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Trauma children don't need control or punishment. Coregulate, connect and say yes more!


Chrissie Davies is an adoptive and permanent carer who has worked with children and families as a teacher (of children with extreme behaviours) for over 20 years and as a consultant to trauma and other families (Chaos to Calm Consultancy). Chrissie wants children to understand their brains and caregivers to be confident in the decisions that you're making in the moment, regardless of where you are, who's watching or what other people think about you. She wants us to know that children don't need to be happy all the time. Everyone has bad days. But also know that behaviour means something and coregulating, explaining emotions and bringing the child in close, is the way in which we soothe meltdowns. Chrissie shows us that when you truly focus on relationships, trust and connection for your children, rather than control and punishment, they will respond more positively. be more agreeable and simply lighter. When you are more relaxed around boundaries, you can save your time and energy for the big things, like sleeping, eating or speaking kindly. You can then invest your time and energy into really teaching those lifelong skills that our children need. For trauma families, Chrissie knows how important it is to keep showing up for our kids from a really positive place and not to take things personally. So say yes more and start each day anew.

00:00 - Start 00:48 - Who is Chrissie? 01:55 - Raising children is hard but understanding brain development alongside therapeutic parenting helps 04:20 - Behaviour is communication. Relinquishing control, without punishments offers us connection where we can teach our children in a more positive and loving way 09:50 - Naughty corners don't work. They teach our kids they are unlovable. Teach regulation not disconnection. Feed their brain. Love their brain. Trust, safety and connection. 14:42 - Focus on what our children need, not why a behaviour is happening. Parenting isn't smooth 18:01 - Intensity of meltdowns in trauma kids is magnified, so just own your responses and forget about others judgements and assumptions 22:08 - Focus on the relationship, trust and connection. Not control. Behaviour will follow. 25:28 - Say yes more 27:45 - Start each day with a clean slate. That teaches regulation and understanding.


This is Sonia Wagner, representing PCA Families in one of our recordings that capture lived experience and best practice research-based learning that assist kinship, permanent and adoptive parents/carers in supporting young people. PCA Families has a zero tolerance of child abuse. I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet and pay respect to elders past and present and express our intention to move together to a place of justice and partnership.

Today we are discussing the brain and communication with Chrissie Davies from Chaos to Calm. Welcome Chrissie.

Chrissie has over 20 years experience working with children and families, as a teacher in the school classroom working with extreme behaviours, and as a mother of two young children, Chrissie has a wealth of knowledge to share.

0:48 Chrissie what else do we need to know about you?

A two-minute conversation yes! I guess the easy way of explaining my work is I had a really long and successful career in specialist settings in education, so working with lots of kids who didn't fit the mould or you know mainstream education. I never got to the point where I didn't love being a teacher but I just felt compelled to share my knowledge on a wider level with so many more parents and families and teachers. I'm sharing my philosophy about how to understand children. Then then I obviously went on to adopt my own two beautiful children through adoption and permanent care. That's added that another beautiful complexity to our gorgeous family which is also very misunderstood out in the community. So I'm on a mission to change the way the world views children's behaviour.

Great and you're using all your knowledge, your professional and your lived experience, so that's exactly what we need to learn from absolutely.

1:55 One of the things I know you are passionate about is educating every parent about their children’s brains so that they understand what drives their child.  Nobody would get in a car without some basic instruction, or jump in a pool without knowing how to stay afloat.  So, can you outline for us the brain and what every parent needs to know?

I’m so passionate about teaching children about how to love their own brains I wrote a book “Love Your Brain”.  Its now one year old as I wrote it last lock down. I think it's one of the things that I've really uncovered through the eight years that I've been consulting with families is that there is still a really big lack in understanding around child development. So a lot of families, I would say the core of people who reach out to me for support with their families, are around the age of two when our children start to express themselves, as I like to say, through their behaviour. Mostly and many sort of negative aggressive tantrums, meltdowns, all those sorts of really big feelings that our kids start displaying and it's all to do with their brain development. So I love that you said that. It's you know, and I say this to families all the time, you are growing a human brain, you are growing a human being, why do we think that would be easy? There is this false sense I suppose as parents, and this is why I'm a really big advocate for talking about the challenges of parenthood and the challenges of raising children. There's no shame in saying it's hard, it is really hard

And so that's why my the whole core of my philosophy centers around using therapeutic approaches, obviously which i'm trained in which I believe that all children and families can respond really, really positively to. But that we bring every sort of um understanding and our insights back to where our children are in terms of their brain development. Really important. Their brains our children's brains are not functioning at full capacity and they are so far away from being fully developed that they just don't see the world in the same way as us so we can't expect them to.

4:20 Related to understanding the brain is the concept of seeing the child not the behaviour, or what I like to think of as seeing the emotions, fears and challenges for them, not the behaviour.  When a child is falling apart in tears or tantrums, its usually because there is something more going on. How do we work out what is going on? What techniques and strategies do you use to manage these situations?

Well first of all you said maybe there's something going on. There is always something going on underneath and that's when we have to be behaviour detectives right. That’s what I like to call it if I'm trying to unpack what is causing the emotion. All behaviour stems from an emotion and this is why I believe teaching children first and foremost about emotional intelligence, you know reading facial cues, body language, because so much of human behaviour is inferred. Talking about our feelings and our emotions and our brains and how we can take care of our own brains to keep them happy and healthy is the core of really teaching children how to understand behaviour. You know how they communicate within a family unit. So it's really complicated for them right. So I think when we understand that all that our children's behaviour is their communication. What are they telling us through their behaviour what are they what are they communicating to us? What are they expressing to us? Often that comes out as loud and sometimes aggressive and tears and you know. One of the things I say to families all the time is well we adults have bad days and our children are allowed to have bad days too. Just because they're children doesn't mean that they have to be happy all the time. When we can start to view children as individual little human beings who have their own ideas, thoughts, values, wants and needs, and understand that all behaviour comes from an unmet need, especially for a child, then we can start to really understand that we are a team, we are a family. Just because I'm an adult doesn't mean I get to tell you or control you or you know make every single decision about your life. Relinquishing control is a huge breakthrough for parents. I think we have been programmed through generations and generations that adults have power or control or authority over children. This is where you know a big part of my work is, where I'm really trying to shift those stereotypes. Just because we're adults doesn't mean we have the right to tell our children what to do all the time. So coming alongside them and being in tune with them and teaching them about their own brains and teaching them about their behaviour, they then start to learn that their behaviour impacts on others. It can be done through connection through patience.

I'm certainly not saying it's easy but yes the truth is, and you would know this a really big part of therapeutic parenting, is that we don't believe in using consequences or punishment as a way of shaping behaviour. I talk to all families about this. I say you can go down that consequential road and it won't stop the behaviour from happening. You can make a choice because the consequential road ends up being quite negative as we get lots of pushback from our children. Or we can go down the more therapeutic road and yes we still get the challenging behaviour, but we can connect and teach our children in a much more positive loving way.

Absolutely. And I think it has longevity because they'll learn to do things for the right reasons as opposed to that they're being watched or controlled.

We want them to have that intrinsic motivation right. I think a lot of trauma families would connect with this because our kids do have a lot of challenges around perceptions of self and worthiness because of their separation and you know loss of their birth family and all those different things that we deal with. I know with my own son in particular I've had to work really hard to move away from that, especially rewarding him with anything, and food is a really big motivator for him. So you know it's very easy to fall into that trap with trauma kids to almost bribe them. I suggest part of our job is to fill up that hole that's been left in their little souls to make them feel worthy and lovable without all those external things.

I was doing a bit of reflecting on that yesterday with someone I think I've created a little pet addiction in my family…oops.

9:50 What about calming children down. That is your speciality right – your business is the chaos to calm consultancy!  Can you talk a little about the time-in concept and how that helps with emotional regulation.  Why does that work better than consequences and control and naughty corners?  Are there other strategies that you use?

Well the naughty corner is so outdated and like I was sort of saying before it actually doesn't teach your children anything. It almost actually says to our kids you are unlovable and I don't want to be with you when you make a mistake or misbehave or don't please me. Then that once again links back into control. So I'm just going to say this over and over and over co-regulate, co-regulate, co-regulate to teach your children regulation skills. Because we know that our children in particular have lots of challenges around emotional regulation due to that you know the amygdala. They need lots of practice and they need to be with an adult who understands that it's very difficult for them to regulate on their own. The truth is no children learn how to emotionally regulate by being told to calm down or being put in a corner and left to cry until they stop crying. That doesn't actually teach them anything. The number one goal we want to remember when our children are dysregulated, or their brains are flooded or they're having a tantrum or a meltdown, which are very different as we know, our number one job in the moment is to soothe that brain. We gotta get that brain back down from a ten to a five to a three to a zero yes and move on. If it is a teachable moment, which generally right then and there is never the right moment, we can pick that up later, but our job in that moment is to calm our children's brains, bring them back to a place, a safe place and then we move on.

Yes and I think also that that naughty corner concept it's how are you learning something by sitting in a corner. It's about a missing piece of knowledge or a missing piece of regulation if you like.

12:13 So the thing we've got to remember too is that our children's nervous system is interwoven with ours. So they feel like they you know they connect, you we know this they're connected to us, yeah in the physical sense but also in the neurological sense too you know. Their brains are so connected to ours and this is why I talk to families about this all the time about well you're an adult with a fully developed brain what's your excuse? Our children they have a very neurological and biological reason for their behaviour. If we weren't taught those skills ourselves as children, or you know through the way that our parents communicated, it doesn't come naturally for us to do this with our own children. So when we shift away from that, to when children make a mistake or they're naughty or bad, which I don't even use those words but yes people do, then we punish. We sanction or we remove something as a way of shaping behaviour but the research shows that it actually doesn't do anything long term. So what actually helps our children understand behaviour and understand relationships is trust, safety, connection, I love you even on your bad days. Explain big emotions and if I’m dysregulated and I don't know what the heck is going on, I need you then the most, so don't push me away, pull me close, bring it in, hug it out baby.

I can remember many times the next day or a few hours later sitting together on the couch what's happening for you in that moment you know just having those kind of casual kind of conversations and reflections.

14:06 I was just going to say sometimes when our children are really young they can't reflect though. You know what I mean? They actually don't understand and so just teaching them helps them feel better in themselves when their brain is calm and that's why I wrote the book as well. Feed your brain, love your brain, give it exercise, take it to nature. There are really child friendly ways we can teach children how to look after their own brains as well as obviously modelling that emotional stability for our kids as much as possible. You know we all have bad days.

14:42 What about behaviours that arise from trauma as distinct from behaviours that arise from neurodevelopmental matters, like ADHD, or sensory or other challenges like autism or aspergers.  Is it important to differentiate between them and identify differences and if so how do you do that? Do the labels matter, for example, we know felt safety is so important to traumatised children.  Surely it is equally important to all children? Do the need supports overlap?

Well you know I very openly honestly talk about seeing the child not the behaviour and I feel like labels or getting a formal diagnosis, and many of us who've got trauma kids will never get a formal diagnosis, we're not even recognized by the national disability insurance, you know yet, we'll keep working on that. The label to me, or the diagnosis to me, really unlocks and opens doors to funding for our families which is incredibly important. Often our children need a lot of external supports. I also think it opens doorways in education too for our children so that teachers actually say okay, well yes, he does have autism, or yes, there is a trauma background, it's not just the parents making it up. You know what I mean? Because trauma is so misunderstood, especially in education. I guess from our perspective as families it is helpful to have that label but it does not help you in the moment. It doesn't help you when you're trying to get your kids in the shower, or it doesn't help you when your child's having a meltdown in the supermarket. It does not actually help you have the skills or the insight or the empathy to be able to connect with your child, to help them move through that behaviour. Right. So that's what I talk to families about you know. Often they want to know why is this happening, why does my child keep doing this, where is this behaviour coming from? The biggest breakthrough we can have as parents is to stop asking why. Just focus on what our children need in that moment, which on any given day will be different. The environment and what's happening for that day and how much they've eaten and who's around. You know that's why I feel like we're on this roller coaster. I feel like a lot of parents  probably thought that parenting was going to be a little bit more smooth sailing you know. It's just not like that.  Trauma aside you know that's another layer isn't it but if we can learn to embrace the ups and downs, the good days, the hard days. It's like when we talk about good or bad food, we've got to really shift the narrative around. Life with kids we take the good and the positives and the negatives as part of our family fibre and structure. It's a part of life living as a family.

Every relationship I think about has ups and downs doesn't it. Every friendship you have sometimes you're drawn more to some at a point in time and away from others and it sort of flips around. So I think it's a normal part of life to have these kind of cycles if you like.

18:01 So to flip the question, what are some of the non- typical behaviours we should look for to identify trauma? How do you start?

I think well I think one of the things that I talk about is the intensity of meltdowns with our kids. If you compare them to like other kids. I'll never forget watching, because I'm a big observer obviously being a behaviourist, you know observing other families out in the park. Other people reprimanding their children and then having a tantrum, as opposed to our tantrums that are long and loud and intense. The intensity is I think one of the really big challenges that we have because it's really very emotionally draining on us as parents. Our children need a lot of emotional support from us to come back to that state of calm. It does get easier obviously as they grow and develop but I think that is definitely one of the biggest challenges we have as families. All families deal with tantrums and meltdowns and those sorts of things but it's the intensity around it and the frequency is the other thing as well. You know I remember in the peak of my little guy, I reckon around two and a half, it was like multiple times a day. Long, loud, intense and you’ve get to the end of the day you're like oh wow yes that was intense. And then you’ve got to get back up and do it again the next day. I feel like that additional layer, that trauma families and you know families who've got autistic children, and it's almost like just that little extra layer that we deal with that a lot of more neurotypical families get a bit more reprieve from. It is hard and it is a long journey. I think the other layer, I see this really commonly through our support group, this lack of understanding out in the community about not punishing our children. When they're challenging or they're oppositional. It's a very specific and empathetic approach that we use with our kids, because we have really good knowledge about where the behaviour is coming from. But other people who don't know us or don't know our family looking from the outside in they're probably thinking yes cmon lady are you going to let him get away with that.  You know. But once again this is what I talk to all families about. When we stop making those judgments and assumptions about children, about children's behaviour, we'll stop thinking those things wherever we go.

I'm with you, I saw a post this morning and it was a lady with a son in front of her and the son was sticking his tongue out at another child and the lady was behind him with her tongue poking out. So the concept was it's always the parents behind the child that caused this right that causes bad behaviour. I kind of reflected on it. I’d love to just say that that's not always the case. Sometimes it's other things going on for the child. In our case we know that.

It's easier to have that empathy I suppose. But I think one of the biggest breakthroughs that we have to also make as parents is just be confident in the decisions that you're making in the moment, regardless of where you are, who's watching or what other people think about you.

Good point because you'll find out later why it was right. That was my experience. Certain practices you felt were right for your child may not have been what mainstream media were telling you to do, but they turned out to be right in the long run.

22:08 You have worked with a lot of families, including a lot of families in the out of home care system. You also have lived experience as a parent of a child.  What have you learnt that is super important and useful? What do you wish every parent knew?

I can't go into everyone's brain and give them my knowledge you know and it's funny isn't it because I have a very unique way of viewing the world due to my own experiences. I am a trauma child myself. I grew up with a quite a traumatic childhood with an alcoholic father, so that's shaped my memories of my childhood. Then obviously I've gone on to have 20 years of training and experience around working with families. I have so many conversations with people all the time about their children. I think that one of the things that I really want families to remember is that when you truly focus on relationship and trust and connection first, your children actually will respond more positively. They will be more agreeable. They will be just lighter. When you have that you know we follow the pace approach with the playfulness that you were talking about that you can be playful and accepting and empathetic and fun as a parent and set boundaries at the same time. But I feel like it's something that a lot of people find difficult. You know where's the line between being able to be that fun connected parent while still establishing some control? We can't eat nutella on toast every morning for breakfast. I feel like that if we can constantly keep our eye on the big picture. We're growing a human brain we're in it for the long haul. Stop waiting for the moment for it to get easier. I feel like this is one of the other big misconceptions about raising children is that people say oh you know wait till they're five or wait till they're 14. What are we waiting for? Let's just seize the moment people. Parenting is hard and it's hard work and all those sorts of things but there's so much joy and so much fun to be had with children when you live in the moment with them.

I think you know you can have strategies and tools in your toolkit that still allow you to have some element of structure. I'm thinking about our family growing up we would say okay if you want that lolly at the shop let's grab it, let's put it into the stash for Friday night. So it didn't kind of mean they were getting a lolly every day. They kind of felt like they were getting it. Then they'd get to Friday night and they'd eat two lollies and they were done. It was a way of giving a little bit of control to them and kind of also not ruining their teeth and their diet at the same time. So I think you know once you embrace that approach you realize that you can still have an element of control without giving it fully over to the child if you like.

25:28 Say yes more

Absolutely yes one of my favourite strategies is say yes more. We say no to our children all the time. No you can't do this, no you can't do that you know and no you can't jump on the couch. All those sorts of things. Children see fun everywhere so it's like a carnival to them. We're the ones that have to set the boundaries but when you are more relaxed around those sorts of things and you save your time and energy for the big things, like sleeping, eating you know, speaking kindly, and you invest your time and energy into really teaching those lifelong skills that our children are going to need.

I never forget this. I've got this saying with my kids when they you know, when they're upset with something. You know they say I hate you which of course they do and you know I always say that's okay, I understand that you're feeling angry right now, I still love you when you're angry. The heart of my job as your mum is to teach you how to be a good human. Sometimes that means you ain't gonna like what I've got to say. That's about holding that space for our kids isn't it. They're allowed to be angry. They're allowed to express themselves. They're not allowed to throw shoes at me but you know it's about having those boundaries of allowing our children to express themselves. It's so cute. Sometimes now my son will say it's okay mum I know you only do it because you love me. Oh that's gorgeous. I'ts getting in. I used a similar one - I'm gonna parent you and I'll be your friend later on. You know I'm doing that for these reasons. I could let you have everything and that'd be really easy for me but you know my job is to parent you so when you're 18 come back we'll be friends. When it comes from that place of love its ok. When I'm hugging sometimes I'm hugging my kids I'm saying I love you so much. That's the difference as you say come from a place of love not from anger and control which makes all the difference.

27: 45 Is there anything else you would like to comment on today?

I don't know we've covered so much.

Thank you for giving us all those lessons and things to keep thinking about in this really long journey towards connection and relationships.

I think just ending it on just start every day as a new day. Every day is a new day. What happened yesterday has happened. We wipe the site clean. We move on and we start fresh the next day because most kids, until they're teenagers, wake up pretty happy. They've forgotten about what happened the day before. So we've just got to let it go too. That's kind of regulation teaching and I think for trauma families that's incredibly important to keep getting up and showing up for our kids in that really positive place and understanding wiping the slate clean and don't take it personally. It's not personal.

We could all learn from that in every part of life


To anyone making the time to listen to this recording by PCA Families, thankyou for giving up your valuable time for the benefit of the young people in your life.

Until next time have an amazing week.



Chrissie Davies – Chaos to Calm Consultancy