Journaling Your Triggers

Change Begins With Us

The change we desire for our children must begin with us.

“If we’re willing to piece together our stories and see the relationship between what happened then and what’s happening now, we get to make choices about what happens next.”

Tell Me a Story

It’s difficult to make choices in the heat of the moment. This is why it is important to take some time and revisit our past, make sense of it, and begin healing. 

While we are healing, we can put some proactive responses into place. In other words, you can decide how you are going to respond ahead of time. If you know that when your child steals candy out of the secret stash, it triggers a memory in you of your Aunt Verna whipping you with a switch until your behind was raw, develop a pre-planned, go-to response. 

Separate yourself from the situation. Avoid saying things like, “If I had done that, my mother would have…” Instead, tend to the situation at hand logically. The child took the candy; therefore, he can’t have any after dinner — or whatever you decide is a natural consequence. 

As Andy Stanley writes in Deep & Wide, “the past is only the past for a time. It has a way of clawing its way into our future. And if you don’t recognize it for what it is, the results can be devastating.” If we don’t recognize our past and its overwhelming power to invade our “now,” we will remain stuck. If we come to terms with our past and work through it, we can gain a new outlook on it.

Your Past Can Be a Gift

I honestly never thought I would view the trauma in my past as a gift. I had years of anger, bitterness, and a reoccuring theme of “Why me?” 

I don’t feel that way anymore. I realized a long time ago that empathy is a superpower that is only earned by going through trauma. Sympathy can only reaches the boundaries of understanding someone else’s pain. Empathy feels that pain. 

I’m not saying you should be grateful that someone molested you or did horrible things to you. But you can be grateful for the gift of empathy.

“We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.”

(Romans 8:28)

God takes our pain, our past, and our experiences and fits them into a plan to help others. I’ve spoken with a multitude of adoptive/foster parents over the years. They all seem to have a common denominator: at least one half of the couple experienced early trauma. 

I’ve talked to foster parents who spent years in and out of group homes, were raised in a foster home, were raised by alcoholics or drug addicts, or had moms who worked as prostitutes. I’m not mentioning these things to shame their past or their parents, but to let you know that if you experienced early trauma, you are not alone.

Maybe you identify. Maybe you didn’t have the greatest childhood. Maybe this whole module has been excruciatingly painful for you. I get it. So let’s not end on the trauma — let’s end on the gift it has given to you.

Here’s something you can do right now: Take a deep breath and go do something fun with your kid. While you are having fun, respond to them the way you wish someone had responded to you at that age. Smile. Laugh. Praise them. Don’t make it complicated. Find joy in the small things. 

Journal Your triggers

Today, take a little time and journal one of your triggers. One of mine is riding in the back of a car. It’s linked to times my father came to pick us kiddos up for a visit (after my parent’s divorce). He lived in a different state every year.We often drove for days without anyone telling me where we were going. As soon as we got in the car, my anxiety took over. Today, as you write up a trigger, also write a new predetermined response. Mine is – God is with me wherever I go, He will never leave me no forsake me. It’s my go-to when traveling. Also, as much as possible, I find the route to where I am going. What can you do to conquer your trigger?

*This is an excerpt from the course How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

Want to know more about the E-course and Sample a module? Click Below!

Making Sense Of and Peace With Your Past

“We parents often believe that our past — that is, the way we were raised — is just a book on a shelf of memories. It’s not. Triggers are where past and present intersect. We can’t assume our past isn’t affecting our present parenting.”

How to Have Peace When Your Kids Are in Chaos

If we don’t make sense of and peace with our past, we will be in constant conflict with our children.

You’re probably taking this course because you are in constant conflict with your kiddos. I get it. I’ve lived there. When I finally understood where their behaviors were coming from, I made a tiny bit of progress. I had some brain science and psychology under my belt, but my house still often felt like a war zone. Let me emphasize the word FELT. I was feeling all sorts of things. By that I mean, my kid’s behaviors were triggering things that happened in my past and I was feeling it all over again. I was taking their behaviors personally because I was personally affected by them. I had a past that needed to be examined. I was the last person to think the problem was actually ME. But I was the part of the problem that I was responsible for. I didn’t want to face the truth. I wanted to stay stuck in my cycle of blaming my kid’s behavior for the chaos in my home. When I finally got ahold of the truth that my past was parenting my children. That I needed to face it and make sense of it and peace with it that I was able to move forward.

Often our daily tussles are not about our kids at all — they are about us. That’s not to say that our kids from hard places don’t have a past. It just means our past is running interference on the play. Take a few minutes and journal the last interaction that you think triggered you to react to your past instead of the present.

Adverse Childhood Experiences

An ACE score is a tally of different types of abuse, neglect, and other hallmarks of a rough childhood.

Ace Assessment – Take yours now! Make sure you read the whole article to find out what it does and doesn’t mean.

Let’s end this day with some nurturing. If you have never taken the time until today to process some of your childhood, you may be overwhelmed right now. I’ve been there. Lots of people have. I was conducting a workshop for some social workers and nurses once and during this the topic of the how your past affects your now – a nurse yelled out, “I’m not going to parent my kids like my mom did, I’m going to hug them.” We can and should have those sorts of reactions to facing our past, not to throw our parents under the bus, but to decide to where to go from here. What is nurturing to you?

I’ve provided some questions for you to work through just that. 

  1. What is a deep source of comfort and emotional nurturing for you?
  2.  How do you recognize nurturing?
  3.  Are you comfortable giving emotional support?
  4. Does your own childhood weigh heavily on your heart and mind? If so, how?
  5. Do you comfort others in order to comfort yourself? What does this look like?
  6. Are you able to recognize your own emotions as well as others? If not, what steps can you take to start recognizing emotions in yourself?

*This is an excerpt from the course How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

Interested in the course? Read more about it and try a free module!

Deciding When to Accept Outside Help For Your Kiddos

Deciding When to Accept Outside Help

As I mentioned yesterday

As Adopting the Hurt Child says, many health professionals blame the adoptive parents for the child’s current problems. This statement summed up how I was feeling: “It is an unfortunate fact that many of those who attempt to provide treatment to adoptive parents with disturbed children know very little about issues related to adoption.” Rafal’s issues were a result of me not caring, nor were my present strategies ineffective. 

As a parent, it is my job to protect my child. That’s true for any parent, but medical issues can be especially scary and complicated when a child has been through traumatic circumstances — especially if those experiences include past medical issues. It is important for parents to know as much of the child’s medical history as possible. This is not necessarily just a bunch of papers that record history; there needs to be an understanding of how a child has received medical care.

It is difficult to make decisions about medical help for children who have had trauma

It is difficult to make decisions about medical help for children who have had trauma. Myriad services are available to adoptive families: counseling, speech therapy, play therapy, camps, feeding clinics, and much more. Jerry and I both settled into the conservative camp on this issue. We decided we didn’t want our home to be a revolving door of services. Our children had spent enough time in institutions, including orphanages and hospitals. What they needed now was to see what a secure home looked like. 

I felt confident that I could do the research and help my children with speech, physical therapy, feeding, and whatever other challenges came our way. I am not saying that every family must do this. I think parents should make informed decisions and do what is best for each child. 

Shortly after Rafal’s hospital visit, I attended a workshop for parents who wanted to handle the speech therapy at home. I went to work with Ania and Hunter right away, and later with Rafal. 

Ania and Hunter are nine months apart in age. Hunter helped Ania learn English quickly. He also gave her his slight speech impediment. They developed the same speech pattern — a New Yorker accent, I called it. Woild for world, goil for girl. They were extremely funny to listen to and oblivious to the fact that they had developed their own accent. 

Yes, I did receive flack for my decision to not receive a great deal of outside help, but as a homeschooler, I’m used to that. It is scary to step outside of the realm of the professionals — and to clarify, I did not lose my faith in the medical establishment as a whole. I understand that professionals are human beings who have diverse backgrounds and subjective opinions based on their own presuppositions. I guess that is just a fancy way of saying I don’t trust people based on titles. I trust my mother’s intuition more. 

Parents should not be afraid to question professionals who work with their children.

Parents should not be afraid to question professionals who work with their children. Has this professional treated children who have had traumatic hospital experiences, RAD, or FAS? Do they even know what any of these terms mean?  Will they support your morals/values and back up your work at home?

Parenting the Hurt Child recommends: “Parents should be seen as a part of the treatment team. After all, they are the only ones who can actually help the hurt child.”

Our society is built on professionals, but that hasn’t always been the case. Parents and extended family used to be the only thing that a child needed. Outside help was only sought in extreme circumstances. Nowadays, parents are offered prenatal help, lactation consultants, Birth to Three services, mommy and me classes to ensure the child is moving and talking properly, and preschool to socialize and learn basic concepts. It’s enough to make mothers feel as if they are incompetent. 

Since young mothers are told they need help, they assume they do. It is an unfortunate turn of events. These services are offered to help, not to tear down the confidence of parents. Traditionally, grandparents and extended family helped mom and dad when they were perplexed. Should Johnny be walking by now? Should he speak at nine months old?  These used to be questions you would ask family. Now pediatricians have handy checklists for each age and stage. 

As nice as they are, these lists shouldn’t be taken as gospel truth for each child. My older brother is a genius by IQ test standards. Sometimes I have a hard time with understanding the explanations that come from his complex brain — I’m just not that smart. Yet, according to my mother, he did not speak to adults until he was three. When he did begin speaking, it was in paragraphs. My mother was not extremely panicked about it because she once overheard him practicing speech in his bedroom. She figured he would share conversation when he was ready. If he had been three today, my mother would have been advised to accept in-home help for a genius who was busy privately perfecting his speech.

Parents are the Experts

My point is this: Parents are the experts. The decision of whether extra help is needed should not be left up to someone outside the home (such as Social Worker 1). Parents should not be pressured into receiving the all of the resources available. I have seen articles in newsletters and online where new adoptive parents are plopping children in speech therapy, school therapy, and more. 

My concern for these families is this: Are they building a family, or are they just a continuation of a government institution? Again, my point is not that outside help is never beneficial or necessary — just that it shouldn’t be the default. Each family should ask themselves these questions before embarking on the professional help route:

• How will this help affect the child?  

• What happens if help is refused?

• What are the long-term results if no help is received?

• What is necessary?

Once you have the answers to these questions, proceed with what you think is in the best interest of the child.

This is an excerpt from the chapter “Medical Issues” in How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

The Day I Was Reported

The Day I Was Reported

I sat in a small sterile room at the children’s hospital, holding a wiggly Rafal on my lap. It seemed as if we had been here for hours. After the initial measuring, weighing, and getting vitals, eighteen-month-old Rafal and I waited. He fussed, and I fed him a jar of baby food. Then the door swung open, and a petite lady flew into the room. She walked around us, examining Rafal, then started hammering me with facts about him being underweight and his head being too large for his body — facts I already knew. Then she introduced herself as a social worker. 

I wasn’t able to get a word in edgewise. This woman was angry at me for some reason. She went on and on about him being delayed and me needing assistance with him at home — and why hadn’t they seen him before this? She rushed out of the room and returned moments later with another social worker.

Social Worker 2 was quiet and let me talk. I introduced Rafal: “He is adopted from Poland. I have only had him for a few months.” I explained the feeding methods in the orphanage, the shortage of staff, and a little of his history. Within minutes, Social Worker 2 was in tears. She had adopted also. We cried for a few moments together. Then she said I had everything under control and left. 

Saying No to Help for the Right Reasons

Social Worker 1 stayed. “Would you like me to set up some help for you at home?”

At this point, I was completely clueless as to what she was talking about, but I knew that she was still angry with me for some reason. I could hear it in her tone of voice and see it in her body language. 

“Help with what?”

“Well, he’s not walking. How about that?  How do you feed him? We could send you to a feeding clinic. Speech therapy.”  She was so uptight, she could barely get the words out. She spit out fragments, and I was supposed to interpret them.

“No, I don’t need any help. I can work on walking. I know how to feed him. I use my food processor to puree things. He has gained weight since he has come home.”

When Rafal was born prematurely in September of ’98, his first four or five months of life were spent in the hospital with no parental care. The only physical contact he received came from the hands of overworked doctors and nurses. He was born with a hole in his heart or atrial septal defect (ASD) and a cleft palate. The staff had a difficult time feeding him, and IVs were used frequently. 

I pieced together some of his medical history through information given to me by the orphanage and the medical records they handed over. Because of his early history, I knew he wouldn’t react positively to another hospital stay. I had mentally prepared myself to comfort him in the children’s hospital. I didn’t know how he would react — but I never in my wildest dreams imagined that I would be the one in panic mode. 

I had nothing against the Birth to Three program that the social worker was referring to; I just knew that it wasn’t right for Rafal. He needed to have a stable home and connect to Mom and Dad. He didn’t need any interference in that arena, nor did he need fear coming into the home to torment him. 

“So you are refusing help?”

“I don’t need any help right now, thank you.”

“But someone could come to your home.”

“No, thank you. I can handle it.” 

At this point, I was still calm and under the impression that if I didn’t want help, it was okay to refuse. I didn’t realize that I had broken some unwritten rule in the eyes of this particular social worker. Help is wonderful — but at this point in Rafal’s healing, emotionally and physically, he did not need another person coming in the home to work with him. He needed to attach to me. I was working diligently on that, and I did not want a new person in the mix. 

Also, I knew that having someone come in my home to work with him would terrify the other children because of their past medical history. They may have gotten the idea that these strangers were orphanage staff coming to take them away. I know all of these things could be explained eventually, but I didn’t want to take three steps back when my adopted children were beginning to take baby steps forward in the areas of attachment and trust. 

“I am going to write this up and send it to every doctor that is working with him. I am going to state that you refused treatment for this child.” With that, she stormed out of the room. I could hear her filling someone in on the details in the hallway.

Have you ever felt as if you were the villain in your own story?

I’ve heard countless stories of other foster/adoptive parents being grilled for the child still exhibiting the effects of trauma. It’s as if we are supposed to wipe away the years of neglect, malnutrition, and lack of proper medical treatment with a Magic Eraser as soon as they come through the door. It’s just not possible. We adoptive/foster parents can end up feeling as if we are the villain instead of the parent when those expectations aren’t met.

The other day I talked about how trauma’s effects can be delayed. That’s true. Other times, the physical effects are much more evident like in my son’s case. So how do we handle medical issues? How do we handle doctor’s visits knowing we may be called on the carpet for something out of our control? Or maybe we want to refuse help because we know it would hamper the child’s progress?

As Adopting the Hurt Child says, many health professionals blame the adoptive parents for the child’s current problems. This statement summed up how I was feeling: “It is an unfortunate fact that many of those who attempt to provide treatment to adoptive parents with disturbed children know very little about issues related to adoption.” Rafal’s issues were a result of me not caring, nor were my present strategies ineffective. 

Do you feel as if you have blamed for some of your foster/adoptive child’s current problems?

Have you wanted to refuse some services because you don’t think they are in the best interest of the child? 

Do you often feel as if you have no say in when to accept help? 

Join me tomorrow for “Deciding When to Accept Outside Help.”

Do you have a story to share on this topic? Please share in the comments!

*This article is an excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

The Habit of Celebration

In the month of November, we turn our attention to practicing gratitude. That’s a great focus. Today, I’d like to take that a step further and say, we need to practice the habit of celebration which in turn produces memories to be grateful for!

“Make sure that the good ground of your home includes an abundance of laughter, parties, celebrations, presents, candles, Christmas trees, gifts, surprises, rocky road ice cream, jokes, backyard picnics, vacations, mountain bikes, bike rides, swimming, fishing and games. At the various houses in which our family has lived, we have had things like a swing set, a tree house, a tent, sleeping bags, a basketball hoop, baseballs, gloves and bats.” 

Seven Habits of a Healthy Home

One summer Sunday, we had a family birthday celebration for Amerey and Damian. Their birthdays are three days apart, and we often celebrate them together. We had grilled chicken and veggies and had a build-your-own fajita buffet. 

My brother Jess and his wife Tessa were able to come, along with their two children, Lexie and Alivia. My sister Natasha and her three children, Aaliyah, Aaron, and Israel, came too — plus my daughter Audrey and her husband Adam. We had a full house and lots of conversation and laughter.

The ironic thing about this celebration is that it had been preceded by a catastrophe. An hour before the party was to begin, Amerey and I were in the kitchen doing some prep work. She was making five gallons of lime water while I sliced green peppers. Her boyfriend had called us several times and warned us that a violent storm was headed our way, but it was still sunny, so I just kept chopping. Within minutes, though, the wind picked up, and black clouds rolled in. Amerey and I ran down to the pool patio and put the umbrellas down, closed the shed, and ran back inside with the wind knocking us around and sheets of rain pouring down on us. 

Back inside, Amerey dried off with a towel and checked the garage. An inch of water had flooded in. We began moving drums and anything we could out of the water’s path. Then she ran upstairs, only to find water cascading from the foyer light. 

My brother Jess and his family had pulled up in the middle of the storm and were waiting it out in the car. When the rain slowed, he called.

“Come in here — we need you!”  I said.

He came inside, checked out the light with a flashlight, and found where the water was coming in. The rest of the family arrived home from church, and we worked on sweeping water toward the garage drain. Tessa took over my slicing job. Damian went down and fished the sticks, leaves, and other debris out of the pool. I cleaned out the light and cleaned up water around a leaky window.

I went back to the kitchen to make sure everything was out and ready. Amerey and Tessa were still slicing and dicing, and everything was on track. “I am so through with this house!”  I complained to Tessa, and then we had gone on with the party.

The highlight of the celebration was our tradition of taking turns at the dinner table to speak blessings to the birthday person. It’s a celebration of memories. Each person starts with, “My favorite memory of you from the past year is . . .” 

This particular year, Damian had turned eighteen, and the comments he received were all about his work ethic and how he had matured. My son-in-law Adam spoke of his tenacity in projects, such as taking something apart and building something new out of it. 

The memories people shared with Amerey were about her being on her own, living in an apartment. Ania’s favorite memory was being able to go spend a weekend in the apartment and eating almost a whole pan of brownies together. Fun times!

I tell this story as a reminder: some of our best memories come at unlikely times. Like a fun-filled birthday party in the middle of a massive storm.

Choosing to Celebrate

Celebration is a choice. If our family had waited until all the circumstances were perfect before we celebrated life, that party never would have happened. When it comes to celebration, timing isn’t everything.

“He who observes the wind [and waits for all conditions to be favorable] will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4)

 This scripture puts it plainly. If I wait for conditions to be favorable or for everything to be perfect, than I will never sow, nor will I reap. If I want to reap a harvest of memories with my children, then I must sow the habit of celebration over and over again. 

As a parent, you never know which memories will stick. Every once in a while, my children will speak of a bad memory from their past, but more often than not, they share good family memories. 

“Remember when we went hiking at Coopers Rock?” 

“Remember when we made cards at my birthday party?”  

“Remember when we rollerbladed up and down the boardwalk at the beach?”

Each one of these memories were probably preceded by unfavorable conditions. They definitely weren’t experiences that we planned down to the last detail and executed without any hiccups.

While speaking to the Mom to Mom group at our church, I was asked the question, “Well, what if I plan a fun activity like making cookies, and my kid says she doesn’t want to do it?”  My answer? “Do it anyway!” 

I have found that no matter what “fun” thing you have planned, there will be naysayers. The naysayers may drag their feet and complain, but years from now, it may be a fond memory. I am often surprised when my kids mention one of these events as a favorite memory — even though I remember clearly that, during the actual event, he or she didn’t want to participate. 

Hurt children are often afraid to participate. If the situation is a new scenario for them, they may feel out of control. If the child has bad memories associated with a particular activity or event, he may think that it will end up the same way. 

An example I’ve already mentioned from my own life is long car trips. In my childhood, these were scary times for me. My father would become tense and angry as soon as we got in the car. I began to associate long trips with anger. I didn’t want to get in the car and go to the mountains or the beach or anywhere. Even today, in my adult life, I must remind myself  that long trips are not bad things.

*If you’d like to learn more, check out How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos – the book  (this article is an excerpt ) and the course.

Five Bs Affected by Trauma Part I – The Brain

“Too often, parents and experts look at behavioral disorders as they existed separate from sensory impairments; separate from attention difficulties; separate from early childhood deprivation, neurological damage, attachment disorders, post traumatic stress and so on.”

The Connected Child

By taking the time to examine what issues are driving a behavioral disorder, we gain a foundation of understanding. When we learn the science — the “why” behind a child’s behavior — our reactions will be tempered. 

When a child is behaving poorly, we often try to treat the symptoms rather than getting to the root of the issue. I know I’ve been guilty of that on several occasions. Of course, this approach doesn’t work; it never does. Just as removing a bottle of whiskey from the liquor cabinet won’t cure your father’s alcoholism, focusing on a child’s behavior won’t cure their attachment issues. There is a deeper problem we have to address.

“Chronic trauma is a lifestyle that is marked with traumatic events.

– Nurturing Adoptions

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.

Brainaltered brain development and an overactive amygdala. 

Children from hard places have altered brain development and an overactive amygdala. It’s as if the child is being chased by a bear all the time. As Deborah D. Gray explains in Nurturing Adoptions

“Neurobiologically, trauma shapes the developing brain. Early high stress is especially damaging because brain development is at an early stage.” In Emotional Development, Alan Sroufe makes a similar point when he describes the brain as experience-expectant and experience-dependent. Neglect deprives the experience-dependent brain of the experiences needed to develop the brain structures that support and stretch positive mood states. Neglected babies do not build the structures in the brain that allow for self-soothing or smooth processing through highly arousing experiences.

Think of a brain like a house with an upstairs and a downstairs. At birth the downstairs brain is developed. It houses things like breathing and survival mode.

Life in the Downstairs Brain

“It’s time to get up and eat breakfast.”

“Could you please pick up your socks?”

“No, the math equation isn’t solved correctly. Try again.”

You ask or correct, and in response, the child retorts, “Why are you yelling at me? You always yell at me!”

Have your children ever said this to you? How about when you are talking in a normal tone and they are yelling? Confusing, huh?

These kids seem to be hearing things differently than the rest of us — and they are. They are operating in their downstairs brain, which means they are seeing things through the lens of hypervigilance. They are in survival mode. Noises sound louder. The amygdala, which resides in the downstairs brain, is hard at work looking for danger. Its switch gets stuck in the “on” position, leaving the child in a constant, adrenaline-fueled state of fight or flight. 

“Chronic fear is like a schoolyard bully that scares children into behaving poorly.”

– The Connected Child

Even if they aren’t in any actual danger, the child does not feel safe — and in some ways, felt safety is more important than genuine safety. When a child feels safe, the primitive downstairs brain lets its guard down and allows other portions of the brain to operate. Higher learning can occur when a child feels safe. He can understand reason, logic, and choices. 

When children come from traumatic beginnings, their primitive brain remains the driver until the child feels safe. These kids are perpetually on guard. They don’t remember fun events or joyful times because they weren’t fully present. Their brains instructed them to survive these experiences in whatever shape or form they could. In survival mode, they didn’t have the capacity to really enjoy themselves.

The upstairs brain, on the other hand, is completely different. As The Whole-Brained Child explains, the upstairs brain is “made up of the cerebral cortex and its various parts-particularly the ones directly behind your forehead. Unlike your more basic downstairs brain, the upstairs is more evolved and can give you a fuller perspective on your world.” It’s sophisticated as opposed to primitive. This is where the creative process lives — imagining, thinking, planning. Logic lives here, too.

Children who live in the downstairs brain or survival mode are bossed about by their will — minus the intellect or common sense that reside in the upstairs brain. They are impulsive. As our pediatrician said of our eldest when she became extremely mobile at five and a half months — “maximum mobility, minimum common sense.” Thankfully, with proper brain development, the intellect catches up, and the child develops impulse control. 

Some call this “will.” Charlotte Mason, for instance, speaks of children having a strong will when they are able to govern their will. In other words, the more the child (or adult for that matter) can control his will and boss it around, the more he is living in his upstairs brain.

Some Practical Suggestions

So, how do we help a child integrate the upstairs brain when he demands to stay downstairs? 

First, remember that your child’s brain is a work in progress. The upstairs brain is still developing. It won’t happen overnight. To start, you can help him climb the stairs once and check it out. The more often he does that, the more he will use it. The more he uses it, the more it will grow. 

Here’s another suggestion: Give him assignments that require him to use the upstairs brain. He needs problems to solve, and he will encounter plenty in his everyday life. Give him the space to work them out on his own instead of doing it for him. This is where planning, creativity, and logic come into play. 

And I do mean play. LEGO building. Block towers. Drawing. Writing stories. Planning out a plot. 

My son who loves to write (he just wouldn’t admit it publicly, so keep that to yourself, ok?) loves story prompts. We did a semester of them, usually a few times a week. I wrote the prompt on the whiteboard, and he wrote the rest of the story. When he got stuck in a rut and everyone died at the end of each story, I put my foot down and asked him to think of some new endings. No one lived happily ever after, but they lived. 

Kids today have so little time to be creative. Soccer practice is good, but it doesn’t replace the need for creative play. 

In the upstairs brain, YELLING can become conversation:

• “How did you build that? Tell me about it.”

• “How do you think you can solve that problem?”

• “What could you do differently?”

• “What could you do to make your day easier tomorrow?”

Just remember, these questions cannot be asked in the middle of a meltdown. You must make opportunities when things are calm and happy. It is tempting to enjoy the calm and slip away to do something else (like the dishes), but take advantage of the quiet to connect with your child and watch him work his upstairs brain!

Fear is a powerful dictator. It rules the child without love, logic, or reason. It’s easy to look at the behavior as willful disobedience. I know I have. But for us adoptive/foster parents to help our children rewire their brains, we must rewire ours. If we see these behaviors as brain issues instead of behavior issues, we can begin to help our child — even if what the child believes may sound ridiculous to us. 

Fear has no logic. It has no boundaries of common sense. It doesn’t obey commands. It can only be diminished through felt safety — not by orders, sermons, or discussions. Once we understand this, we can help our children feel secure and begin the process of moving upstairs.

Want to know more? Listen to the podcast below.

*This article is excerpts from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos for Adoptive/Foster Parents.

You can find the accompany course here.


Making Sense of Your Past and the Six Risk Factors

Why It Matters

What you bring to the parent-child relationship matters.

I thought my past would automatically help me empathize and understand my kids from hard places. It was a book I could keep safely on the shelf. I could just say, “Been there. Done that.” As if that would cover it all.

There was one huge problem with that sort of thinking. My triggers and their triggers were often the same. I struggled with being the adult in the situation when all chaos broke loose. I wanted the right to react. Plus, I often didn’t know what my triggers were, and they didn’t know what theirs were. It was a recipe for disaster. Knowing all the scientific facts in the world couldn’t bring peace in that situation.

“Don’t change yourselves to be like the people of this world, but let God change you inside with a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to understand and accept what God wants for you. You will be able to know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Just to be clear, we can’t make peace with our past in a day, or a month, or even year. What we can do is examine it and see where we had trauma. We can start paying attention to our reactions and then start reacting differently. 

When we have had trauma, we often take things personally. When our kids behave badly, we automatically think they are doing it on purpose. When we get trapped in this sort of thinking, it’s an us-against-them mentality. 

Once you begin to make sense of your past, then you can learn and apply the science. When we can look at the science with a new perspective, we can see our kiddos’ behaviors for what they are: needs, however inappropriately expressed.

The great thing about this particular article is the built-in dual purpose. You may even want to go over the material twice. Once with you in mind, and then again with your kiddos in mind. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

As we say on The Whole House podcast, “Are you ready?”

Six Risk Factors

In an article for Psychology Today, Andrea Brandht, Ph.d., wrote, “Whether you witnessed or experienced violence as a child or your caretakers emotionally or physically neglected you, when you grow up in a traumatizing environment you are likely to still show signs of that trauma as an adult.” 

There are six types of early trauma that make children more likely to experience behavioral issues, mental health problems, and physical issues, such as cancer, depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, COPD, and more (see npr.org for more info). They are:

  •  Prenatal stress and harm.
  • Difficult labor or birth.
  •  Early medical trauma.
  •  Trauma.
  • Neglect.
  •  Abuse.

As you read the list, did you start thinking about your childhood? Good. Can you think of a specific story or incident about any of these risk factors? Good. Take a moment to reflect.  Maybe write it down or talk to someone about it. Maybe you never thought about these as being risk factors. Below, we’ll go over each risk factor individually.

Again, I recommend going through this material twice. Think about yourself and your childhood first, then your kid/kiddos. In the next chapter, we’ll go deeper into the effects of your child’s past. So, don’t stress about getting it all down pat right now. 

Prenatal Stress and Harm

Over 80% of children adopted/foster care have been exposed to drugs or alcohol. Cortisol crosses the placenta alters the structure of the brain and damages the immune system. Remember:

“We are all shaped by our genetic birthright and by the environment in which we live. To a developing fetus, the mother’s womb is an entire universe. If the mother has a healthful lifestyle, her uterus will share that with the growing child. But if the mom suffers from chronic stress, consumes such toxins such as alcohol and drugs, or doesn’t eat properly, the fetus is exposed to those dangers right along with the mother. An infant’s neurochemistry reflects his or her very first home-the uterus.” – The Connected Child

Difficult Labor or Birth

Modern medicine is a marvel. It can save babies who would have been lost fifty years ago. I went into preterm labor at 28 weeks with one of my pregnancies, and with medication and bedrest, the birth was held off until he was only a month early. C-sections, preeclampsia, prolonged labor, breech position, and other complications are trauma — not only for the mother, but for the baby.

Early Medical Trauma 

We usually associate medical treatment with healing instead of hurting. Medical professionals are trained and skilled in saving lives. This is probably why it has taken us so long to understand that interventions and interactions with medical professionals are traumatic in the scientific sense.  Now social workers, researchers, and other health care professionals are saying medical treatments can result in post traumatic stress.

“According to Barbara Ganzel, PhD, MSW, of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University, “Medical traumas are psychological traumas that result from medical diagnosis and/or medical intervention. Threat of serious injury or threat to life due to illness is now encompassed within the DSM definition of psychological trauma. This means that medical patients can be evaluated as having illness-related trauma disorders.” – Socialworktoday.com

I’ve seen this firsthand in my kiddos. When my four came “home” from Poland, the sight of a white lab coat would send them into a severe meltdown. It wasn’t until a few years after they joined the family that we understood how severely they had been affected by the prolonged hospital stays they had each experienced.

I didn’t know of my early medical trauma until I was in high school and asked about my birth. Maybe you don’t know yours or haven’t thought about the trauma side of it. If so, that’s something you can do right now: Ask about your story.

Trauma

According to the “Early Childhood Mental Health” website put together by the Missouri Department of Mental Health, there are three main types of trauma:  acute, chronic, or complex.

  • Acute trauma is the result of a single incident, such as a car accident or house fire.
  • Chronic trauma is prolonged and repeated. Neglect and abuse fall in this category.
  • Complex trauma involves exposure to multiple, varied traumatic events. Often, the trauma is relational and therefore more invasive in nature.

Neglect

Neglect is one of the worst sorts of trauma. Almost all victims of neglect are children or invalids. The reason is simple: in order to be a victim of neglect, you must be dependent on a parent or caregiver for your physical and emotional wellbeing. 

Neglect can be a precursor to PSTD and other trauma later in life. 

Abuse

Although the consequences of neglect are far more devastating long-term, abuse has its own set of consequences. Living in an abusive environment sends a mixed message to the brain. One moment, a parent is loving, apologetic, and showering a kiddo with gifts. The next moment, the kiddo is being thrown across the room. This makes it difficult for the brain to form cohesive neural pathways. Abuse or maltreatment of any kind shapes the way we develop. Trauma affects how we interact with, perceive, and attach to others. Abuse interrupts the attachment cycle, causing breaks in attachment.

“It’s important to remember that abuse fosters the belief ‘I don’t deserve to exist.’ When you grow up with that belief, it will affect your relationships with your children. You may suffer from low self-esteem, depression, PTSD, learning disabilities, an eating disorder, suicide attempts or any number of issues.”- www.psychologytoday.com

Change Begins With Us

The change we desire for our children must begin with us.

“If we’re willing to piece together our stories and see the relationship between what happened then and what’s happening now, we get to make choices about what happens next.”- Tell Me a Story

It’s difficult to make choices in the heat of the moment. This is why it is important to take some time and revisit our past, make sense of it, and begin healing. 

While we are healing, we can put some proactive responses into place. In other words, you can decide how you are going to respond ahead of time. If you know that when your child steals candy out of the secret stash, it triggers a memory in you of your Aunt Verna whipping you with a switch until your behind was raw, develop a pre-planned, go-to response. 

Separate yourself from the situation. Avoid saying things like, “If I had done that, my mother would have…” Instead, tend to the situation at hand logically. The child took the candy; therefore, he can’t have any after dinner — or whatever you decide is a natural consequence. 

As Andy Stanley writes in Deep & Wide, “the past is only the past for a time. It has a way of clawing its way into our future. And if you don’t recognize it for what it is, the results can be devastating.” If we don’t recognize our past and its overwhelming power to invade our “now,” we will remain stuck. If we come to terms with our past and work through it, we can gain a new outlook on it.

Your Past Can Be a Gift

I honestly never thought I would view the trauma in my past as a gift. I had years of anger, bitterness, and a reoccuring theme of “Why me?” 

I don’t feel that way anymore. I realized a long time ago that empathy is a superpower that is only earned by going through trauma. Sympathy can only reaches the boundaries of understanding someone else’s pain. Empathy feels that pain. 

I’m not saying you should be grateful that someone molested you or did horrible things to you. But you can be grateful for the gift of empathy.

“We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

God takes our pain, our past, and our experiences and fits them into a plan to help others. I’ve spoken with a multitude of adoptive/foster parents over the years. They all seem to have a common denominator: at least one half of the couple experienced early trauma. 

I’ve talked to foster parents who spent years in and out of group homes, were raised in a foster home, were raised by alcoholics or drug addicts, or had moms who worked as prostitutes. I’m not mentioning these things to shame their past or their parents, but to let you know that if you experienced early trauma, you are not alone.

Maybe you identify. Maybe you didn’t have the greatest childhood. Maybe this whole chapter has been excruciatingly painful for you. I get it. So let’s not end on the trauma — let’s end on the gift it has given to you.

*This is an excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

The Spiritual and Missional Aspects of Adoption/Foster Care

*This is an excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos for Adoptive/Foster Parents by Kathleen Guire

A few months ago, I wrote an article titled “What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?” I got lots of flack from non-Christians (which is understandable, to an extent), but I was shocked to also get some negative comments from Christians. So I started asking adoptive/foster parents what they thought about the subject. Then I took it a step further and created a survey that asked all the questions I was curious about. I shared it with my adoption/foster care support group, and several friends did the same. I’ll be sharing the results throughout this article along with some of the feedback via quotes.

Your Home as a Mission Field

Before I began the season of homeschooling in my life, I hadn’t thought of my home as my mission field or considered the far-reaching implications of family to the third and fourth generation. I pretty much thought about whatever seemed to be going on at the moment or what the church was putting on the calendar that I needed to attend to. 

When Jerry and I were married, we were just getting our sea legs when it came to Christianity. We were both sorting through the theology and doctrines handed to us by our parents. (You can read the whole scoop in A Positive Adoption Story.) I had a general sort of doctrine — don’t get divorced, don’t commit adultery, go to church regularly.  My beliefs about family were muddled somewhere in the middle of all that, but I had taken my cues mostly from the culture around me. These are just a few of the assumptions I picked up:

  • Having children is a choice and sometimes (even in the church) viewed as an impediment to true ministry. 
  • Ministry happens at the church, out in the community, or in some third-world country. 
  • If you have children, you can’t (or shouldn’t) bring them along to things that are holy or have the word “ministry” attached to them. You farm them out or wait until they are grown before you do anything of real value. 

I followed the church culture like it was the Pied Piper of Hamelin. I filled my schedule with church ministry activities and shooed my kids out of the way. I needed to do holy work, and they were obstacles to that — until Denny Kenaston planted a seed in that set of tapes, A Godly Home. That seed grew into the vague, unsettling idea that I was growing the wrong sort of ministry. In response, I began researching other authors, listening to other teachers, reading the Bible, and questioning everything I knew about family. 

Although I’m the type of person who likes systems, facts, and formulas, I have learned the hard way that without a foundation, these things aren’t effective. I was that way with family. I thought if someone could just give me the general formula — stay married, don’t commit adultery, feed the kids, etc. — then everything would be alright. But the how alone doesn’t work. There has to be a why. The Bible puts it this way: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge” (Hosea 4:6). Families are destroyed because we don’t fully understand their importance. 

The Stay-at-Home Missionary

I sat on a comfy couch in the Chi Alpha room at Trinity. The smell of rich, brewed coffee permeated the air as the Keurig hissed for the tenth time. Women filed over and filled couches, chairs, and the floor. Soon, coffees were abandoned on end tables in favor of pillows to hug. Women cried as they poured out their woes, insecurities, and failings. This wasn’t a group therapy session. It was a Mom’s Tea I led every Friday at our homeschool co-op, THESIS. These women were my friends. 

The overarching theme was “I’m just a mom.” Some of these women had left nursing, accounting, teaching (in a public school), and other careers outside the home. The message culture was hissing at them was toxic: “The job you are doing is not important.” 

And we were not alone in that belief. As I mentioned earlier, only 56.9% of people I surveyed said they think of family as a mission or ministry. Meanwhile, 25.9% said family is not a ministry or mission, and 17.2% said maybe. I shouldn’t be surprised at the results, but I was!

But this idea of family not being a ministry couldn’t be further from the truth. The acts of raising, teaching, praying for, and attaching to our children are among the most important things we will ever do. Moms are stay-at-home missionaries. One survey-taker noted: “I believe God created our family to be together to minister to other families and our community — both with our own gifts and with our experiences. Plus, as a mom, raising my kids to know God is my greatest ministry.”

I agree. That’s why I love the movie Marley and Me. Jen, who has decided to leave her career as a journalist and stay home to raise her kiddos, says something like, “No one told me it would be this hard.”  Her husband John agrees and gives her an out, saying she can go back to work, but she won’t bite. She wants to raise her own children. 

Jen alluded to the fact that her career outside the home was easier than raising kids. I cry every time I watch that scene because it resonates with me so much. It’s as if the culture tells us women that we bring no value to the world if we “just stay home.” The world wants us to raise children who are well-rounded, emotionally stable, educated, and contributing members of society — but often looks down on those who leave a career outside the home to focus on that responsibility. 

Our society is full of therapies, counselors, and facilities designed to help people heal from childhood trauma and its long-term effects. We have an army of women willing to stay at home and raise kiddos so they don’t have trauma or help them heal from past trauma, and the voice they hear is, “You aren’t worth. You aren’t doing anything of value.” In Parenting is Your Highest Calling and 8 Other Myths that Keep us Trapped in Guilt and Worry, Leslie Leyland Fields shares:

“The intense spotlight on the home comes to us at this point in our history for good reason. All of us know, the traditional family is under serious attack. Family units now include same sex couples and three parent families in which children’s needs are sometimes less important than the rights and whims of adults. Child abuse is rising so fast that it is described as an epidemic by the Child Welfare League of America. As families fracture and states scramble to fill the gap, more and more children are entering foster care. Against the backdrop of such moral fragmentation, surely we can assert that our highest call is our families!”

Leslie goes on to say our highest calling is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27). While I wholeheartedly agree with her, we cannot overstate how important raising your family is. This mission is a big part of our highest calling. I point this out because the feminist pendulum has swung so far to the left that it can actually damage and divide women. It often leaves the impression that being a stay-at-home mom is an second-class, almost subhuman role.

Foster Care as a Ministry or Mission

Out of the families surveyed:

  • 70.7% said that yes, foster care/adoption is a ministry.
  • 17.2% said no.
  • 12.1% said maybe.

If your family is a mission, isn’t it a natural progression that foster/care and adoption is? If we categorize being a mom as a mission, why wouldn’t we include foster care and adoption? 

Let’s be clear: We don’t adopt or foster to create a ministry. We don’t have children to create a ministry, either. God puts us in ministry. Often, we’re not even aware of it until we look back and see His handiwork. Our job isn’t to create a ministry; our job is to be obedient. Ministry exists in every area of our lives when we are obedient to Christ.

Ministry draws us closer to God. When we walk in obedience, our relationship with Jesus is fuller, more dependent, and more intertwined. Our relationships are affected and enhanced. That is true ministry. It’s not a plaque on the wall or a saying on a tee shirt — it’s relationship. Through our relationship with Christ, we become new creatures. Our old habits and ways have passed away, and we live with His light shining through us. That is the ministry we engage in and that the world longs to see. This sort of ministry isn’t planned in your Google calendar or written into a mission statement. It’s found in your everyday life with Christ, led by the Holy Spirit. 

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.”

Rachel Judd, another adoptive parent, said this:

“I didn’t have that mentality when we started adopting, but when we brought home two from Ethiopia from traumatic backgrounds, my views shifted. I could no longer be involved in certain things as I needed to keep my focus on these children and the rest of our family. I knew our family was different from most and people didn’t understand. I didn’t even have the energy to help with VBS most years or simple volunteer work at church. I was burned out. I had to shift my thinking and see that we were parents and caretakers to some very traumatized children and that one day our season would be different.”

Another said: 

“I believe anytime that you walk with the Lord in your calling, it is a ministry. Google defines ministry as ‘the spiritual work or service of any Christian.’ Foster care and adoption is a beautiful display of bringing one into the home and trusting the Lord with the process.”

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t include some of the opposition: 

“No, it is not for us, and it irks me when I hear it referred to as such by other foster parents. With all the faith-based agencies I see that for the majority of foster parents it is a ministry. I feel like calling it a ministry or mission makes it less about the children and more about the foster parents’ religious commitment. Calling it a mission sounds like it’s an obligation and the foster parents are checking off a box to ‘get into heaven.’”

I kind of get her point. I might agree if I were only fostering/adopting to have a mission. Like I said earlier, it was in hindsight that I saw it as a mission. I didn’t set out to adopt so I could have a mission. I became a Christian, and then everything became a mission, because as the Word says, “Whatever you do [whatever your task may be], work from the soul [that is, put in your very best effort], as [something done] for the Lord and not for men” (Colossians 3:23).

I love what Rich Mullins said in an interview with 20 The Countdown Magazine: “A spiritual thing is folding your clothes at the end of the day. A spiritual thing is making your bed. A spiritual thing is taking cookies to your neighbor that is shut in or raking their front lawn because they are too old to do it. That is spirituality.”

Whatever we do for God and others is ministry, whether it is making peanut butter sandwiches, reading a Magic School Bus book to a child, singing a nursery rhyme with a toddler, cleaning up the kitchen, or adopting an orphan. It’s all ministry. 

To address the last point of the survey-taker, I would add that Christians don’t earn their way into heaven. The only way to heaven is through Jesus — it’s by grace alone that we are saved. No ministry work we do will secure a place in heaven.  

And as far as it not being about the child, raising a child is about the child. It has to be, because anything else is unsustainable. Fostering or adopting can’t be about some lofty ideal, checking something off your to-do list, or making yourself feel good or important. None of those motivations will survive the everyday realities of parenting kids from hard places. I can’t imagine telling my kiddos — as I serve up the third batch of chocolate chip pancakes on a Saturday morning before spending the rest of the day at swim meets, birthday parties, or whatever else they have on the agenda — that it isn’t about them. Raising children is about children. There’s no other way around it unless you are the worst-case scenario in the system: an abuser, neglecter, child molester, or pedophile. 

One survey respondent summed it up well: “The Bible says religion that is pure is caring for the orphans. Children in foster care are modern day orphans [with] parents that are absent in their lives. Providing a safe and loving home for these kids to enjoy their childhood with their basic needs (and beyond) met is fulfilling Scripture!”

Want to hear more about the Spiritual and missional Aspects of Adoption?

Listen to the podcast interview with Sandra Flach of Orphans No More Podcast.