Journaling Your Child’s Triggers Part 2

Love is Enough

“Love is enough” is a common misconception among parents in general, but even more so with kids who have experienced trauma. Kids who have had trauma seem to have a built-in button-locating radar. They find our buttons and push them over and over. It’s natural that we parents may think they are pushing our buttons or misbehaving to make us mad.

In reality, their behavior stems from early trauma and its effect on them. Most children that come into foster care, orphanages, or other institutions are disorganized in their attachment and stuck in dis-integration. The people who were supposed to care for them hurt them. This sets off a constant warning bell in the brains of these children. We call the result a stress-shaped brain.

Early Life Experience

Early life experience has shaped their brains to expect the worst and be on high alert all the time. This response is known as hypervigilance. The hypervigilant child jerks at every sound.  They don’t recognize their body’s own signals of hunger, thirst, and rest.

Normally, parents seamlessly teach regulation. When the child is hungry, the mother feeds him. If he is cold, she wraps him in a blanket. If he is tired, she rocks him to sleep. This pattern continues, with the mother regulating for the child until he begins to regulate for himself. He asks for a drink when he is thirsty. He puts on his sweater when he is cold, or grabs his blankie when he’s ready for bed. 

Kids who haven’t had this early regulation don’t know how to regulate. This doesn’t just apply to hunger and thirst, though those are the biggies. It also applies to behavior. Behavior is what we see externally, but it’s not the whole picture. We need to learn to watch the external behaviors as a clue to whether the child can regulate internally or not.

“Tantrums, meltdowns, aggression, and most other challenging experiences of parenting – and life- are a result of a loss of integration, also known as dis-integration.”

The Whole-Brain Child

Neurons that fire together wire together. In plain English, the more a behavior is acted out or a trigger is acted upon, the more it becomes a pattern in the brain. It is as if the road is dug out, graveled, and paved by repeated experiences. The paved road then becomes the primary travel route.  

Adoption is messy. Children who are adopted from hard places have trouble verbalizing their feelings. They struggle with self-regulation and want to control everything and everyone around them. Trouble is, if we parents aren’t careful, we end up focusing on the behavior instead of digging deeper into the root of the problem. It’s quick and easy to think the child is misbehaving to get on our last nerve. We tend to think the child wants to make us angry.

The poor choices in behavior speak what the child is unable to state verbally.

Put Yourself in Your Child’s Shoes

Have you ever been in a situation when you felt anxious or afraid for no apparent or logical reason? Instead of considering a situation your child was in, think of a situation that you have been in. Think of a time when you should have felt safe but instead you felt anxious.  Go back to that feeling for a minute, and as terrible as it is, let it wash over you. Imagine feeling like that all the time. That may be how your child is feeling. 

Five Bs Affected by Trauma

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. Take a few minutes and read about the Five Bs – start here. Listen to the podcast series on each B. There is a lot of information to read/listen to. Take your time. It will still be available long after this series is over. Maybe start with one B. Armed with this information, write down some of your child’s triggers with this information as your foundation.

*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!

Journaling Your Child’s Triggers Part 1

Journaling Your Child’s Triggers Part 1

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. 

 Key to remember– As Dr. Purvis reminds us, our children were harmed in and through relationships, and they will find healing in and through nurturing relationships.

Trauma is much more far-reaching than we assumed in the past. We have always been told that children are resilient and they are, but there are effects that trauma leaves behind. It affects every area of life for a child.

 Trauma harms the brain. Its footprint can be seen in these areas: Social, learning, behavior problems (regulation), physical development 

Dr. Purvis calls children who have had trauma in their lives “children from hard places.”

“The passage of time for these little ones does not in itself reduce trauma’s impact to a bearable level. The trauma contaminates the meaning of life and is part of early personality formation. Neurobiologically, trauma shapes the developing brain.”

-Deborah Gray, Nurturing Adoptions

Did your child have early trauma? If you aren’t sure, read the “Six Risk Factors” and listen to the podcast on the subject (linked in the article). Also, you can find a handy printable resource here. 

Today, take some time to think about your child’s history. This will help you begin to recognize the triggers. Write down the risk factors she encountered before coming home to you. Take some time to pray and process how these things can be affecting her behavior. 

We’ll cover more on this topic tomorrow. Feel free to comment, share, or ask a question!

*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!

Happy Adoption Day from The Guire Shire

It Was Twenty Years Ago today

Twenty years ago today, four kiddos got off a plane with Grandude, and my hubby, Jerry, to come to their new home. They had flown from Warsaw, Poland to Chicago, and then to Pittsburgh.

In a hospital, thirty minutes away, my stepfather, Bud was slowly, silently, slipping away – going on to glory (as he would say). As Dickens so poetically pointed out:

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

Today, twenty years later, I reflect, rejoice, celebrate, and grieve. Those early days after the adoption were the season of light and the season of darkness all rolled into one. Today I celebrate the addition of my four kiddos, as well as grieve the loss of Bud. It was during this season I learned through experience how joy and sorrow could co-exist.

Joy and Sorrow

I experienced the joy of my kiddos in their firsts:

  • Living in a house for the first time
  • Having enough to eat at EVERY meal
  • Sleeping in beds with relative safety (not being beat up or molested in the middle of the night)

If there was any night time activity it was night terror which we tried our best to comfort. We prayed long and hard because we were out of our depth. Or it was Gregory jumping on a sibling, just because he could.

Grieving and Growing

We were all grieving and growing. My kiddos were grieving their old life. Letting go of the past is difficult no matter what sort of past it is. I was grieving because I felt Bud slipping away. He had been my first link to unconditional love. He died a week after the kiddos came home.

Despite our grief, we were growing together, meals at the table, putting on puppet shows, playing with dolls, tea sets, Legos, and race car sets. Playing, reading, and shared family meal times knit us together even though frayed ends stretched and pulled, trying to unravel us. Hateful words. Meltdowns. Night terrors. Hoarding. Medical issues. Survival mode. Disorganized attachment. Before you think I’m only talking about the kiddos, don’t. It was me too. Totally raising my hand.

If you are reading this and thinking, I can’t adopt. It’s too hard. What if I enter a Job syndrome? May I ask you a question? Did you come into the family of God kicking and screaming? Were (or are) old beliefs still hanging on for dear life? Beliefs that tell you:

  • You don’t matter.
  • You are not chosen.
  • God doesn’t love YOU.

If so, you are worth fighting for. Aren’t you? If you’re not sure, the answer is YES! And so is every orphaned, abandoned, and neglected child. As Jesus said, let the children come to me, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 9:14 paraphrase). Just as you are worth it, so are those children who need a home. Jesus came to heal the brokenhearted, to set the captives (physical and spiritual) free, to open the eyes of the blind, to bind up wounds, and give gladness instead of mourning. We are anointed to do the same. Don’t let the thought of doing hard things stop you from pursuing adoption.

Final Thoughts

If I had a time machine and I could go back to pre-adoption me, would I still adopt? Yes. I’m so proud of my kiddos, who they have become and all the life lessons they have taught me along the way.

When We Don’t Like Our Children

When We Don’t Like Our Children

Years ago when I was a young parent with only three children (pre-adoption), I joined a friend, Kelley,  for a talk she was giving. The talk was held at a low-income housing development full of Moms who were desperately trying to keep their families together. They had endured all sorts of difficult life circumstances and needed some friendly encouragement. I’m glad my friend was there to give it. I was just tagging along.

Kelley began her talk with, “Some times I don’t like my kids.” There were audible gasps in the room. That’s just generally a statement Moms are not allowed to say. As she continued her talk, she explained the difference between loving her kids unconditionally and liking them (or not sometimes). I’m sure every woman in that room breathed an inward and a much-needed sigh of relief (including me).

If you really think about this, it’s true of all relationships even our relationship with God. Sometimes we don’t feel “liked” by God. It’s just a feeling but we try to get back in His good graces. We like being liked. So when I began to have children, I assumed I should like them and love them all the time. As my image of God changed, so did my understanding. God loves us unconditionally but He doesn’t like it when we sin because sin separates us from Him. 

The burden of Mom guilt.

If you’re a Mom, you know that you can love your child unconditionally and still not like some of their behaviors just like God. As Moms, we carry an extra load of Mom-guilt. I’m not sure where we got it. Maybe we all picked it up at Target by mistake. It seems to be a universal item we carry on our shoulders. We feel bad when we’re mad. (I rhymed). Right?

 Do you know who has an extra load of guilt? Foster parents. Adoptive parents. I’m not sure why. Maybe when we were signing all of those papers, we accidentally signed one for an extra bag of guilt with some fine print that said, I will always like this child no matter what he does. That’s just not realistic. In one day, I witnessed two foster Moms feeling guilty because they didn’t like their child that day. 

Guess what? I love my husband but sometimes I don’t like him. I don’t like him when we leave the house to run two errands and he turns it into ten and I don’t get Starbucks. We don’t like our children when they don’t do the right thing, have a fit, steal, lie, or fill in the blank. It’s a given. It’s what we do with the dislike that matters. 

What to do with the dislike.

I’ve watched Moms in the grocery store telling little tiny kiddos, “You’re getting on my nerves! Stop it!” I don’t think that’s the way to handle dislike. There are no clear directives for the kiddo to make amends or change the behavior. Does a three-year-old even know what a nerve is? 

The best practice is if a child needs to change the behavior, give him clear short concise instruction. Much shorter than that sentence. If the dislike is super strong and lasts for a long period of time -get some space. Be still before the Lord. Examine yourself. What’s causing your frustration? Is it your unrealistic expectation? Is it the child’s past trauma causing mayhem? Is it your lack of planning?  Lack of consequences? Lack of sleep? Or it a more serious issue that you need extra help overcoming. 

Ask God for wisdom and be honest with yourself about how you are feeling. 

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.

James 1: 5


Have you experienced a season of dislike for one of your kiddos? How did you handle it? Feel free to share! Want to here more on this topic? Check out Podcast Episode 120 here.

Delayed Effects of Trauma in Foster/Adoptive Families

Delayed Effects of Trauma in Foster/Adoptive Families

  • We potential adoptive/foster parents study the science of trauma. 
  • We learn about the five Bs affected by Trauma.
  • Foster/adoptive parents take all the classes and hear all the reports about how the kiddos were neglected/abused, etc.
  •  Then we willingly sign on the dotted line and say, “Yep, I’m in.” 

Adoptive/foster parents are not saints or superheroes. 

Adoptive/Foster parents are just regular people who want to part of the solution. We want to build safe/secure/family oriented environments for kiddos who have had trauma.

We are called special, saints, have patience, etc… when we bring the kiddos home. When they start exhibiting behaviors as a result of the trauma, suddenly we are bad parents. I’ve been there, along with the multitude of foster/adoptive parents who contact me.

I was on the phone with an adoptive/foster parent the other day. One of her seven kiddos exhibiting some violent and destructive behavior. It was evident that she was beating herself up, i.e. blaming herself. I asked her a question that I ask all parents in this scenario – How are your other kids doing? Have you successfully parented them? Every time the answer is slow to come, almost as if it’s something the parents haven’t thought about. “Yes,” she said haltingly. I knew the answer before I asked the question. It’s a question to change the focus. We adopted/foster parents are not responsible for the trauma kids experienced before they entered the home or the effects of it. We try to be. We want hope and healing for these kiddos more than anyone else.

Trauma doesn’t always exhibit after effects right away.

Here’s a key point. Trauma doesn’t always show the effects right away. There sometimes seems to be a delayed reaction.

When I was eight, I had a serious bicycle accident. I flew over the handlebars and landed on my head after sailing over a speed bump. I woke up on in the ER to a doctor pulling rocks out of my face with a tweezer-like tool. I got off the table and said, “This is a dream.” It was pretty horrific. I was placed in a room with another young girl. She was hooked up to wires and monitors. She was in a coma. I overheard the doctor and parents talking about the car accident she had been in a year earlier. Her body was exhibiting the after-effects of the trauma now. A year later, her body was shutting down. (This really freaked me out!)

This is a physical example of what the body may do. In the book, The Body Keeps Score, Van Der Kolk, M.D. says:

“There have in fact been hundreds of scientific publications spanning well over a century documenting how the memory of trauma can be repressed only to resurface years or decades later.”

The Honeymoon Phase

Adoptive/foster parents go through a honeymoon phase with kiddos similar to what young couples go through after the wedding. Everyone is polite, kind, trying to please and be accepted. Then it gets too exhausting. We wives wipe off the makeup and put on our yoga pants because now we feel comfortable enough to be our real selves. Yes, sometimes we take it too far (raising my hand here). 

The adopted/foster kiddos version of this is – I feel secure enough to go back to who I was. I don’t have to perform anymore. Or, the opposite end of the spectrum, they’re going to harm me, just like everyone else did, so I’m going to control my environment. I’m not saying these kiddos are doing this consciously or planning it out in their journal. It’s just the survival mode response. We all have it to varying degrees. Parenting the Hurt Child explains it this way:

“The struggle, however, represents something completely different for parents than it does for children. While the parents are simply trying to get the child to accomplish a simple task — such as dressing for school, getting ready for dinner or picking up his toys — the child is involved in a struggle to survive. He resists the intrusion and direction by others and perceives it as a fight for his life. As a result, his behavior becomes stubborn, tenacious, and intense. Think about it — how hard would you struggle if you thought that giving up or giving in would mean certain death?”

Be kind to Foster/Adoptive Parents

On a final note, be kind to adoptive/foster parents. You really have no idea what they are going through (unless you are one). Even if you are an advocate or therapist, you’re still behind a veil. You may know more than others, but you haven’t truly experienced the after-effects of trauma.

We foster/adoptive parents are doing the best we can. We need cheerleaders and prayer warriors more than we need judgement for our kiddos’ behaviors.