Our Children May Not Be Excessively Thankful

Our Children may not be excessively thankful, In Fact quite the Opposite

Sandra Flach, of the Orphans No More Podcast, joins me again on the Positive Adoption Podcast to discuss why our kids who have experienced trauma are not excessively thankful. This is one of the topics in the book – Five Things: A Tiny Handbook for Foster/Adoptive Parents. Grab your free copy here. Grab a cup of coffee and join us for a lively discussion!

“Your kids must be so thankful,” a lady remarked to me after our recent adoption.

“No, not really,” I replied.

She looked shocked, “but you think they would be because you rescued them from THAT orphanage.”

I understand what the kind lady thought. Common misconception. Adoptive children, you’d think would be full of undying gratitude. Thanking parents for rescuing them with round the clock obedience and gushings of “Thanks, Mom and Dad, you saved me from life in an institution, foster care or, fill in the blank.  Wishful thinking. Not an accurate picture.

Things are not as they seem

First of all, kids are kids. They may momentarily turn into thankful beings and then turn around and be disobedient. Totally normal.

Children who are adopted and taken from traumatic beginnings, i.e. hurt children may behave at the opposite end of the spectrum.

If a child has been abused, he has been given the message you are not valuable.

If a child has been neglected, he has been given the message you do not exist.

If a child has been rejected again and again, he believes he will be rejected again.

A child who has not attached to anyone does not have the ability to self-regulate his emotions or his physical appetites. All of these traumas mentioned put a child into survival mode,that is they child will do anything -lie, cheat, steal, reject, to survive EVEN IF HE IS IN AN ENVIRONMENT WHERE HE NO LONGER NEEDS TO DO SO. There new normal doesn’t replace old habits. Let’s not forget the old normal was their life, for good, bad or worse. Just because they have been ‘rescued’ doesn’t mean they wanted to be.

An Example

Son Gregory used to speak in an ugly, angry tone to everyone. He destroyed his siblings belongings, lied cheated, stole, and made sure his needs/wants were met HIMSELF. Every night at bedtime, he told Jerry and me that he was going back to Poland to live in the orphanage.

No, he was not thankful. He didn’t know he didn’t have to live in survival mode anymore. He pushed us away to protect himself.  After some building blocks of attachment, his focus changed (when he felt safe). It didn’t happen overnight. He didn’t (and still doesn’t) thank us profusely.

When things look out of sorts, don’t give up!

And (at the age of six) he dictated a letter to me for Jerry:

Dear Dad,

I never go back to Poland, I promise. I love you.

Gregory

Like I said, if you expect adopted children to be thankful, think again. Some of them have  bursts of thankfulness, like any other child. Others, depending on the level and depth of their pain, will act ungrateful and form a wall of protection around themselves to survive. Be patient. Keep connecting. Those of you who work with adopted/foster children at church or school, don’t take their fussiness, meltdowns, shutdowns, pushing, shoving, lying or stealing, personally. They aren’t trying to get your goat or make life difficult. They are trying to survive at their present level of brain development and according to their ‘felt’ safety.

*Much of this article is a an excerpt from Five Things: A Tiny Handbook for Foster/Adoptive Families.

Grab a free copy of Five Things here!

Listen to the Podcast below:

Episode 182 – Yes, Adoption is Positive. Positive Things Require Effort.

Join Sandra Flach, of Orphans No More Podcast, and me as we spend this month talking through the tiny handbook Five Things. You can grab your copy here.

1.1 Adoption is hard work.

Yes, adoption is positive. Positive things take effort. Thinking positively takes endurance and the strength to persevere. It takes time forming new grooves in the brain to think differently -it is positive work. It is still hard. Grueling. Taxing. Adoption is like that. We adoptive parents must form new grooves in our brain to account for going about process of family-building a different way than our peers. We fill out paperwork. Pour out our life stories for the home study. We are studied. Our homes are studied. Our lives are on display. Our habits and monetary value, our standards, morals and values are all scrutinized.  We take classes to teach us how to be a parent and how to parent hurt children. Friend Jeanette and her family are “jumping through the hoops” in the stages of fostering to adopt. She’s weary and hopeful at the same time, last week in an email, she changed “hoops” to “jumping through fiery hoops.” Another family on the shores of their second adoption, had several adoptions fall through before they got call number three. Jerry and I met them for dinner and we talked about things adoptive parents need to. The husband set his mind and said, “Adoption is a sure thing. if this one doesn’t work out, God will send another one.”

So, next time you ask that future adoptive parent, ‘When are you going to get your kids?” or “Are you sure this isn’t a hoax to get your money?” (both questions I was asked more than once). Instead, ask, “How can I help?” “How can I pray for you?” Or send the waiting family a card, invite them over for dinner. Encourage them.

When Jerry and I came home from our first trip to Poland (without our adopted children) and settled in to wait for the return trip, wonderful friends and family had set up our Christmas tree and decorated it. Cleaned our home. Baked us Christmas goodies and family poured in for the Christmas holiday making it much more joyful while we waited.

And adoptive parents- don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I know. That’s the last thing I want to do. I like to handle everything myself. Those five weeks I was in Poland, it was hard for me knowing someone was coming into my home and digging through that mess of Christmas decorations and seeing my dusty,messy boxes. It’s that way with our souls too. We don’t want to ask for help because people will see our weaknesses. They will see that we don’t have it altogether. Guess what, none of us do. And during this stressful precious time, ASK. ASK. ASK. If someone rebuffs you with the comments or questions I mentioned above, move on and ask someone else. Don’t shut down. You are not responsible for other people’s reactions. Their reactions don’t define you. Jesus does.

Holley Gerth says the belief that we need to change is “if we need help, we’re a burden. Because the opposite is true. In the kingdom of God, it’s more of a blessing to give than receive. So when we’re in need and we let someone help us, we’re blessing them.” (You’re Loved No Matter What)

This is a hard pill to swallow. Read that again and let it sink in.  If is hard for you to believe that, write it down somewhere and look at it often. James 1:27 is for everyone in the body of Christ. However, not everyone is called to adopt. So, in essence if you adopt/foster and you are asking non adoptive/foster families for help, you are helping them fulfill the mission.

Ask yourself, “what do I really need?”, Holley suggests, and then answer that. If you need a coffee date with a friend, then ask for it. If you need help with paperwork, or someone to come shopping with you to buy things for the child you are waiting on, ask.

And the flip side of this, if you know someone who is jumping through the fiery hoops of adoption/foster care, ask them what you can do to help. Most of the time it has nothing to do with money, just time, encouraging words and maybe putting up a Christmas tree.

*This is an excerpt from the book

FIVE THINGS: A TINY HANDBOOK FOR ADOPTIVE/FOSTER FAMILIES

Grab your copy by clicking below-

Advent Prep Day 5

Are you ready?

Advent starts on Sunday, November 29th!

We’ve been prepping for it all week- thinking about how we are going to approach this year.

  • Prepping physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.
  • Forming some new traditions.
  • Sowing seeds of celebration when your kids are in survival mode.
  • Taking some time to grieve and celebrate at the same time.

It’s time to dive in!

What’s in the book?

  • Each week day, you’ll receive a tip to help you and your kiddos thrive this season. I’ve included a few of them this week in our Advent Prep!
  • Plus read a short Biblical application to feed and nourish you soul.
  • On the weekends, read a longer lesson – Joseph, Mary, Wisemen, Jesus (in that order).
  • Bonus – I’ve included a tip for December 26th.

A Professional opinion

Adoptive families have unique challenges, which often become magnified during the holidays. Kathleen’s experience as an adoptive mother has enabled her to provide an insightful perspective that many other adoptive families can relate too. She does this in a way that also incorporates specific scripture that connects very well to the concept of adoption. This spiritual connection can help families reflect on the adoption story of Christ, as a way to help their family bond and form traditions through their own adoption stories. Parents will be able to read along on a day to day basis and reflect on their own experiences, while reading encouraging words from a fellow adoptive parent. The tips that Kathleen suggests offers comfort for adoptive families as they learn how to best navigate through the holiday season in ways that fit the specific needs of their child and their family as a whole. 

Molly McCartney, Adoption Therapist and Adoptive Parent

For All Families

Although I wrote 25 Days of Thriving Through Christmas for adoptive/foster/kids with capital letter syndromes, considering the events of 2020, all families would benefit. All kids have been traumatized by the losses this year – not seeing friends, family, events canceled, (fill in the blank).

Grab the book here!

Episode 174 – The Brain and Fear Part 3

Do you ever feel as if you are not enough?

That you can’t parent your child?

As if you’re going to mess it all up?

You aren’t alone. 

Many parents feel this way. We get stuck in the scarcity mentality. We believe the “bad report.” And just as our children who are stuck in survival mode, we get stuck there too. 

Grab a cup of coffee and join Kathleen as she shares about this topic and some encouragement for parents!

Investment Parenting with Co-Regulation

Susie, a friend of mine (plus foster and adoptive Mom), shared a conundrum she had recently while teaching four-year-olds during Sunday school class. A new little one melted down and hid under the table. She had no special instructions for the little one and wasn’t sure how to handle it. You see, there is a big difference between disobedience and a reaction based on past trauma. Turns out the little one was a foster child who was placed in the home just the night before. Susie would have been better equipped to help him if she had only known. I could do a whole post on taking a fresh foster or adoptive placement to church, but I’ll save that for another day. I’d like to focus on trauma and its effect on self-regulation.

The Signature of Trauma

 Trauma produces children from hard places. Children from had places have altered brain development. The main outwards sign of past trauma is what we often refer to as “bad behavior” or the inability to self regulate (if you want it to sound more science-y and less critical).  The truth is, when it comes to behavior, we must remember that every behavior expresses a need.It's Can't

When it comes to a child from hard places ability to self-regulate, it’s CAN’T not WON’T. In simple plain language that means, he cannot calm himself. He can’t help but be overwhelmed to the point that he is either hiding under the table (flight), not responding to what you are asking of him (freeze) or running away from the situation (flight). He CAN’T. Not physically able. Not emotionally able. In this scenario, the adult must take the reins and help the child by co-regulating. Co-regulation helps a child develop a new pattern for stress regulation.

“The early developing right brain, where attachments develop, is largely dominant during the first three years of life (Schore, 2003). It contains the initial and lasting template for stress regulation. Revisions to this template will require intentional efforts.”-Deborah Gray, Nurturing Adoption

What Does Co-regulation Look Like?

Think of a two year old being tired and falling on the floor having a meltdown because she doesn’t want to take a nap. Clearly, she needs one, so Mom takes control of the situation. Mom takes the little one to her room and reads her a story and rocks her to sleep. She takes a nap. Mom is co-regulating because unless you have a rare toddler, she is not going to recognize her need for a nap and put herself down for one.

Filling in the Gaps of Missed Co-Regulation

With a child from a hard place, no matter what their age and size, we must co-regulate when they cannot. A twelve year old who cannot recognize his body’s signals to eat or drink, must be provided with a snack and water every two hours or he will enter the flight, fight or freeze zone. A nine year old who has sensory processing issues may lose the ability to voice his need to escape the noise and over stimulation of a loud birthday party. Mom and Dad must be watching for cues and either leave the party or take the child to a quieter place. It’s important to remember that a child from a hard place is emotionally at least half his physical age, sometimes more. His regulation skills may be that of a two year old while he is teen size.

The good news is, as we connect and co-regulate, we change the brain chemistry, wiring and development. Scientists tell us that relationships and experience shape the brain. Think of a developing brain like a multi-storied house under construction. At birth the downstairs brain is developed. This is the part that tells the child when to breath and keeps the functions of the body on track. This is also where survival mode resides, the fight, flight or freeze mechanisms. The upstairs brain is the higher functions of the brain. It is more sophisticated and houses reasoning, speech, regulation of emotions, the ability to be flexible and adaptable. Trauma skews the wiring of the brain. Trauma triggers the amygdala, the watchdog of the body. If the brain stays in this state too long, it rewires to stay stuck in fight, flight or freeze. Chronic stress takes a heavy toll on the prefrontal cortex. It is involved in impulses, aggression, anxiety, decisions, changing gears and self-regulation.

At this point, you may be thinking, I thought you said there was hope. There is! The Hebbian Principle says –what fires together, wires together. That is the more you experience something, the more your wires go that direction. So, how do we rewire a child’s brain that is stuck downstairs in the survival (fight, flight, freeze)? With co-regulation and fresh new experiences that show him he can trust us. We call this felt safety. When a child feels safe, his adrenals calm, he produces less cortisol and he is able to function in his upstairs brain.

I know, I feel like this is all over the place, so let me end with three reminders.

If you are parenting a child or teen from a hard place:

  1. Expect to co-regulate a lot more than your peers with bio children (who aren’t from hard places, because some are). Don’t base your expectation of whether you need to help them regulate on their physical age and size. “Many children who do not have early experiences of proper care also lack proper physiological and emotional regulation. This is because both of these regulation systems are developed through an attachment relationship.” (Nurturing Adoptions)
  2. Make sure your children feel safe. It’s not about really being safe. It’s about feeling safe. If they feel safer with a light on, not going to the noisy party, staying near you at a function, comply, don’t complain.
  3. Keep the positive, connecting experiences coming. “The brain is also “experience-expectant.” We come hard wired for connection. For eye contact, touch, playful interactions and co-regulation.These fill up the kid’s emotional tank and help their brains rewire. Blow bubbles. Ride bikes together. Make cookies and eat them. Read a favorite book fifty times. Swim with them, don’t just watch them swim. Hike with them. Take the time to invest positive experiences. This is investment parenting. Just a note -this practice applies to teens as well. If you are filling in the gaps of missed co-regulation, an older teen may still want you to watch them jump on the trampoline, ride bikes with him, play board games, or watch movies. Many teens from hard places may have no interest in what their peers are doing and want to hang out with Mom and Dad.

If you see your children struggling with regulation, which parts of this article resonated with you? Are you willing to try to do a few things differently? If you do, please share your stories! I’d love to hear from you!