Posted on

Is that mine?

Are we projecting our own trauma onto our children?

As a child counselor, over the years I have witnessed firsthand the lasting impact of trauma on young minds. Trauma is a profound experience that can shape how we view the world, ourselves, and our relationships. Unfortunately, one of the unintended consequences of unresolved trauma is that we may unknowingly project it onto our children. This blog post aims to shed light on the idea of trauma projection, its potential consequences, and how we can break this cycle to promote healthier relationships with our children.

Understanding Trauma Projection

Trauma projection can occur when adults unconsciously transfer their unresolved trauma and emotional pain onto their children. It can manifest in various ways, such as excessive protectiveness, overreacting to minor issues, and projecting unrealistic expectations on their young ones. Parents may project their unhealed wounds onto their children without realizing it, thereby perpetuating a cycle of pain and emotional distress.

The Impact on Children

Children are remarkably perceptive, and they often internalize their parents’ emotions and behaviors. When parents project their trauma onto their children, it can lead to several negative consequences, including:

  1. Emotional Burden: Children may experience confusion and emotional burden when they absorb their parents’ unresolved trauma. This can hinder their emotional development and create a sense of responsibility for something they don’t understand.
  2. Low Self-Esteem: Constantly feeling responsible for their parents’ emotional well-being can lead children to develop low self-esteem and self-blame.
  3. Repeating the Cycle: When children grow up in an environment overshadowed by unresolved trauma, they might unknowingly carry these patterns into their own adulthood and relationships.
  4. Parent-Child Disconnect: Trauma projection can create emotional distance between parents and children, making it difficult for kids to feel seen, heard, and understood.
  5. Anxiety and Depression: The emotional turmoil caused by trauma projection can increase the risk of anxiety and depression in children.

Recognizing Trauma Projection

Recognizing trauma projection is essential for breaking this cycle. Here are some signs that you might be projecting your trauma onto your children:

  1. Overprotectiveness: Being excessively overprotective and fearful about your child’s safety and well-being.
  2. Emotional Overreactions: Reacting strongly to minor issues that trigger unresolved emotions from your past.
  3. Unrealistic Expectations: Projecting high expectations onto your child and reacting negatively if they don’t meet them.
  4. Lack of Boundaries: Struggling to establish healthy emotional boundaries with your child and becoming overly involved in their lives.
  5. Repeating Patterns: Noticing recurring emotional patterns and behaviors in your relationship with your child that resemble your own experiences growing up.

Breaking the Cycle

Breaking the cycle of trauma projection requires self-awareness, reflection, and, in many cases, seeking professional help. Here are some strategies to start the healing process:

  1. Therapy and Support: Seek the guidance of a qualified therapist or counsellor to explore your own trauma and its potential impact on your parenting.
  2. Mindfulness and Self-Reflection: Practice mindfulness and self-reflection to become more aware of your emotions and reactions.
  3. Educate Yourself: Learn about the effects of trauma on children and how to foster a healthy parent-child relationship.
  4. Embrace Vulnerability: Be open and honest with your child about your struggles, within appropriate boundaries, to build trust and connection.
  5. Prioritize Self-Care: Take care of your emotional and mental well-being, as a healthy parent is better equipped to support their child.


As child counsellors, our goal is to create a safe space for children to express themselves, heal, and grow. However, we must also extend this support to parents who may unknowingly project their trauma onto their children. By recognizing and addressing our unresolved wounds, we can break the cycle of trauma projection, creating a healthier and more nurturing environment for the next generation to thrive.


Perry, B. D. (2006). The impact of trauma on children. In Textbook of child and adolescent forensic psychiatry (pp. 221-238). American Psychiatric Publishing, Inc.

Van der Kolk, B. A. (2014). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Viking.

Siegel, D. J. (2013). Parenting from the inside out: How a deeper self-understanding can help you raise children who thrive. Penguin.

Badenoch, B. (2008). Being a brain-wise therapist: A practical guide to interpersonal neurobiology. W. W. Norton & Company.

Note: The sources mentioned above provide valuable insights into the field of child psychology and trauma. As a child counsellor, I often refer to these resources to deepen my understanding and enrich my practice.


Posted on

Processing big emotions

As parents, we’re aware that kids can have a hard time processing emotions sometimes. Challenging behaviours can escalate as a result, making it difficult to remain calm ourselves whilst we help them through their emotional distress. One helpful concept we use with both parents and children is called “flipping your lid”, which is described by Dr Dan Siegel in his book, “The Whole Brain Child”. Dan Siegel is a leader in the field of child psychology, in particular neurobiology. The “flipping your lid” concept can be described like this:

Make your hand into a fist, but with your thumb tucked inside your fingers. This represents your whole brain, working effectively. Your four fingers represent what we call the “upstairs brain”, the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is used for problem solving, decision making and using logic to perform these actions. Now, lift up all four fingers fully, and you can see the thumb that was neatly tucked in. The thumb represents our “downstairs brain”, the limbic system, sometimes also known as our “reptilian brain”. This is the part of the brain that processes all our big emotions, such as anger and fear.

When our upstairs brain is engaged and ‘hugging’ our downstairs brain (the fist), then we are capable of processing those big emotions, with our upstairs brain helping us to use logic and common sense to navigate difficult feelings. But sometimes, we might “flip our lid” – in the hand model, all fingers are up and the thumb is exposed- and our downstairs brain is processing the hard stuff without any help from the rational upstairs brain. Children often experience “flipping their lid” as their brains are still developing their necessary neurological pathways for the brain to work cohesively. As adults we can also flip our lids at times- our emotions may overwhelm us and we might say or do things we later regret.

As parents, this model can be really helpful in talking to children about their emotions and behaviors. We’re all guilty of flipping our lids at one time or another, and if we are under stress we might flip our lid a lot more often than we’d like to. These can be useful teachable moments for our children, however. We can label these outbursts in a way that children can relate to, and give them the language they need to connect their thoughts and feelings.

Posted on

Resilience: How children’s past experiences impact behaviour.

According to Dr. Bruce Perry, a leading psychiatrist in the field of child trauma, differential state reactivity is the response of a child to external stimuli which is based on their past experience. To put it simply, when a child has experienced trauma in their past, they will respond to a situation in a way that may not match with the way we might expect them to react. This can be confusing for many people involved in the child’s life, such as parents, carers, teachers, or their peers. We might perceive these reactions as challenging or ‘naughty’ behaviours. But what if we were to view this child’s reaction as a response that was learned as a way of making sense of their world?

Stress inevitably changes our state of reactivity, whether it is a child who has experienced trauma or not. However, for a child who has had multiple or complex traumas, the reaction is much more severe or ‘reactive’. Vulnerable children will experience stress when environmental stimuli are unpredictable as they have experienced interrupted and unpredictable caregiving. A resilient child has a more predictable and controlled response to stimuli as they have experienced predictable and controlled caregiving, thus learning how to regulate their emotions more effectively.

An example might be: a resilient child may scrape their knee after falling over in the playground. They will experience some stress, however being resilient (modeled by the caregivers) the response may be that they are calm and they seek comfort from their caregiver. The response here is moderate and controlled. A vulnerable child experiences the same scrape on their knee, however, their worldview is different so the stress they experience may come across as alarm or fear, causing them to have a hyper vigilant response. For these children, when something unpredictable happens the response is severe and prolonged. As a trauma informed practitioner, I take this into consideration to individualize treatment for my clients and help them to establish ways of regulating their inner world to match their outer world.