Toddlers who have experienced early trauma and adversity sometimes have difficulty connecting with those they love – even their parents or caregivers. They push them away when they are hurt or scared and act in ways that can make it tough to be a parent. Imagine parenting a toddler under these confusing and sometimes frustrating conditions.
Now, imagine parenting that same toddler with a dedicated coach pointing out all the things you’re doing right. Your coach shares insights that help you understand your child’s behaviors and help your child feel more secure.
This is the aim of an evidence-based program called ABC (Attachment and Biobehavioral Catch-up). With the help of a recent grant from the NC Department of Health and Human Services, CCFH has expanded its capacity to offer ABC to Durham families.
CCFH’s Sarah Cengel, LCSW, and Agatha Schutte, MPH, completed a year-long training to become certified ABC Parent Coaches in June, joining fellow CCFH ABC Parent Coaches Cheri Coleman, MSW, and Dina Gerber, LCSW. With bilingual therapist Sarah Cengel certified, Spanish-speaking families will now be able to enroll in ABC as well.
“Caregivers often love ABC because it helps them see what they are already doing well to support their child’s growth and learning,” says Dina Gerber, who began training ABC Parent Coaches in 2015. “It also teaches them what to keep doing to help their child regulate emotions.”
Caregivers sometimes struggle to understand a child’s emotional signals and cues. This can be exacerbated when a child has been through early challenges. But ABC helps parents nurture their distressed child, follow their child’s lead, and calm them when they are upset. When parents respond in nurturing ways, children can be protected from negative outcomes.
Agatha Schutte can see the difference that ABC makes for the families she coaches.
“I worked with caregivers who were concerned about their toddler’s behavior, reporting that their toddler was having frequent tantrums and that bed time was very difficult. The caregivers were putting him in time-out almost every day,” she says.
“With ABC coaching, I saw them deepen their understanding of how their toddler communicated his feelings and needs. ABC provided strategies for how to support their toddler’s development of communication skills, and instead of putting their toddler in time-out, they understood the need for nurturance. I saw these caregivers learn to watch what their toddler does with a toy or object, [realize] that it’s okay if it’s not the ‘right’ way to play with a certain toy, and instead follow their child’s lead with delight.”