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Treat Childhood Trauma by Building on Parental Memories of Loving Care

Infants and preschool-aged children who live in daily circumstances of potential trauma and danger can develop the resilience to cope through treatment that focuses on// strengthening parent-child bonds, according to an expert in child development.

Speaking at the American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting in San Francisco, Alicia Lieberman, PhD, explored how children’s emotional and moral development is affected by catastrophes in the news and in their own lives. She is founder and director of the University of California, San Francisco Child Trauma Research Project at San Francisco General Hospital Medical Center.

Her presentation was part of a panel on “Ecologies of Danger and Cultures of Resilience: Children in Extreme Situations,” organized by leaders in the National Child Traumatic Stress Network.

Randomized studies by Lieberman and others have shown that a treatment method developed at UCSF, called Child-Parent Psychotherapy, improves normal development for small children traumatized by the violence and abuse that they witness at home and in their communities.

One key element for these traumatized children and their parents, Lieberman says, is to step beyond traditional treatment that focuses primarily on the parents’ own experiences of helplessness and fear. “It is important to focus on trauma, but we have learned that it is more effective to simultaneously help parents to focus on events in their lives that give them pleasure, fulfillment and hope as they raise their children,” Lieberman says.

She credits Bill Harris, chairman of the Children's Research and Education Institute of Belmont, Mass., for coining the phrase "angels in the nursery" to describe the shared effect of moments when the child feels understood, accepted and loved.

By helping parents recall their own “angels” -- childhood moments when they felt unconditionally loved and accepted by benevolen
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