Five Bs Affected by Trauma Part 3

I’ve been writing and recording a series on the “Five Bs Affected by Trauma.” You can follow along on the podcast and get your free printable resource here.

“An infant born into neglect learns slightly different lessons. For him, the bonding cycle is short circuited. Instead of experiencing need, high arousal,  gratification, and trust in others, he experiences need, high arousal to the point of exhaustion, self-gratification, and trust in self/self-reliance. Eventually this child develops less need, less arousal, more immediate self-gratification, and no involvement with others. He is likely to develop habits to gratify himself that may include rocking, head banging, sucking on his hands, hair pulling, etc.. He may grow up detached from others, appearing vacant and empty. He has few emotions and desires no interaction from others, even acting if no others are present in a room.

He has effectively learned that he can —- and needs—– to trust himself.”- Adopting the Hurt Child

One of the most visible effects of trauma is how is how it affects the body – medically, through sensory processing issues, or detachment.

Humanism tells us that everything is done by the power of a man. It teaches that man is able to sustain himself without God, without the Spirit. Studies on attachment beg to differ. Man is not sufficient on his own. He can not sustain body, soul, and spirit alone. The spirit of the child vacates when there is no attachment.

“Infants deprived of their mothers during the first year of life for more than five months deteriorate progressively. They become lethargic, their motility retarded, their weight and growth arrested. Their face becomes vacuous; their activity is restricted to atypical, bizarre finger movements. they are unable to sit, stand, walk or talk.”- Rene Spitz M.D.

Children who have been traumatized in infancy and early childhood cannot be expected to behave or respond to stimuli in the same way as children who have not.

Body –altered physical development and impacted ability to process sensory inputs.

Dr. Dana Johnson has described developmental delays and growth disturbances as one month of linear growth loss for every three months that children remain in an orphanage.

What we see in the physical are:

  • inability to process sensory inputs. 
  • Learning delays
  • Developmental delays

I’ve been writing and recording a series on the the five bs affected by trauma. You can follow along on the podcast and get your free printable resource here.

Sensory Issues- may be mistaken for willfulness and defiance, may up frustrated and disconnected.

Sensory over responsivity- OH NO!- you touch him on the elbow and he flies off the handle.

Sensory under responsivity – Ho Hum…. The child reacts less intensely to stimuli than other children. Slumps. 

Sensory Seeking- MORE! MORE!  Craves stimulus/sensation. Vigorous activity.

Sensory discrimination dysfunction- HUH? Difficulty discerning input. Shorts in the winter. Pants and cowboy boots when it is 90. Doesn’t know how he got that scrape. 

Most kids who have experienced trauma have some sensory issues. This doesn’t mean they need an official diagnosis of SPD. A great resource if you want to know more is The Out of Sync Child.

You can learn more on the Podcast series on the “Five Bs Affected by Trauma” and in the book How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos (and the accompanying course).

Connecting with Your Kids When They are Adulting

One Friday evening, many years ago, hubby Jerry was home, which was unusual for him. He asked where all the kids were. I gave him the rundown. Some were working, some at friends, others at practices. It rocked his world. I had many, many Fridays to get used to the idea that the kids were adulting-ish. It had slipped under his radar. He assumed the kids would always be home waiting for him.

Jerry and I have had many conversations over the years which led to us recording a podcast on the subject of kids adulting. We can’t be the only parents who have experienced the complex road of learning how to navigate this season. If you’d like to listen to the podcast, click here or just keep reading.

The Benefit of Teens Making Mistakes

When your kids are young adults, you must be patient enough to let them make mistakes and let them experience the consequences.

You have to let them fail. It’s better to let them fail under your roof where it is safe. Let them fall on their faces while you’re there rather than go out into the world and fall on their faces repeatedly. The truth is, we learn best from our mistakes. If your teen wants a part-time job and you know it’s not right for him and he insists. Let him. Let him experience failing while you’re there beside him.

Go to them.

It takes energy and time to invest in your children even when they are adulting.  You continue to invest but it is well worth it. We don’t have value in this world without our relationship with God and our relationship with others. If we are spending all of our time investing in something else then we’re going to have an empty bank account at the end of our lives. No one says on their deathbed he wishes he had spent more time at work. It’s important that you don’t sit on your couch and wait for adult children to come back home. You’re going to have to be super proactive, especially if your kids get married and they start having kids. Say, “Hey let’s go get coffee.” Meet and buy their snacks and coffee and just sit there and talk. Go to them and remember, there’s a learning curve for them when they begin adulting.

It’s a learning curve for them and it’s a learning curve for us but since we are the older and more mature adults, we should have more wisdom. We need to be proactive about our parenting and offer time to them. We should never be finished with our relationships with our children. We parents should always be pursuing better relationships with our kiddos no matter what their age.

Find their interests.

When children are younger you have them in activities – whether it’s a musical instrument,  a sporting type of activity, theatre, or something along that line, but you also need activities that are things that you do together. If you don’t have things you do together, your relationship won’t be as strong.   Few kids get a college scholarship in one of their sporting activities. Ask yourself, is this activity going to do him any real good when they get older? The connections that they develop will not be around you and your family – it’ll be around the team and with the team did and unless you’re coaching it.  Sporting connections will minimize the impact of the influence you can have on your children. Replacing some sporting or other activities with family connections will have an impact on what you are able to do with them as they get older. When you choose to find the things your kids are interested in and you participate in those,  your ability to influence is greater. If you don’t, your ability to connect and spend time is going to diminish. 

When They begin adulting-ish

When your kids are little, it takes more physical energy, when kids are adulting, it takes more emotional energy and your patience has to increase.

When our kiddos become adults we’re so used to parenting. We tell them to put their shoes away, put their dishes in the dishwasher, when to go to bed and when to get up. These parenting practices must change a bit when kiddos hit their older teens. Teens need to make some decisions on their own. This is the time to develop some coping mechanisms and learn how to manage their emotions. We sometimes have to take the parental hat off and come alongside them. We move into a new sphere of parenting that is more like a counselor, advocate, and sounding board. We’ve moved from telling them what to do all the time and to be their guide.

When the teens move on to adulthood, parents are someone they can come to for advice. Our adult kids can take it or they can not take it. I see so many parental relationships ruined or sidelined because parents will not give an inch if their adult children do not take their advice. This is not the place that you want to be your relationship with your children whether your children are teens or adults your relationship doesn’t need to be based on “my way or the highway.” It just does not work.

Sometimes you’re adulting child is not looking for your opinion or advice. Sometimes they just want someone to really listen to their heart or their struggle. Many times our kids just want to tell us what’s going on in their life. Simply listening and saying “Yeah, that’s great good job” or saying “That’s a really tough situation. I understand why you’re struggling.” Adult kiddos are not always coming to you because they want to know what you would do. They may just need a sounding board. If they ask that great question at the end -“What would you do?” – then that’s your opportunity. If you’re always cutting them off, you shut the conversation down. Jerry had this happen with our oldest. He decided to shut up and wouldn’t say anything for a season because Jerry was always trying to Dad him.

When your kids are adulting you’re trying to connect and you have to drop off the correction. It’s not your job to keep correcting. If we are Christians it is the Holy Spirit’s job to convict of sin. It is not our job.

I remember when we are going through ETC training, we were supposed to ask for kids what parts of our parenting were great and which weren’t. I asked the question with fear and trepidation. I felt like I did everything wrong. One of them said you didn’t do anything wrong and another one said she pointed out a couple of things. I survived. It’s okay to ask even if those answers are devastating. Maybe you’ll get – you were always correcting me. Guess what? When they are parenting, they can think about those things and say mom did it this way and I love that part of what she did but that part of what she did, I’m not going to do. If you can’t let that go then your pride is being the boss of you. Yes, it is painful. Yes, it is emotional. I will cry about those things but in the long run, it’s a good thing.

If you didn’t have a great family

If your family has all kinds of dysfunction – maybe they’re struggling with addictions or alcoholism or you grew up in an abusive situation. Maybe your family of origin is not the safest place for you to connect. Find another family to connect with. Find somebody else that you can be in relationship with and connect with. They’re out there. Other people are in the same situation that you are in. You’re not alone.

Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to Jerry and Kathleen share on: 

Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to Jerry and Kathleen share on:

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.


How to have and maintain a healthy relationship with yourself

Let’s start this post with this statement so that we don’t get it twisted that this is just yet another self-help post:

Any healthy, sustainable relationship with yourself must be deeply rooted in a healthy, sustainable relationship with God. It cannot hang on the balance of what the world has to offer. – Jessica McHugh

There you have it. The secret behind finding and maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself stems from a healthy relationship with your Creator.

Many of us fall into the trap of unhappiness because we chase the things the world tells us we need in order to find happiness: money, status, followers, careers, perfect bodies, etc.

Although most of us have everything we need, Americans have steadily become more and more unhappy since our peak in the 1990s, according to the World Happiness Report:

“Even as the United States economy improved after the end of the Great Recession in 2009,” that report noted, “happiness among adults did not rebound to the higher levels of the 1990s, continuing a slow decline ongoing since at least 2000.”

What also came around in the 1990s?? DIGITAL MEDIA. The article linked to above sheds a light on how digital media has contributed to the steady decline in our happiness.

What does digital media bring to the table? Highlight reels.

You hear it all the time: STOP COMPARING YOUR BEHIND-THE-SCENES LIFE TO SOMEONE ELSE’S HIGHLIGHT REEL. But we can’t. We compare and compare and compare ourselves to others and their things until we absolutely loathe ourselves and where God has us.

Have you ever heard the saying “comparison is the thief of joy?” Do you know why that is?

Isaiah‬ ‭40:18 asks us, “With whom, then, will you compare God? To what image will you liken Him?”

It’s because we were never designed to idolize anything other God, and when we do, we settle into unrest. Sometimes so unrelated that it consumes us and becomes a stronghold.

If we were to only judge ourselves the way God does — if we only compared ourselves to His vision of and for us — what would we find? What would life be like if we focused our gaze on Him and trusted His word instead of constantly comparing ourselves to others?

Isaiah 58:11 gives you that answer. “The Lord will guide you always; He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.”

That’s right…. when you only compare yourself to the One who created you, the One who gave you His same spirit, you will realize that YOU ARE:

Continuously guided.

Satisfied.

Made Strong.

Bountiful.

Fail-proof.

This is where I land every single time I need reminded of who I am. When I know who I am, I stop comparing myself to the world, helping me have that healthy relationship with myself. A constant inner peace if you will. The way we were to designed to feel.

Tips for achieving this:

  • Forgiveness.
  • Grace.
  • Mercy.
  • Patience.

The kind that God shows you, you need to show yourself. Every single day.

Want to hear more? Listen to the podcast – How to have and maintain a healthy relationship with yourself.

Looking My Triggers Straight in the Eye…

This week school started back up, and we were prepping to pack for lunches when one child asked for SunButter. No big deal, right?

Well, thanks to God, it’s not anymore.

You see, SunButter was a binge food I relied heavily on at the peak of my disordered eating. I could easily down an entire jar (if not more) without blinking an eye. It got so bad that, on a couple occasions, I found myself dumping dish soap into the jar so that I couldn’t eat any more of it. I haven’t had it in the house since because I wasn’t 100% sure that I could resist bingeing again.

Bingeing, for me, was a symptom of a deeper issue. It was a symptom of my stronghold, and my stronghold of choice was/is self-loathing. I would restrict myself because I loathed myself, which led to bingeing and then more loathing, rinse and repeat. I stayed in this very unhealthy cycle for many, many months before I knew I couldn’t handle it on my own.

Through prayer, petition, and surrender, God rescued me when I was at my lowest. When I felt the most unworthy, He showed me just how worthy I was, and I truly haven’t looked back since. He has used my wounds to glorify Him and has lead me to speak of my journey so that others who are fighting the same battle can see His light at the end of the tunnel.

My days aren’t perfect — I still struggle — but I wrote this blog post to say that they are SO MUCH BETTER!!

I bought the kid the SunButter!! It has set untouched by me in the cabinet for almost a week. That is such a milestone for me! It may seem trivial to you, but this is a praise-Jesus moment in my recovery. I can look that trigger right in the eye and know that it has no power over me. All the glory to God!! Absolutely anything is possible!

If you are interested in my story and would like to hear more, don’t forget about The Whole House Gathering on September 7th!! I will be speaking about having and maintaining a healthy relationship with yourself. You can grab your tickets here https://m.bpt.me/event/4240478

Make sure to register by September 5th!!!

Also, mark your calendars for October 19th. I will be speaking at a women’s workshop about God carrying me through my weaknesses to find my worthiness.

Hope to see you at both!!

Jess