8 “Instead of” Tips for Parenting Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma

Are you parenting a child who has had trauma?

Are you parenting a child who has a capital letter syndrome — such as ADD, ADHD, FAS, SPD, or Autism Spectrum Disorder — or another special need?

If so, then this is for you!

When it comes to parenting kids who have had trauma, I  struggle with imposter syndrome. I often ask myself, “How can I help other parents when I couldn’t do it perfectly or even well myself sometimes?”

We must let go of the myth that perfect parents exist. They don’t. And raising kids who have had trauma means a huge learning curve for us parents — especially if we have parented our bio children okayish with great results.

Traditional parenting is for securely attached children — kids who want to please. Any sort of parenting requires a foundation of connection with the child. That connection comes more easily with kids who haven’t experienced trauma. For those who have, the foundation is absent or shaky, and as a result, the child feels no need to follow commands or listen.

Traditional parenting tends to swoop in and fix the immediate problematic behavior. It is a short-term approach that doesn’t work with kids who have trauma. Instead, you need to take the time to consider the need behind the child’s behavior and focus on the ultimate goal of connection.

Kids who have trauma care more about control and survival. When a child has a disorganized attachment style born out of trauma, he will want to control his surroundings. Control will trump following instructions every time. In fact, the very thing that would make him feel more connected, he will fight.

As the authors of The Connected Child explain, “Children who encountered deprivation or harm before they were brought home lack many types of connections. They can lack social connections, emotional connections, neurochemical connections, cognitive connections, and sensory connections.” Because these connections do not exist, traditional parenting will not work. We must change our parenting to adjust to the fact that it will be different with these kiddos.

“Instead of” Parenting Suggestions

  • Instead of a lecture, use simple language (8- 12 words total).
  • Instead of waiting for behavior to intensify, respond quickly.
  • Instead of giving orders, offer simple choices.
  • Instead of just correcting, give immediate retraining and a “re-do.”
  • Instead of expecting a child to know, clarify expectations.
  • Instead of isolating when a child is dysregulated, keep the child near you.
  • Instead of only noticing the “bad” behaviors, offer praise for success.
  • Instead of taking it personally, remember there is a need behind the behavior.

Instead of a lecture, use simple language (8- 12 words total).

Many of us grew up with the lecture approach to parenting. For every infraction, Mom or Dad had a carefully selected and time-tested sermon they could pull from a database in the recesses of their mind. “If your great aunt Mary knew that you turned on a show in the middle of the night, [insert stories of monsters, bible verses, sticks in the eye, etc.].” You get the picture.

After a while, all our brains heard was the sound of a grown-up talking on Charlie Brown: “Wah, wah, wah, wah.” No matter how eloquent you are, your child may only hear the first 8 to 12 words. If you waste those first words, you have lost them. And long lectures aren’t the best way to get your child to listen and learn anyway.

Choose and use your words carefully. Aim them at the behavior, not the child — and there’s no need to bring other family members or what your parents would have done into it. Try instructions like these:

  • “Walk, don’t run.”
  • “We don’t hit.”
  • “Use your words.”
  • “Try that again.”

Instead of waiting for behavior to intensify, respond quickly.

We’ve all done it. We see the precursor to a meltdown or a potential fight brewing over a toy, but we wait. We wait because it isn’t that bad yet or hasn’t gotten violent. Next thing you know, the situation is out of control.

Sometimes it helps to stop and ask yourself: Why wait? Would you rather spend five minutes addressing the behavior and reconnecting now, or spend the next two hours living with the fallout? It’s a pretty simple choice in my mind. I’ve learned from experience how draining the two-hour or day-long fallout of a complete meltdown can be. As a result, I lean toward addressing an issue while it is a tiny seed instead of waiting until it grows into a giant oak tree.

Recently, my daughter and I were on our way to the zoo with her kiddo. We were meeting her sister and her kiddos for a day of fun (four grandkids + zoo = fun). As usual, we talked about our trips together when she was growing up —  zoo trips, field trips, vacations.

My grandson had been watching a show on the iPad while we talked, but it ended. “I can start a new one,” I offered. We had been hoping he would fall asleep during the first one, but no go.

“Are you sure you can get back there?” my daughter asked.

“Remember who you are talking to,” I reminded.

“Nevermind,” she said, and laughed. “You used to climb back and sit with us to get us to calm down.”

“Yep, I did.”

Some super safety-conscious parents are shaking your heads right now in disbelief. Yep, I crawled over seats and sat on the floor of the suburban to calm kids down or interrupt a fight before the trip turned into a giant meltdown.

Instead of giving orders, offer simple choices.

When I was a young and naive parent, I thought I needed to have control all the time. There were no choices. My first child blew that theory out of the water. She was very much an “I can do it myself” child. If I didn’t offer her choices, she offered them to me. I got a lot of flack from family members for not being more strict, harsh, or punitive with her.

The funny thing is, I was judged for being too strict with my kids with trauma just a few short years later. That’s another story for another time.

The point is, Audrey taught me the value of giving choices. I’m not talking about moral choices. I mean giving kids simple choices like:

  • Do you want to wear black tennis shoes or purple?
  • Do you want a peanut butter sandwich or a ham sandwich?
  • Do you want to read this book first or that one?
  • Do you want to give Uncle Bob a hug or not?

Instead of just correcting, give immediate retraining and a “re-do.”

A re-do is simple. Remember when you missed five on your spelling test and your teacher had to write the ones you missed each five times? Or when you were in gym class and missed the basketball hoop on the first shot but kept trying until you made it? Or when you got married and were trying out your cooking skills for the first time and something didn’t taste just right, so you called Mom and with her help tried again? Those are all re-do’s.

As the Empowered to Connect training manual explains, “Offering your child a chance to “try it again” and get it right — what we call a re-do — is often an ideal way to respond. In addition, this approach provides your child with body memory for doing the right thing and offers an opportunity for you to then give praise and encouragement once she re-does the task, follows the instructions, or interacts in an appropriate manner. This approach can help your child to experience doing the right thing and deepen your connection with her as well.”

Practice Outside of the Moment.

When teens or adults start a new job, they go through training. Usually, this training is practiced outside the moment. Training is not introduced when an employee is melting down over not knowing how to use the computer system (although that can happen). Practicing outside the moment allows you to teach a child when his upstairs brain is activated, instead of waiting until he flips his lid.

The authors of The Whole-Brain Child explain the concept of your upstairs vs downstairs brain: “Imagine that your brain is a house, with both a downstairs and an upstairs. The downstairs brain includes the brain stem and the limbic region, which are located in the lower parts of the brain, from the top of your neck to about the bridge of your nose. Scientists talk about these lower areas as being more primitive because they are responsible for basic functions (like breathing and blinking), for innate reactions and impulses (like flight and fight), and for strong emotions (like anger and fear).”

The downstairs brain is survival mode. No logic or reasoning is applied — just illogical, knee-jerk responses. When a child gets stuck in their downstairs brain, his body shoots cortisol through his system, and he lives on the edge. A simple request sounds like YELLING.  IN FACT, EVERYTHING IS AMPLIFIED. A CAR THAT PASSES THROUGH THE NEIGHBORHOOD IS A THREAT. A COMPLIMENT IS TWISTED INTO A CORRECTION.

You get the point. Scary, huh? It’s no fun to live there.

I did lots of practicing outside the moment with my kiddos before we went somewhere. My funniest story using this tool is practicing to go to the library. My newbies had recently come home from Poland, so I had kiddos aged 12, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, and 1. Four of them had never been to a public library before, so we practiced at home. We pretended the bookshelves were the library. I showed them how to get a book, whisper, sit down at a table, and look at the book they had retrieved.

Our town had a small library with an unusual practice. When you got a book out, you replaced it with a ruler to mark your place in order to return it if you didn’t check it out. My kids loved this practice a little more than I realized. When we got to the library, they used all of the rulers to mark places and got a giant stack of books — which ties in nicely with my next point.

Instead of expecting a child to know, clarify expectations.

Traditional parenting often relies on assumptions. We assume that the child should know how to behave in an environment or know what to expect. We say things like, “You should know better” or “Be quiet! This is a library,” as if a child who has never been to a library would know that information. Just like my kiddos didn’t recognize the implied rule that you should only get one book out at a time.

You can practice outside the moment for about anything:

  • Going to a restaurant.
  • Going to a ball game.
  • Flying on a plane.
  • Shopping.
  • Skating.
  • Visiting a friend’s house.

Not only does this help your child know what to expect, but it also alleviates fears. Many kids need to know what’s next, and if you have informed them and practiced with them, it will be a smoother ride for both of you.

Instead of isolating when a child is dysregulated, keep the child near you.

One of the popular parenting tools frequently used is time out. As the authors of The Connected Child explain, “These isolating strategies may be useful for biological children who are already connected and emotionally bonded to their families. But isolating and banishing strategies are extremely problematic for at-risk children because these kids are already disconnected from relationships, attachment-challenged, and mildly dissociative because of their early histories of neglect and abuse. Isolation is not therapeutic for them.”

Instead of isolating, keep the child near you so that you can co-regulate for them. Your presence as a calm center can help them become calm down more quickly.

While a traditional time-out may not be a good idea, you can still have a “calming corner” in a public room (such as the family room or kitchen) with a pillow and a few toys for toddlers. This is a think-it-over place and can become more sophisticated as the child gets older. You can say, “Sit here and think it over. When you’re ready to talk, let me know.”

Just a caution — your child will not turn into Pollyanna just because you created a think-it-over space. When the child is ready to talk it over, he may say “ready” with the voice of a Balrog. That’s okay. Meet him where he is. Let him tell you in his own words what he did wrong, and if he doesn’t know, give him the words. Lead him through an apology or a redo or both. Make sure you finish connected. Then it’s done.

And when it’s over, it’s over. Don’t keep bringing it up. Saying things like, “Earlier today, you did that thing so I don’t trust you” or “You couldn’t handle yourself earlier, so never again” or any other broad statement makes the child feel less-than. If you know a child can’t handle participating in whatever brought on the meltdown, keep that to yourself and parent. Arrange the environment to give him something else to do.

For example, if the child has had too much screen time and it caused the meltdown, play a board game together (even if you don’t want to). You are investing in your child.

Instead of only noticing the “bad” behaviors, offer praise for success.

When parenting a child from a hard place — i.e. one who has had trauma — it’s easy to get into a pattern of only noticing “bad” behaviors. Because the child already believes he is worthless or of little value, harping on the negative only solidifies his belief.

When my newbies first came “home,” they were in a state of disorganized attachment. At times, I felt as if my home would never stop feeling chaotic.  My kiddos had a survival-of-the-fittest mentality, and finding something praiseworthy was difficult in those beginning stages of “family.”

Instead of waiting for my kiddos’ behavior to rise up the bar I had set before I offered praise, I set my sights on something other than measuring up. I began by praising them for playing with Play-Doh, creating something with LEGOs, putting on a puppet show, eating food — pretty much anything I could praise. The kids sometimes bristled at the praise. They may have wondered what my motive was, but eventually they began to accept it and even expect it. “Mom, look what I built!” This is connection.

Imagine if you never received any praise at all. Imagine if your life was just a fight to survive, and everything you did was wrong. You couldn’t sit right, eat right, speak right, or behave right in general, and people pointed those things out constantly. How would you feel? How would you feel if suddenly you started receiving some praise for things? Wouldn’t you keep doing the things you received praise for?

Instead of taking it personally, remember there is a need behind the behavior.

When we look at behaviors as needs, we are less likely to take them personally. For instance, when we remind ourselves that the child can’t regulate — not won’t regulate — we can set our personal feelings aside. When we set our personal feelings aside, we can take the reins and parent. It’s not us against them; we’re all on the same team.

So before taking a behavior personally, ask yourself what the child needs. Is the child. . .

  • Hungry?
  • Tired?
  • Over-stimulated?
  • Triggered?
  • In his downstairs brain?
  • Unsure of the expectations?
  • Unable to adjust to a change of plans?

It’s our job to be the emotionally stable person in the relationship. In an article for PBS, Katie Hurley explains one thing you can do to help your child become aware of their emotions: “Express your own emotions. Parents have a tendency to hide their own emotions from their kids. While kids don’t need to be involved in the fine points of adult problems, it’s okay for them to see you sad, mad or overwhelmed. When you label and talk about your own emotions, you show them that we all have big feelings to cope with and that you trust them just as they can trust you.”

Two of my kiddos struggled with recognizing emotions in themselves and others. I made flash cards with different expressions on them: happy, sad, angry, afraid, frustrated. We practiced recognizing emotions with a mirror and with the cards.

Sometimes, the things we take so personally are emotions the child isn’t equipped to express. In that sort of situation, the child often reverts to anger — the go-to for kids in survival mode.

Using the IDEAL Approach

For all interactions with your kiddos, use the IDEAL response as a guide. The IDEAL Approach is among the best tools for parenting, teaching, or supervising kids who have had trauma:

I: You respond immediately, within three seconds of misbehavior.

D: You respond directly to the child by making eye contact. Get down on their level.

E: The response is efficient and measured. Use as few words as possible.

A: The response is action-based. Lead the child through a re-do.

L: Your response should bed leveled at the behavior, not the child.

One final note: The suggestions in this article are simply tools for parenting. Not every tool is useful in every situation or with every child. You must find which work for your child. In extreme cases, a child may be so violent that he is a danger to himself and others the home. In that case, you need to get professional help. Don’t try to go it alone.

How to Help Your Adopted/Foster Child Feel Welcome in Your Home

Have you brought a child home through foster care or adoption?

Or are you just beginning the foster/adopt journey and want to make sure kiddos feel welcome in your home?

On The Whole House Podcast episode 77, How to Help Your Adopted/Foster Child Feel Welcome in Your Home, Kathleen and Kristin share some quotes from crowd-sourcing and some from experience.

What are some things you do to make your adopted/foster child feel at home?

“Top of it:Schedules.

Their own stuffed animal bought by us the day they arrive.

A light on at night.

An anthem.” – Paige Bowser

I asked Paige to explain the anthem, and she said, “A song. Let the older child pick a song that expresses what he feels. This becomes their anthem.”

“I’m not sure how to answer this. We have only had a couple of placements and they have been babies. We give hugs and talk softly. We give them a new blanket. We try to get to know them as soon as we can by watching carefully so they have a chance to teach us who they are, and then we meet them there.” – Rachel Eubank

“ I agree with Rachel. We first have to see how traumatized a child is. Comfort comes from different things for each child. I think the first thing we give each one is Space enough to catch their breath. An overwhelmed child can’t make healthy trusting connections. Honestly, You have to trickle your love and comfort Into their lives. They gradually begin to trust You. The second thing is a smile and words of comfort.” – Bob Eubank

Smiling is super important because kids will mirror you. Everyone feels stress when a kid is first coming into your home. Don’t let it show on your face. Smile.

Some things to consider when welcoming a child:

  • Toys. Some kiddos (mine included) have none when they come “home.”
  • Ownership. Having their own stuff when they come to your home is big deal.
  • A comfortable bed. Some kiddos have never had their own bed.
  • A backpack. We got L.L.Bean backpacks embroidered with the kids’ names when they came home through adoption.
  • Words of reassurance. We need to give words of reassurance such as, “So-and-so loved you so much that they bought you this gift.”

Consider the perspective of the child. Older kids are more aware of what is going on in the adoption/foster care arena, so they may be able to communicate their thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants. Either way, it’s important to put yourself in their shoes as much as possible. Consider what they need and do it for them instead of for yourself.

Ten Practices to help your adopted/foster Kiddo feel welcome:

1. Calm fears. If kids don’t feel safe, they will act out in survival mode. Be aware of their past, and keep an eye out for triggers. You’re not always going to know why a child is afraid, but they almost always have a reason.

We all have fears, and even as adults, we sometimes can’t figure out where they came from. One of my fears is riding in the back of a car. It took me a long time to trace the fear back to after my parents’ divorce, when my dad would come to pick us up, load us into the back seat of his car, and start driving without giving us any information about where we were going.

2. Adjust the surroundings. You may have to adjust your surroundings for a season to help your new kiddos feel more comfortable. To them, you are weird, and your house is weird.

Even if a child was removed from an unsafe home, that doesn’t mean his home of origin didn’t feel normal to him. He’s still connected to it. Be more flexible than you are used to being. It will be chaotic for a while, and that’s ok. Helping your child achieve felt safety is worth it.

3. Be aware the child may have never been alone. My college roommate adopted a sibling group of three who had never been alone. For the first few years, they refused to sleep in their own rooms, opting instead to all share the same bed.

In cases of neglect, on the other hand, a child may be a little too used to being alone. It’s important to be aware of this and gently coax them into family time together.

4. Be prepared to adjust your menu. When we brought our four home, the youngest had a cleft palate. Getting nutrients into him became my second career. He was underweight, and because of his limited food choices in the orphanage, he wasn’t interested in eating anything new. I bought a food processor and pureed a variety of foods to meet his nutritional needs. It was a challenge.

After his cleft-palate surgery, he lost the ground we had gained in eating new foods after his month of liquids. One day at lunch, I stayed at the table with him, trying to get him to eat. All the other kids had left the table. I was so frustrated, I cried. I called a friend for prayer. Her husband answered the phone, listened, and prayed with me. Food challenges are real.

Yours might not be that extreme, but you still have to be flexible. You may find out your new kiddos refuse to anything spicy or that they hate peanut butter sandwiches or something else that’s a staple in your house.

5. Your child may miss friends (as well as family, which is a given). Be sensitive to that. Let them talk, and don’t take it personally. Missing their bio family, their old friends, and other parts of their past is natural. It’s not a comment on your abilities or value as a foster/adoptive parent. It’s not even necessarily a reflection of their thoughts or feelings about you.

6. Make sure your kiddos have plenty of snacks they can get to. In the orphanage, my kids didn’t always have the food they needed when they needed it. Kids from neglectful homes may have had a similar experience. You can alleviate the fear by having a snack basket within easy reach that they can access whenever they want.

7. Be sensitive to the clothing needs and the types of clothes your kids want/need. My kids had never owned a pair of jeans, so jeans were the item they wanted first.

8. Understand that their belongings have meaning, but they may not understand the value of things. Our kid came with nothing. Some kids come with a blanket or stuffed animal. Those belongings are important to them, even if they seem insignificant to you.

Keep in mind that kids who have never owned anything may not know how to take care of things. They may let something float downstream because they lack cause-and-effect thinking and don’t think about the fact that the item cost money.

Also, understand that if you put a high value on things, that will be tested by these kiddos. Remind yourself: “People are more important than things.” I reminded myself of this aloud so much that my kids repeated it to back me when something got broken.

9. Remember that your kiddos may need extra supervision, online and otherwise. In The Case of the Missing Person (more on that below), Sera is messaging people without her parents’ supervision or permission. All kids need supervision, but kids from hard places can get into trouble quickly and have trouble spotting dangerous situations.

One of my kids, for instance, started a forest fire out of a simple lack of understanding that lighting a fire in the woods is dangerous. The orphanage didn’t give them much practical experience with the great outdoors.

10. Schedules are security. They let kids know what will happen next, which is especially important to kids who find themselves suddenly in unfamiliar surroundings with complete strangers, as foster kids do.

If you’re not a schedule type of person, don’t worry! You don’t have to break your day into inflexible half-hour increments with every second account for. Instead, you can implement a general “first this, then that” routine. For instance, “after breakfast, we do chores” or “after lunch, we take a nap.”

The video below is an advertisement but paints a realistic picture of what happens when foster children come into your home.

Remember the weird things you had to tell your kids?

If you had biological children before you fostered or adopted, then you know you have to tell kids things you never thought you would have to say — like “Don’t lick the bathroom floor” or “Don’t lick your sister.”

Remember that, and apply it to foster kids. You don’t know what they have been taught about hygiene or whether they know the stove is hot. They may have been taught things that are not acceptable in your family culture. Don’t blame and shame the child for where they came from. Grace. We all have our perceptions of good and bad.

Assume that they know nothing — not as though they are stupid, but in the sense that they weren’t raised in your family culture. The first few times they do something “wrong,” assume they really didn’t know any better. Don’t assume they are being intentionally defiant or trying to push your buttons. They may just not know that something is annoying, generally frowned upon, “gross,” or “bad.”

Also, be specific in your instruction. Remember that it’s easier for kids to process positive instructions (“Do this”) than negative ones (“Don’t do that”). Instead of saying what you don’t want them to do, take some of the guesswork out and let them know that they should do. For example, you could say, “Use your inside voice” instead of “Don’t yell!”

Excerpts From The Case of the Missing Person

In the podcast, we mentioned The Case of the Missing Person — a book I wrote about a girl named Sera who is adopted through the Colombian hosting program (more info about that program here). The following scene describes her thoughts on coming “home.”


“Let me show you your room, Sera,” Clare said. I mean Mom. I couldn’t get used to that. I had spent my first eleven years in Colombia without a mother. I had come to the Craven family as part of the Colombian hosting program. Through that program, I had stayed with the  Cravens for three weeks. The Cravens had decided to adopt me. I was glad. Most of the time.

Right now, I was scared out of my wits. There was no going back to Colombia now. It wasn’t perfect there, but it was all I had ever known. Now I was here in the U.S. in a home I would be in forever. FOREVER.

The house was nice. Clare liked white. A lot. White walls. White cabinets. White furniture. There were a few colors in pictures on the walls. Totally different from the bright colors in the orphanage. Sunshiny yellows. Oranges. Terracotta tile floors. My room was white too. White bunk beds. Those were new.

“What do you think?” Clare, I mean Mom, asked.

“It’s very white,” I said quietly.”


You can listen to the first chapter of The Case of the Missing Person below:

A Few Responses to some Flack we received on What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?

Kristin and I take a few random moments in this week’s podcast episode and respond to some of the criticism we recieved about this article. One theme was that we shouldn’t see our adopted/foster kiddos as a ministry. Our response?

Whatever we put our hands to is a ministry.

We aren’t running around John 3:16 ing everyone. I didn’t  to adopt to have a ministry. I love my kids. They are a priority to me. I’m very protective of them. I don’t share their stories. Those are there own.

Another theme was – all parents need support to an extent.

All parents need support to an extent. Fostering is different. It’s harder. You can’t plan a vacation. You can’t take them to get a haircut. There is so much added stress. The visitation is planned according to the the availbility of bio family, not foster family or the child. Saturday-

Another theme was -Reunification should be the goal.

Culturally, that is not always a good goal anymore. Drugs, alcohol abuse is prevalent and our culture has changed.  There has been a moral downward shift in our culture

It is not always in the best interest of the child to be reunified. Keep children in mind first.

Are You Instilling Healthy or Unhealthy Fears in Your Child? (Capital Letter Syndrome/Foster/Adoption Edition)

No Fear

Is your child the opposite of fear?

Taking dangerous risks because he has no cause-and-effect thinking?

Does he think the laws of nature don’t apply to him?

When raising a child with a capital letter syndrome or one from hard places (a child who has experienced trauma), healthy fear is a little more muddled. While we want our kiddos to have healthy fears, some of them seem to be in a no-fear frame of mind when it comes to outdoor play and all fear when it comes to some other aspects of life. What’s going on here?

1. Lack of Cause-and-Effect Thinking

Kids who come home to us through foster care/adoption have had trauma. One of the five Bs affected by trauma is the brain. Kids who have had trauma have altered neurochemistry. The Hebbian principle states that what fires together, wires together.

Simply put, an infant’s brain is experience-expectant. Experiences wire the brain. This is where the attachment cycle comes in. The infant expresses a need and the parent meets that need, thousands and thousands of times, until eventually the loose “wires” in the brain are connected.

What does attachment have to do with healthy fears? Everything. When those “wires” connect, the child is “wired” for cause-and-effect thinking. If there are breaks in attachment (or the child has a capital letter syndrome), then cause-and-effect thinking is not in place. It’s as if the child has some lose “wires.” This isn’t to say that the child isn’t intelligent — in fact, it’s often the opposite. It’s just that he doesn’t expect B to happen if he does A.

Instilling Healthy Fears

What does this look like?

  • A child decides to catch bees in a jar but didn’t think they would sting him.
  • A child watches a video of a man leaping from limb to limb high in a tree and tries it. (Yes, this actually happened in my family, and yes, he fell.)
  • A child tries to ride his bike under the trampoline.
  • A child starts a forest fire playing with a lighter.
  • A child walks on the pool cover and their foot falls through.

These are all true stories, and I could tell many more, but the point is that in each of these cases, no cause-and-effect thinking was applied. You may say, “Well many kids are adventure seekers and do these sorts of things.” That’s true.

However, neurotypical kids have a learning curve after these types of adventures. Kids with capital letter syndromes and kids with trauma often don’t. They will continue to try to defy the physical laws of nature with intensity and regularity. They don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them.

Here’s a good test: If you warn your child that the activity he is about to embark upon may cause harm and he says, “I’m not going to get hurt, I’m not that stupid!” then cause-and-effect thinking probably isn’t happening.

Unrealistic or faulty connections

On the other end of the spectrum, these kiddos may have one bad experience and instead of adjusting their approach and trying again, simply declare, “I’m never doing that again!” What does this look like?

  • The child refuses to put sunscreen on (because he won’t get burned), gets burnt, and won’t go to the beach ever again.
  • The child falls off a rock while climbing, scrapes his knee, and won’t climb again.
  • The child doesn’t think he can do something, so he says it’s stupid and refuses to try.

Trying to instill healthy fears in these kiddos can be confusing. They need to be watched more closely and encouraged more than neurotypical kids to keep them safe and get them trying new things.

2. Felt Safety

Another conundrum with kids with capital letter syndromes/foster/adopted kids is they often don’t feel safe when they are safe. To describe this, we use the term “felt safety.”

“Felt safety, as defined by Dr. Purvis, is “when you arrange the environment and adjust your behavior so your children can feel in a profound and basic way that they are truly safe in their home with you. Until your child experiences safety for himself or herself, trust can’t develop, and healing and learning won’t progress” (p.48, The Connected Child).

Fear is crippling. I know. Not only have I watched my own kiddos struggle with feeling safe and talked to countless moms whose kids struggle with it, but I have also experienced it myself. My fears were an oddly shaped gift that, when opened, gave me empathy.

Because of some trauma in my past, I feared riding in the back seat of a car, going through tunnels, riding elevators, and more. My fears helped me understand my kiddos’ fears. Your child’s fears may seem weird or unrealistic to you, but they are super overwhelming to them.

“From research, we know that fear left unaddressed can have pervasive and long-lasting effects on a child, including negative impacts on cognitive ability, sensory processing, brain chemistry, brain development, ability to focus and ability to trust. As a result, it distorts and dictates much of what our children are dealing with.” – empoweredtoconnect.org

Instilling healthy fears and avoiding unhealthy fears is hit-or-miss with these kiddos. We keep trying, keep asking, and keep being flexible. No one wants their kids to be overwhelmed with fear all the time. No one wants their kiddos to get injured because they don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them, either. So, I’ll finish with some tips. Feel free to comment and add your own tips!

Tips for Instilling Healthy Fears and Disarming Unhealthy Fears in Kids From Hard Places or Kids With Capital Letter Syndromes:

  • Watch these kiddos more closely.
  • Talk them through their fear even if the solution seems obvious to you.
  • Help them try an activity away from the crowd.
  • Ask them what they need.
  • Remember that they don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them.
  • These kids have enough fear; don’t instill more.
  • Clap for them if they accomplish an outdoor feat even if you think it is below their ability. Baby steps.

On the one hand, you are instilling healthy fears and calming ones that seem far fetched and unrealistic to you. On the other hand, when you provide fun, S.A.F.E. activities, you are relieving fears, which is healthy!

This week on the podcast, Amerey and Kathleen talked about healthy summer living/eating on a budget. They delved into the topic of healthy fears when discussing some outdoor activities. You can listen here. And don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this article, the Neurotypical Edition, here.

Healthy Summer Living With a Capital Letter Syndrome

This week on The Whole House podcast, Lori and Kathleen talked about Healthy Summer living with a capital letter syndrome. Whether you’re an adult with a capital letter syndrome or have a child with one, summer means change. To help prepare, we wanted to look at some healthy ways to cope with the changes summer brings:

  1. Keep a schedule.
  2. Harness the power of habit.
  3. Prioritize S.A.F.E. activities.

“The brain needs safety and involvement for positive learning experiences. If little children are not motivated to learn, check how safe they feel.” – James M. Healy, Ph.D., author, and educator

Remember that kids need to feel safe to enjoy learning and play. In the acronym above, “SAFE” stands for “Sensory-motor, Appropriate, Fun, and Easy.” Here’s what that means:

S: Sensory-motor

“Kids who are out of sync may have difficulty making the sensory-motor connection. Because their best attempts are often inadequate and unsatisfactory, these children may give up trying or simply lose interest. They may opt for sensory activities that require negligible motor response, such as watching television, listening to music, or reading. The gap between sensory input and motor output widens because the less they do, the less they may be able to do.” – The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun

It’s important not to fall into the trap of doing whatever the child wants to do simply because it’s easier or because he balks at going outdoors. The more sensory activity a child has, the better prepared he will be to function in real life.

When a child becomes conditioned to perfection or comfort in his environment air conditioning, a comfy chair, a screen to entertain him he will be less flexible and unable to adapt when circumstances aren’t just right. That’s a recipe for disaster.

People with capital letter syndromes are less flexible naturally, so why not take some time and work on flexibility when you have the opportunity to? We’ve all heard the complaints: It’s too hot. I’m bored. Can we go in yet? In response, you can alleviate a bit of the discomfort, set a time frame for how long you’ll stay outside, or provide a game (water games are great for hot days).

A: Appropriate

Sensory seekers will go for daredevil experiences, while sensory avoiders will shun activity. It’s important to find appropriate activities for both. I raised one of each of these. The challenge is keeping the sensory seeker safe and the sensory avoider playing with the rest of the kiddos instead of standing on the sidelines.

“So when a sensory seeker clambers to the diving board although he can’t swim, we must rechannel his out of sync behavior.” – The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun

We must give the sensory-avoider a chance to practice new activities privately so she doesn’t just stand on the sidelines watching.

At our family camp, the kids were jumping rope and playing while my daughter stood with her eyes downcast and shoulders slumped. She was afraid to try after tripping on the rope one time. I took her to the other side of the house, and we practiced alone until she could manage jumping successfully. She joined the cousins with a smile on her face and jumped rope with them.

You’re doing your sensory-avoiding child a disservice if you don’t find ways to help them participate in sensory activities and feel successful.

F: Fun (Functional and Family Builders)

“When the child experiences challenges to which he can respond effectively, he has ‘fun’.” – The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun

While a child is having fun, he is experiencing sensory integration. This is functional activity that will provide skills for adulthood.

We all want our kids to play, cooperate, and get along — but are we modeling that for them? Are we showing instead of telling? It’s fun and simple to show. Have a squirt gun battle with your kids and be prepared to get wet. Play “Mother May I?” and don’t cry when you have to go back to the beginning. Play hide and seek. Have a crab-walk race, a sack race, or a human wheelbarrow race. These are all functional, family bonding activities!

E: Easy (Economical, Environmentally Friendly, and Emotionally Satisfying)

Fun doesn’t have to be expensive! You can create loads of fun for your family in your own backyard or in a creek, stream, or lake. Check your area for trails to hike or bike. Look around for access to a creek. Go creek walking. Skip stones. There is something so emotionally satisfying about skipping stones! I am not great at it, but my kids are!

Whatever you choose to do, make sure it is emotionally satisfying. I would put that at the top of the list.

“The activities should be easy enough for your child to taste success. When they are too challenging, your child may resist doing them. Think of how frustrating it is to be a child who wants to have fun, wants to please you — and can’t.” – The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun

Also, make sure you take the time to discern the child’s fear level. If it is high and you know he would really enjoy the activity and have success, gently push. By gently, I mean comfort and coax with a calm voice. Don’t yell, “You’re going to do this or else!” Say, “Let’s just try this for a couple of minutes. I’ll hold your hand. See, you’re doing it.” Some parents struggle with being sweet when they just want the kid to JUST DO IT!

Here’s a good self-check: ask yourself how you would want to be treated in this situation. Even if you are an adventure-seeker who is afraid of nothing, do you enjoy put-downs, yelling, or belittling?

Here’s a good example. My niece was visiting, and we took her creek walking. This was her first time. She was about 7 years old and was used to city living. Creek walking is a Guire tradition. It’s super simple and free. You just put on old tennis shoes or rubber boots and walk in the creek. You can catch craw-dads or just enjoy the walk.

This was all new to my niece. She was afraid — understandably so. You may be reading this, thinking, That’s just a weird thing to do. She thought so. I asked her to try for a few minutes and held her hand. After those few minutes, she let go of my hand and thoroughly enjoyed the day. After fifteen minutes, she took the lead!

I’m not saying every child will obtain this level of competence, but every child can have an emotionally rewarding experience. Some kids may need you to hold their hand the whole time. That’s okay. Meet the child at their level.

One final thought: Don’t take resistance as a “no.” There are many interpretations of resistance. It may mean, I’m afraid, I don’t think I can do this, or I have never done this before. Some of the activities my kids resisted as young children are their fondest memories as adults.

So what are you waiting for? Get outside!

For more help, check out this video: A Sensory World Preview.

 

* The S.A.F.E. Acronym is from The Out-of-Sync Child Has Fun. This is a great resource book full of fun stuff to do with any child!

Episode 73

 

 

What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?

I’ve long held the belief that adoptive/foster parents are missionaries. When I tell people about our international adoption, I like to say that not only did I visit the country, but I also brought some natives home.

This true for all adoptive/foster parents. We don’t clock out and go back to our dorm or hut or whatever the missionary lives in. We also don’t get on a plane and go back to the comfort of our own home.

What if We Treated Foster Parents as Missionaries_

As foster or adoptive parents, our home is a long-term (forever) mission base. We bring these kids who have been discarded by the culture, hurt by their parents, and harmed by trauma into our homes. There is rarely a respite.

I talked to Elizabeth King, a full-time missionary with twenty-two years under her belt. When she and her husband were presented with the opportunity to adopt two girls, they said, “More ministry? Yes!” They were up for it. Hadn’t they been practicing this for years? She says:

“But we were not really ready for the total onslaught of doing ministry right from the very core of who we were. Always before we had ministered outside of our home or had temporary visitors in our home. Our residence was a place of refuge from the rigors of ministry. But now, by accepting these broken girls into our lives – there was nowhere left to retreat to. Nowhere to relax. No escape from the desperate needs and destructive behaviors of the two hurting souls. We found that all our weaknesses, which we could hide pretty well in the course of normal ministry, were now staring us in the face every day.”

If we change the way we think about adoptive/foster parents and slide them into the missionary category, there will be changes in four areas:

Our Prayers

First, adoptive/foster parents will be prayed for more often. Think of how often we pray for missionaries. We tack their photos up on the fridge to remind us to pray for them daily. If we see adoptive/foster parents as missionaries, we will do the same for them.

  • Pray for safety. Adoptive/foster families need a hedge of protection prayed around them. They are in the midst of a battle.

“The protection of children isn’t charity. It isn’t part of a political program fitting somewhere between tax cuts and gun rights or between carbon emission caps and a national service corps. It’s spiritual warfare.” – Russell Moore

  • Pray that they can minister the gospel. It’s tough to be in the middle of the battle and keep ministering the gospel at the same time. While there may not be actual bullets or bombs, foster and adoptive parents face many spiritual and emotional battles.
  • Pray that adoptive/foster parents will be able to teach and reach across cultural lines. Kids that have come from hard places have come from a different culture. Many of them have come from a culture of abuse and neglect. They don’t speak the same language or believe the same things. Most often when a kiddo is being fostered and he is brought to church with the family, the assumption is that he will immediately speak the language of religion. He won’t.
  • Pray that “the natives” will trust them enough to listen. Once these kiddos walk through the doors of our homes, we expect them to feel safe and secure and attach immediately. They won’t — and beyond that, they can’t. When kids come home through foster care or adoption, the foster parent isn’t automatically held in high esteem. Mom and dad aren’t regarded as trustworthy. They may be viewed as just another pit stop for kids with a garbage bag full of belongings. These kiddos may be thinking that these people will hurt/abandon/molest them too. These kiddos have never felt safe. Why would they feel safe with foster or adoptive parents they just met?

“With “normal” families, you can assume that if they haven’t asked prayer for something specific, they probably don’t have any really urgent needs. But foster/adoptive families kind of habituate to a higher level of chaos and urgency, and you feel like this is what they signed up for, so they won’t usually ask prayer for specific things.” – Kristin Peters, adoptive parent

Our Expectations

If we really, fully understand the full-time ministry that is fostering or adopting, we won’t be shocked when these families aren’t at church every Sunday. We would just assume they are doing their job.

Sometimes foster/adoptive parents are so deep in the trenches, they can’t escape. They’re working so hard on attachment with these kids that any break — even just to come to church — can destroy the work they have done. When my newbies first came home, we didn’t go to church or homeschool group for a while. After a while, I heard the gentle grumblings of the leadership wondering when I was coming back to teach.

When we did come back, I kept my kids with me. It was my primary job to attach to them. All of my other commitments were secondary.

Our Contributions

If we view foster and adopted parents as missionaries, we will do everything we can to make sure they are equipped spiritually, emotionally, and physically before going on their “mission.”

When my family traveled to Poland to adopt our four, we had Rubbermaid containers of supplies, suitcases, and books. On the second trip, the children’s church filled those same containers with supplies to leave at the orphanage for the kids and staff.

Missionary families need physical supplies. They also need training. Would you travel to another country to preach the gospel if you didn’t speak the language or at least have an interpreter? And wouldn’t you go to a Christian source for training instead of a secular one?

So, why don’t we offer spiritual and physical training from a Christian perspective for our adoptive/foster missionaries? It does exist. Why not offer it within the four walls of the church?

Our Involvement

Finally, if we view foster/adoptive parents as missionaries, we will consider it an honor to invest in their journey.

“God asks us to reach out to those who need Him. Adoptive families have done this in a more sacrificial way than most people could even comprehend. It is the right thing for the body of Christ to support those who have given themselves so fully to the care of the little ones God has sent them.” – Elizabeth King, missionary and adoptive mom

This is probably the most difficult one for the body of Christ to swallow. I’ve been told that since I chose to adopt, I just need to suck it up, so to speak. In case you are wondering, I did not receive or ask for money from the church to fund my adoption. But I sure wish it were available for other families. We pay monthly support to missionaries so they can do their thing. Why not do the same for foster/adoptive families on some level?

And there are other ways to invest in foster care/adoption, too.

“You’re either called to bring a child into your home or support those who do! – Real Life Foster Mom

You can take them dinner, offer to babysit, buy school supplies, get them a gift card, buy Christmas gifts, or — my favorite — take a foster/adoptive Mom out for coffee and LISTEN. Not all investments require tons of money. What they do take, however, is time. Sacrifice a bit of your time for those who have surrendered all of theirs.

“Adoptive parents are like missionaries on steroids. There is no furlough from this job, no let-up in sight. If missionaries should be honored and supported, adoptive families – especially those who have adopted children from trauma – need our love, our respect, and our support just as much – and likely more. Maybe finances aren’t an issue. But finding time for friendship when you know your friends will never understand what you’re going through anyway and the demands at home are overwhelming – it’s just so hard.” – Elizabeth King