The Five Bs Affected by Trauma Part 5- Behavior

This is the last in the series on “The Five Bs Affected by Trauma”, you if you missed the rest, start here. Also, hop on over to the printable resource page for a copy of “How Trauma Affects Kids.”

Science says there are five Bs affected by trauma, and we cannot overlook them. In kids from hard places, behavioral disorders are a symptom of the effect trauma has had on their development. 

Negative behaviors will be taken care of once a child is securely attached. To achieve that, we must start with the five Bs and work our way out from there.

Behavior

Behavior — an altered ability to self-regulate in response to stressors. This can manifest as impulsiveness, self-destructive behavior, aggressive behavior, excessive compliance, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, substance abuse, a re-enactment of their traumatic past, or pathological self-soothing behaviors.

This is the one we seem to put the most emphasis on. Why can’t this kid just behave? 

Children from hard places have an altered ability to self-regulate in response to stressors. Kids are impulsive! 

When a baby is born, the mother regulates for him. She feeds him when he is hungry. Wraps him in a blanket when he is cold. She rocks him to sleep when he is tired. When he gets a bit older, he begins to co-regulate, this is the two-year-old who gets the juice out of the fridge and pours himself a glass and gets it all over the counter. He begins to recognize his needs and try to meet them. Self-regulated is the final destination of this journey. This is when a teen or young adult can regulate himself. He drinks water and doesn’t become dehydrated. He eats food. He sleeps when he is tired. He starts handling his bank account on his own.

 Children from hard places often have this cycle of regulation broken. Their needs are not met consistently. They miss the season of co-regulation. As a child, they don’t recognize their own body’s signals for food and water. Their sleeping patterns are messed up. They walk around slightly dehydrated. They don’t eat enough or do the opposite. Gorge. 

What we see on our end is dysregulation. A child who can’t sit still. A child who fidgets. Speaks out of turn. Who doesn’t listen.

Key to Remember – “Good/excited stress loads in a child from a hard place in much the same way as bad/traumatic stress. Generally, a child cannot tell the difference.” – ETC

As a result, children from hard places often experience heightened and persistent levels of stress and fear, driving them to develop an array of survival tactics and inappropriate behavioral responses. However, as Dr. Purvis reminds us: Every behavior has a purpose and a function. Behind every behavior and misbehavior is a need, and we must come to view our children’s needs not as something negative but as something very positive. Needs are one of the primary ways that God uses to bring people into a relationship with others and with Himself. So, we need to learn to follow the needs of our children.

Behavior is a need however inappropriately expressed.

 “It’s can’t, not won’t.”

Many children from hard places deal with heightened levels of stress and fear. In order to help our children heal and move forward, it is critical that parents understand how pervasive fear can be and what it looks like in our children’s behaviors and responses.

Fear is much more than a feeling. Fear is a state of being, and for many children from hard places, it has become a way of life.

There are three ways that children from hard places typically respond to fear and stress:

  1. Fight- frustration, explosive or aggressive, resistive, acting out, saying “I won’t, You can’t make me!”
  2. Flight- Goofy, Physically or emotionally distracting behavior, running, escaping behaviors, distractible, clowning, redirecting, easily bored, effectively saying, “I’m out of here.”
  3. Freeze- Body is often not receiving signals from the brain- whiny, tearful, clingy, fearful, reluctant to separate or to try new things, withdrawing, hiding, saying “I can’t!”

THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FEELING SAFE AND BEING SAFE!

Instead of asking, What are you afraid of, ask, what do you need?

In order to truly address the issue of fear, we will need to create a sense of felt-safety for the child.

 Key to remember-You provide felt-safety when you arrange the environment and adjust your behavior so that the child can feel safe.  Felt safety is just as important and real as actual safety, even for adults. Think of a time that you were perfectly safe and yet you had anxiety. Everyone has something that raises their anxiety level. It could be heights, snakes, spiders, elevators, flying, or crowds. 

Now think about how you react to those around you when confronted with those fears, and you’ll understand your children’s behavior better.

Want to hear more about behavior?

In this episode of Positive Adoption, Kathleen continues the series on the Five Bs affected by trauma with “Behavior.” Behavior — an altered ability to self-regulate in response to stressors. This can manifest as impulsiveness, self destructive behavior, aggressive behavior, excessive compliance, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, substance abuse, re-enactment of their traumatic past, or pathological self soothing behaviors. Grab a cup of coffee and join Kathleen as she finishes this series!


When Teens Who Have Had Trauma Are Judged More Harshly for Their Behavior

This week on the podcast, the topic was “Kids With Capital Letter Syndromes Are People Too.” Lori and I talked a bit about how teens who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome don’t know how to act differently in front of adults. By that I mean, they don’t put up false fronts while adults are in the room and then go back to misbehaving when they leave.

Judging Teens Who Have Had Trauma

Teens who have had trauma are judged differently for their behavior than kids from traditional two-parent families. When we’re talking about teens from traditional two-parent homes, we tend to say things like “they’re just sowing their wild oats” or “teens will be teens.” We naturally assume they’re exploring, finding their own way, etc. When we’re talking about adopted kids, foster kids, or kids who have had trauma, however, we tend to take a different perspective and jump to the conclusion that they are just bad kids.

If a kid in a two-parent home wrecks a car because he’s buzzed or drunk, it’s kept on the down-low. But if a kid from a traumatic background flips a car because they panic at being near an abuser’s home, then they’re just “crazy” and “wild.” The incident becomes a story TOLD about them as if they’re just messed up and horrible and careless and ungrateful. 

If a kid in a stable, two-parent home is confronted with something they did wrong, they might get a little angry, but they also know the language of remorse (genuine or not). They know how to say sorry and how to stop. Kids from hard places often don’t.

The Social Age Factor

Also, because of the social age difference, trauma kids end up being labeled “bad” for things they do out of immaturity. They are perceived to be willfully acting immaturely because we assume they possess a certain level of maturity based on their physical age and appearance. However, physical maturity does not always correspond to emotional or social maturity.

Kids with trauma issues have a harder time hiding behavior or putting on the brakes. They’re caught more often, and they tend to lean into the destructive behavior when they’re caught and told to stop, whereas non-trauma kids might be better at genuinely stopping, hiding their behavior, or faking obedience.

The Effects of Neglect and Abuse

“Neglect and abuse delay cause-and-effect processing and, specifically, seeing accurately how our actions impact the world. When the infant cried in need (cause), there was no comfort response from the caregiver (effect). Over time, a child learns there is no connection between what they do and how others respond.” – Executive function #6 in Wounded Children, Healing Homes

Kids who have endured trauma end up giving themselves permission to behave badly because they THINK of themselves as trash.
Kids who have endured trauma end up giving themselves permission to behave badly because they THINK of themselves as trash.

Two-parent kids with a stable home life have this underlying perception of themselves as baseline GOOD, no matter WHAT their behavior is. Bad behavior is just something they’re DOING and can stop at any time. It’s not who they are.

Traumatized kids think that even neutral behavior is probably awful because it’s just who they are. They overhear discussions about themselves as the “bad” kid. Traumatized kids tend to blow up more spectacularly, and with only one parent, with foster parents, or with an entire community watching them, it’s not as hush-hush.

“Bad kids” are “bad kids” because when they’re caught, they act angry and “selfish.” They don’t apologize, they internalize self-hatred, they shift the blame, and they sometimes blow up more in retaliation.

An Inability to Self-Check

“Monitoring refers to the ability to self-check work as you go. …It is tempting to jump to the conclusion that the child is willfully unmotivated to self-monitor, and for some kids, that may be true. … for children whose brain development is affected by exposure to complex trauma, the capacity to monitor may be outside of the realm of will power.” – Executive function #3 in Wounded Children, Healing Homes

When a child can’t monitor or self-check, more behaviors are evident as he tries to negotiate needs. His response to transitions or stimuli is over the top. When that child becomes a teen, his body size makes his reactions appear more violent (because they are). When a 16-year-old hits a wall, his fist goes through it, whereas a 4-year-old would just hurt his fist. Remember that the social age factor is in play here.

What Do We Do With This Information?

What do we see first when observing teens? The way they act. I get it. As my mom said when I was a teen, “You only have one chance to make a good first impression.” When ministering to teens from hard places, throw that out the window. Don’t discount the first impression, but learn to look beyond the behavior. Just because the teen isn’t polite or sweet doesn’t mean we should pull out the judgment card.

Look Beyond the Behavior and Love the Person

“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” – Gal. 6:2

A teen who has had trauma in their life has some heavy burdens. Lighten the load by giving them some grace. Don’t be so quick to judge. Look beyond the behavior to the need. What does that teen need? Does he need a listening ear? Does he need you to help him figure out some coping skills? Maybe he just needs an adult to say, “I’ve been through some junk, too. I hear you. You aren’t alone.”

Remember the Social Age of the Teen

Teens and kiddos alike hear this all the time: “Act your age!” Guess what? Kids and teens from hard places are acting their age.

Typically, a child who had trauma is, emotionally, half his physical age (many times, the gap is even greater). You know what’s great about that? You can appeal to their inner child. You can play with them. Teens love to play. They love games with Nerf guns, squirt guns or  _______ (fill in the blank).

Meet the teens where they are at emotionally, not physically. Don’t let their size fool you! They need to play! This disarms a child’s fear, and the result of that is more regulation.

Remember, don’t judge a teen by his behavior. If he has had trauma, he may not be skilled in the area of hiding behavior or putting on the brakes. Look beyond the behavior to the need. What does that teen need? Look through your trauma-informed lens and see the teen. 

 

A Capital Letter Syndrome Doesn’t Make a Child Less Than

Marching to the beat of his own drum.

I knew.  I knew from early on that my son marched to the beat of his own drum.  I tried to to make him march with the other kids.  I didn’t want him to think something was wrong with him.  I tried all the parenting advice and discipline techniques.  Nothing seemed to matter.  I was trying to force a square peg into a round hole.

A Capital Letter Syndrome Doesn't Make a Child Less Than

The school nightmare

School was a nightmare.  He’d burn up all his energy on trying to “be good” only to fail and fall short of the teacher’s expectations.  He never brought home that coveted green smiley on his behavioral chart that said it was a good day.  I could see it in his eyes, he felt less than.  Less than the other kids his age, less than good, less than what people want.  It broke my heart.  I hated that stinking behavioral chart.  I hated that people refused to try and understand my sweet boy.

Soon we realized that traditional public school made things worse.  When he was in third grade, my husband and I made the choice to homeschool all our children.  I will never forget the day early in our journey that he leaned against my shoulder and said “Thank you for homeschooling me, Mommy.  I felt so stupid in school”  I cried that day and still remember it so vividly.  I replay that memory when we’re having a rough day.

Being your Child’s Advocate

I knew that I was going to have to be my son’s biggest advocate.  From the time we got his SPD diagnosis in first grade until just recently, I’ve had to explain everything it means and what it doesn’t.  I’ve had to undo society’s idea of what perfect children should look like.  My son was perfect.  Exactly the way God made him.  Just because he doesn’t do everything like the masses doesn’t make him somehow less than.  I am actually proud that he doesn’t.  And now, even at 14 years old, I will still fight anyone that tries to force that square peg into that round hole….or lovingly point out how mistaken they are.  It’s a toss-up, really.  😉

Want to hear more of what Lori has to say on the subject? Listen to this week’s podcast episode:

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Lori Shaffer

Special Needs (Capital Letter Syndromes) and Homeschooling Director

Lori Shaffer is married to her childhood best friend, Jacob.  She is a stay at home missionary and homeschool mom to their three children.  She is passionate about advocating for teen moms and women and children that have been abused and giving them hope and encouragement.  Most days she can be found drinking coffee, working out with Kathleen, or hanging out with her family.

Follow Lori on Social Media:

Facebook- Lori Shaffer

Instagram –@browneyedmomof3

Instagram joint fitness account (Kathleen and Lori)-

@2girlsnotrunning

Why should you sign up for ETC Parent Training?

Empowered to Connect, Dr. Karyn Purvis, Dr. David Cross, trust based parenting, these are not household terms in Wild Wonderful West Virginia. In fact, many adoptive/foster families have never heard of any of these terms, so it’s not surprising when I ask adoptive/foster families if they want to sign up for ETC Parent Training, they look at me as if I have three heads. I would too. Why should anyone sign up for parent training when they are already a parent and have been for quite awhile. Why plop down money for books and set aside time for homework in an already chocked full schedule?

When Mom came home and told us five kids we were moving to a farmhouse in the country, I constructed a mental picture in my head based on the Waltons. A large white farm house on the top a hill. When we pulled up to the tri colored, mustard, blue and red boxy, dilapidated structure with the overgrown yard, my illusions were shattered. the house boasted a Pepto- Bismol pink mantle and layers of faded wallpaper, not my ideal. My mother saw something we kids didn’t. Beauty. Value. Potential. she saw the eighty acres as a refuge. My mom believed in restoration. Now, I do too, and if you adopt/foster, you’re a family builder.

My parents knew the value of hardwood floors, the hundred year old construction and the fresh air for growing children and veggie gardens. Mom took our family habits and government and sifted through it. Some stuff got chucked, like the television, other things were added, family devotions around the oval oak table. It was a new way of living.

What’s the point of this wordy meandering? Adoption/fostering is like the farmhouse family journey. We believe it will be a certain way. We have expectations. We have as set of parenting beliefs that don’t work with children who have had trauma. They’re like those layers of wallpaper, we have to peel them back, examine them under the light of our current circumstances and determine what our goal is.

When my family moved to the farmhouse, Mom had a set of goals. In order to meet those goals, she had to make some changes. We adoptive/foster families need to do the same. Those layers of wallpaper may be our child’s past or our own. We need to peel them back and work on restructuring.

wallpaper

Traditional parenting doesn’t work with these kiddos. Just like the lifestyle Mom wanted to leave behind, we need to be willing to leave our suppositions behind. Punishment doesn’t work. Yelling just breeds anger. Time-out backfires. Logical consequences fall flat.

If you are reading this and you see yourself or your child you should consider ETC parent training. Maybe you’ve tried everything and your child’s behaviors are spiraling out of control. Or maybe he is well behaved, but distant, there is no connection, you feel as if you are just going through the motions. Your vision of that wonderful parent/child relationship has turned Pepto-Bismol pink. Do you feel as if you have lost the parenting gene? Probably not. What you may need is a reshuffling and restructuring of your parenting theory. I did.

2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. -Romans 12:2

We parents must renew our minds and our families will be transformed. We must have tools that work. If you don’t want to keep fighting the same battles and making no progress. I understand. Been there. Done that. Then I studied, learned and renewed my mind. ETC Parent training is taught by regular ole adoptive/foster parents like me who have lived it, tired it and found success, not perfection. We are in the trenches with you. You won’t just learn some theory from some lofty perch. ETC training gives you twenty-five tools to use help your child (and you) connect, grow and heal. It is an investment, not just another sharpie mark on the calendar.

If you are interested, contact Kathleen Guire by emailing PositiveAdoption@gmail.com.

Want to know more about the training? Click here.

 

Should You Attend the Empowered to Connect Conference?

Remember that old commercial, “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids!” That rabbit never gives up, he keeps trying to capture his share of the sugary cereal.

That’s the same scenario that plays out when people see the banner, post or tweet about the Show Hope’s Empowered to Connect Conference (April 8th and 9th) They think, “Silly me, that conference is for foster and adoptive parents!” It’s not just for for adoptive/foster families. It may be for you:

 

If you counsel  families and children….

 

If you are a teacher…

If you are a judge….

If you are a psychologist, teacher, therapist, have a special needs child, have a specialization in child development, work with children on the spectrum or work with children on a daily basis, this conference is for YOU.

If you are scratching your head, wondering what T.B.R.I. (Trust Based Relational Intervention), watch this intro video and share!

If you are interested in attending the Show Hope Empowered to Connect Simulcast and you live in the Fairmont, Clarksburg, Bridgeport, Morgantown (WV) area, you can find more info here. If you would like to attend and live elsewhere, click here to find a location near you. Hope to see you April 8th and 9th at the Empowered to Connect Conference!

*For CEUS, make sure you register here. This is a separate registration than regular attendance and MUST be done online.