or positive experiences in an infant’s life effect how the brain matures and develops. As children grow one sees the affect these experiences have on adaptive and maladaptive coping strategies and on how they regulate their emotions. On-going stress is toxic to the brain. Lorie uses theraplay (a philosophy that is based on attachment research to help children who have missed out on positive early caretaking) as a way to make in roads to changing the way the child’s brain is reacting to caretakers. Theraplay uses play and healthy touch as a way to stimulate endorphins necessary to help the brain grow and change positively. Her interventions are designed to help the child “go back” to where the trauma occurred in their development so the brain can learn or re-learn a healthier way of coping.

Putting these ideas into practical terms
How I put this information together for practical thinking about children I may work with is as follows:

  • Did the mother experience a lot of stress during her pregnancy? Such as being in a difficult relationship, feeling depressed or having an unwanted pregnancy. If so this baby has already an elevated level of cortisol and may contribute to this baby being harder to soothe.
  • Did the mother experience severe post partum depression? Was she or another caregiver truly available to attune tothe emotional needs of her baby?
  • What other stressors were present at the time of the baby’s birth? For example, death of a loved one, financial stressors, marital discord, or too many other children to look after.
  • Stress in our lives profoundly affects us.
  • Learning how to take care of ourselves when we are stressed is vital. This needs to start with the adults in charge. Parents today lead very busy lives at a significant cost to our children’s health.

Click here for Hard to Heal Children - Part 2

Christine Kutzner Counselling Services 604-339-5774

Christine Kutzner, M.Ed. is a Registered Clinical Counsellor providing services to children, parents and families in North and West Vancouver. To inquire, contact Christine.

Copyright Christine Kutzner, 2010. All rights reserved.


Christine provides counselling services to children, parents, and
families in Vancouver, North Vancouver, and West Vancouver.

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