Is unresolved trauma stealing your joy of parenthood?

Social worker, Sandri Appelgryn.

Dear Herald readers.

I often encounter parents reporting their difficulties in handling their children’s uncontrollable behaviour.

Very often complaints from the child’s school cause parent to seek assistance.

“He is very disobedient and I have no control over him” and “I feel like giving up and allowing her to do whatever she pleases”.

These are examples of very frustrated and desperate parents seeking assistance with managing their children.

Standard practice involves that when a child is assessed, the family system in which the child functions is assessed as well. This is based on systems theory that tells us that every individual operates within different systems that could have an impact on his or her level of functioning, including behaviour.

Therefore, when parents report their child’s unruly behaviour they are encouraged to participate in the assessment process. This is very helpful as very often it is possible to identify factors in the parent-child relationship and in the family environment that cause or at least contribute to the behaviour of the child that causes concern.

One of these factors I wish to discuss that parents often report about traumatic experiences in their own lives – as children or as adults – that impact their parenting abilities. Some parents report feeling emotionally disconnected from their children. Their background often reveals unresolved trauma.

Examples include a history of childhood sexual and/ or physical abuse, problems in their relationship with their own parents or traumatic experiences associated with losing loved ones, or sickness.

If not properly dealt with, their unresolved trauma can lead to further personal problems such as relationship problems, family violence, substance abuse and experiencing difficulties at work.

These parents often report feeling overwhelmed by their children’s demands and experience them as different compared to other children. In such cases, it is very important to assist the parent in identifying their own challenges relating to unresolved trauma and to support them in developing insight into how their personal difficulties can impact on their children’s behaviour.

If this is not done, the focus is shifted from the parents’ difficulties and challenges to the child’s behaviour, which very often is the symptom of a parent-child relationship and family system that require support and intervention.

Disconnected parents have difficulties finding any joy in being a parent. I urge parents to consider whether they have unresolved trauma that could contribute to the manner in which their children are misbehaving.

Although parenthood is challenging, it should also bring you joy and happy memories. If this is not true for you please share your questions or comments by sending an e-mail to

• Sandri Appelgryn, social worker in private practice, writes:

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