Here's One Reason Why Separation From Their Parents is Traumatic for Children


We know that separation from parents is traumatic for children, but why? 

 Learn about co-regulation - what it is, why it's important, and how to foster it; and why it's so detrimental to lose it, especially for young children, but for any child separated from their parent(s).  this co-regulation digest was compiled by Stacey Mietus.

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We are grateful to Stacey Mietus for compiling this digest of co-regulation articles and perspectives.

Note from Stacey: If caregivers learn more about co-regulation and the treatment of trauma in children, they will be better able to understand the challenges inherent in caring for children who have been separated from their parents and help them effectively. Here are links to a few resources:

How self-regulation blossoms from healthy co-regulation across the developmental timeline, from Duke University's, Co-Regulation from Birth Through Young Adulthood:

  • Self-regulation has become recognized for its foundational role in promoting wellbeing across the lifespan...[and] can be defined as the act of managing thoughts and feelings to enable goal-directed actions, and includes a variety of behaviors necessary for success in school, relationships, and the workplace.  ...  Although it may sound like something internal to an individual, self-regulation develops through interaction with caregivers, such as parents, teachers, coaches, and other mentors.  Further, self-regulation development is dependent on predictable, responsive, and supportive environments. 
  • The supportive process between caring adults and children, youth, or young adults that fosters self-regulation development is called "co-regulation."  This term began as a description of adult support for infants, but is now used to describe an interactive process of regulatory support that can occur within the context of caring relationships across the lifespan.  Co-regulation will look different at different ages as a child's capacity for self-regulation grows but remains a critical resource across development
  • Extensive information is available from Duke University's Duke Center for Child and Family Policy for the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), and Duke's Office of Planning, Research, and Evaluation (OPRE), including a  brief that describes co-regulation skills and strategies for caregivers at each stage from birth through young adulthood.: Read more here.

From the same source, a deeper dive into the impact of trauma across developmental stages, and some ideas for intervening.  Here's a graphic summarizing developmental stages, characteristics of self-regulation at each stage, and caregiver co-regulation supports: 

  •  To learn about the report, Self-Regulation and Toxic Stress: Foundations for Understanding Self-Regulation from an Applied Developmental Perspective: Read more here.

And finally from Duke University - a link to all the compiled reports on Toxic Stress and Self-Regulation: Click here for the reports.

More background on developing self-regulation out of co-regulation:

  • Repeated cycles of emotional upset, followed by relaxation after the caretaker's calming intervention, provide the basis for developing a sense of trust and safety...In time, the child internalizes the expectation of a soothing response which provides a foundation for learning self-regulation.
  • "The most significant consequence of early relational trauma is the loss of the ability to regulate the intensity and duration of affects." - Allan Schore (American psychologist and researcher in the field of neuropsychology)
  • "At the core of traumatic stress is the breakdown in the capacity to regulate internal states" such as fear or anger.  - Bessel van der Kolk (American psychiatrist and researcher in the field of trauma, attachment, and neurobiology)
  • Read more from the article, Calming Together: The Pathway to Self-Control, out of the eJournal of the International Child and Youth Care Network (CYC-Net).

From an interview with Stephen Porges, an American researcher in behavioral neuroscience, whose Polyvagal Theory is revolutionizing the treatment and healing of trauma:

"As I started to develop the [polyvagal] theory, the realization came to me that we're not about self-regulation, we're about co-regulation and mammals are functionally defined by their need to co-regulate with another...This is in a sense how a human life starts with the parent and the child, with the child being regulated by the parent.  The child's implicit visceral feelings are being contained or structured in a way as not to be too chaotic or disrupted."

"Humans need to be co-regulated, because experience being co-regulated develops resilience that will enable a human to self-regulate in the absence of opportunities to co-regulate."

"When people are not co-regulated, their ability to self-regulate is severely compromised and their behavior can be disruptive."

"If we appreciate the connectivity amongst us, then we wouldn't hurt each other."

Creating "cues of safety:" "human face-to-face interactions, vocalizations, intonation of voice, prosody, gesture, proximity, cuddling...emotionally expressive upper faces with smiles, voices with melodic intonation..."  "Our body knows what cues signal safety..."  For the full interview: Read more here. 

Update on June 27th, also from Stacey

In this article posted on the Psychology Today website, 40 researchers say attachment is a basic right and separation a clear wrong. The article is "a collaborative effort emanating from the global community of researchers dedicated to understanding the significance of attachment relationships to children."

"For over 75 years, psychologists and psychiatrists have known that abrupt and/or prolonged separation can have major implications, including depression, anxiety, and behavioral disturbances. In 1952, Bowlby & Robertson argued, 'There is now evidence that prolonged periods of maternal deprivation in very young children can, in some cases, give rise to extremely serious psychiatric disturbances.' In more recent years, we have learned that such separations can also impact brain development, learning, and physical health. Read more.



casey altman