I couldn’t go on the field trip that day. I sent my son along with some friends. I packed a water bottle and lunch for him. It was going to be a scorcher. And then,… I worried. I had to be somewhere else that day and all I could think of was my son. Did he drink anything? Did he eat? I’m not an overprotective, helicopter Mom. I’m a realistic one. I know my son. He will save his water so he “has it for later.” He will save his food because he’s “not really that hungry right now”. The sad truth is, he doesn’t know how to self regulate. He doesn’t recognize his body’s own needs. He doesn’t have a signal that his body is thirsty or hungry.
Why doesn’t my son recognize these needs and meet them? Why doesn’t he self regulate? It all stems from neglect in his first year and a half of life. Neglect impairs the brain. It stops the brain from healthy growth. The effects of neglect are worse than those of abuse. Ignoring a child (and not attaching) is more damaging than not feeding the child.
When a child is attaching normally in infancy, the parents regulate for him. mother covers him when he is cold, feeds him when he is hungry, changes him when he wet, etc.. Eventually, the child begins to self-regulate. He recognizes the need to eat and asks for food. He recognizes thirst and asks for a drink. He grabs a blanket or sweater when he is cold.
The neglected, hurt child does not, CANNOT, recognize his own needs. This is why my son does not drink his water on field trips or eat his lunch. A hurt child needs his parents to regulate for him. Here’s the hard part: we parents may be judged for telling our teen to eat and drink while we are on a field trip. We may be viewed as controlling or the helicopter parent especially from those who believe that kids will naturally work these things out (and they usually do if they haven’t been neglected).
I have one thing to say: we adoptive parents have to get over it! It doesn’t matter what other people think about our parenting skills. Our job is to keep these kids alive and give them the parenting THEY need, not the parenting their peers need. Take it from someone who knows. My kids have had some close calls because I tried traditional parenting here and there and hoped my children would catch on to what their peers were doing. I hoped they would drink water when everyone else did or eat when everyone else did. Didn’t happen. I had teens on multiple occasions spend all day in the hot sun at a picnic and not drink or eat anything only to come home sick at the end of the day, dehydrated. I once got a call from a friend who had one of my kids thirteen hours away at Disney world. My teenage daughter was very sick and she didn’t know what to do. “Did she drink anything today?” “Well, she carried a water bottle around all day but I didn’t ever see her drink out of it.” She was dehydrated. I called it. My friend made her drink several Gatorades and I gave her husband, a doctor, permission to put an IV in her if he deemed necessary. A few hours later, my daughter was back to her good-natured self.
Dr. Karen Purvis says that hurt children walk around in a dehydrated state most of the time. Our bodies are seventy percent water. Water gives our brains the electrical energy for brain function.
“Just as an automobile needs fuel and motor oil to run properly, a child requires nutritious food and an optimum flow of neurotransmitters to keep brain circuits operation smoothly. A shortage of nutrition or neurotransmitters can disrupt the nervous system causing behavioral and thinking disturbances.”- The Connected Child
Where do we go from here? You teach your older kids who may never receive the hunger or thirst signal properly to have some strategies for life. When my youngest daughter started her first part-time job, she forgot to eat or drink all day. And I noticed the symptoms of dehydration. Muscle cramps, dizziness, loss of balance, serious stuff! So, we worked out a plan. She began taking water, Gatorade and food with her to work. She sipped her water all day. She ate peanut butter sandwiches on break whether she felt like it or not. A few years later, she still doesn’t recognize her body signaling thirst, but she does recognize the signs of dehydration. The other morning she stumbled in my room with some serious leg cramps.
“You know what I’m going to ask you, right?”
“Have you been drinking your water?”
“Yes, and go eat a banana!”