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Skill-Building & Emotional Support

Struggling Parents & Caregivers Get Vital Support from CCFH during the Pandemic

Children suffering from traumatic stress often have trouble with self-regulation and impulse control. In young children, this can produce oppositional and defiant behaviors much more volatile and intense than a typical toddler tantrum or preschooler meltdown.

This is what the Pearsons* were experiencing with their three-year old when they came to CCFH in January. Though they had adopted him into a nurturing home as an infant, they were beginning to see the effects of early neglect and in utero exposure to drugs and alcohol. The symptoms and behaviors identified during their intake assessment were just on the cusp of the clinical range, and Mom and Dad already had a strong sense of positive parenting practices and felt equal to the challenging behaviors they were seeing. So, their therapist Whitney recommended a few sessions of basic parenting support rather than a full course of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy.

Then the full effects of the pandemic arrived in Durham, and the Pearsons found the stability of their home life rapidly unraveling. Mom, an essential frontline worker, was working much longer hours. Dad was parenting solo during the day and teleworking at night. Keeping a regular schedule and tending to basic household needs got harder and harder. Parental stress was rising, and their son’s behavior was getting worse. Tantrums spun into high-pitch shrieks, and he was becoming more aggressive and destructive, throwing hard toys at his parents and rocks at their sliding-glass patio door. Far from feeling adequate to the challenge, they were struggling just to get through each day. So, Whitney changed course and began seeing them as soon as possible via telehealth for weekly sessions of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT).

PCIT focuses heavily on skill-building for parents, teaching them a few simple practices that reliably reduce the frequency and intensity of aggression or opposition like what the Pearsons were experiencing with their son. In the context of special play time each day, they learn to let their child take the lead, ignore negative behavior in a safe way, and reinforce positive behavior through praise. In addition to teaching these skills, Whitney has also helped them brainstorm and agree on what they can do to support Dad as the parent-on-point during the day, like making sure he gets time to exercise. And above all, Whitney listens with empathy and full acceptance as they voice their struggles, frustrations, and difficult emotions.

Progress has been slow and tenuous, but the Pearsons are showing real signs of greater resilience. They prioritize special play time with their son every day, which Dad says is going really well. They are expressing more appreciation and warmth, not just toward their son but also to each other. They are seeing real change in their son’s moods and behaviors, and, in their most recent session, Whitney says he was the calmest she has ever seen him.

“ Honestly, his parents are like superheroes to me. Their day-to-day stress is really high, but they are showing tons of perseverance.   ”
- Whitney, CCFH Therapist

*The family’s name has been changed to preserve privacy and confidentiality.

Posted on December 8, 2020