“A scar is evidence of a wound, but also evidence that we can heal.”- Scott McClellan
I didn’t think it would be this hard.
My child’s behaviors are out of control.
He got kicked off the school bus AGAIN.
He keeps punching kids in line.
The whole house is like a war zone.
I thought I could do this, but I don’t know if I can. It’s just too hard.
I’ve heard these statements along with pleas for help from countless parents. I have offered to come into the home and do some observation, as well as get some parenting tools that work into the hands of the parents. It seems as if every time, the parent says, “Oh, he/she is so manipulative, I don’t know.” As if the child will pull the wool over my eyes (as he may do with some professionals or teachers) or their situation is so unique, so individual that I won’t be able to grasp it. It is this pit of ‘aloneness’ that foster and adoptive parents feel. No one else struggles like you. Nobody understands. We adoptive/foster parents may feel as if we have slipped an Alfred Hitchcock are captives who will never escape. To move forward with understanding, we must first have knowledge.
Every behavior is a need in appropriately expressed. Foster/Adopted children have had trauma in their lives. Trauma changes the neurochemistry of the brain in these children.
In adoption/foster circles we hear the phrase ‘children from hard places’. As Ryan North, Executive Director of Tapestry Ministries, reminds us, this is not a geographical location. As explained in The Connected Child, there are six primary risk factors that characterize children from hard places:
- Prenatal stress and harm-over 80% of children adopted/foster care have been exposed to drugs or alcohol, cortisol crosses the placenta and alters the structure of the brain and damages the immune system* story of the woman stressed in pregnancy- measured her cortisol levels and those of her infant six months after delivery.
- Difficult labor or birth Twin example- one born at home, one at hospital after 45 minute ride to the hospital
- Early medical trauma Hospital stay, surgery, etc.
- Trauma- house fire, natural disaster, auto accident, death of parent
- Neglect- You don’t exist
- Abuse – You don’t matter
Five things are impacted by early trauma (any one of the six risk factors)
- Brain- altered brain development, overactive amygdala. It’s as if the child is chased by a bear all the time. Our experiences shape the connections in our brain. Hebbian principle- what fires together wires together.
- Biology- Neurochemistry is altered. Hormones altered. Serotonin is often low. Dopamine is low or high. Some young children have the adrenals of a ninety year old.
- Body- Learning delays, developmental delays, sensory issues
- Beliefs- What’s one firmly held belief that you have? What would it take you to change that belief? Kids from hard places often believe: People don’t love me because I’m not worthy. If I was worth something, people won’t treat me this way. Everyone leaves.
- Behavior Regulation. Co regulation. Self Regulation. – A child from hard places has difficulty regulating because he has not had the natural progression. Remember, a behavior is a need inappropriately expressed. Fight, Flight, Freeze mode is often what kids from hard places get stuck in.
Traditional parenting doesn’t work with these kids. In the ETC course for adoptive/foster parents, we teach 25 parenting tools to help these kids have hope and healing. The tools are based on the model TBRI- Trust Based Relational Intervention, created by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross at TCU in Texas. This approach was turned into a training curriculum by Michael Monroe and Dr. Purvis called ETC Training for Adoptive and Foster Parents.
If you’re struggling with helping your adoptive/foster child heal and make progress, check out ETC Training, find one in your area here.
Also, The Whole House Team recorded a podcast on the subject. Join Lori and Kathleen as they delve into the Six Risk Factors here.
If you are local and want Kathleen to come do a training for parents or professionals- email her at Postiveadoption@gmail.com.