For the month of March, we have been focusing on Back to Basics. This week on the podcast, Kristin Peters joins me (Kathleen) for a discussion about brain development as it applies to adoption. You can find the podcast here.
1. Kids that come home to us through adoption/foster care have altered brain chemistry caused by stress.
“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
Neurons that fire together wire together. In plain English, the more a behavior is acted out or a trigger acted on, the more it becomes a pattern in the brain. It is as if the road is dug out, gravelled 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 to 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 speaks what child is unable to state verbally.
Hurt children have a knack for making us adults feel out of control. They do know how to push our buttons. They seem to own a special button locating radar. Once they find the button, they push it mercilessly. And we adults, like puppets on a string flail around, flopping from hot to cold at their will. Rarely, if ever do these kids apologize. If they do, it is we parents have been steam rolled all day.
2.The attachment cycle has been broken.
Breaks in attachment cause a fear response. We need to work on felt safety.
“Chronic fear is like a schoolyard bully that scares children into behaving poorly.”- Dr. Karyn Purvis
We parents tend to expect our newly adopted children to enter the home and quickly develop a secure attachment style. We assume that they know the depth and width of time and work it took to secure their adoption.
“However, in the at-risk population, as much as 80% of children are classified as disorganized.”(Steele & Steele, Gray)
Once we come to terms with what sort of attachment our kiddos have and their level of fear, we can start moving in the right direction. It’s not enough for your child to be in a safe environment. He must feel safe. If he doesn’t feel safe, he will be in survival mode -flight, fight or freeze. Felt safety and secure attachment go hand in hand. When a child is securely attached to you, he will feel safe.
For instance, the other day at Joe and Throw (a local coffee place) I was holding my granddaughter Glenna on my lap. She was “watching” the Toy Story characters on my Apple watch. At the same time, she was slipping off my lap. She did nothing to secure herself or hang on. Because she felt safe, she trusted me to catch her and heave her back up which I did multiple times.
3.Your past affects your present parenting.
“We have also begun to understand how overwhelming experiences affect our innermost sensations and our relationship to our physical reality –the core of who we are. We have learned that trauma is not just an event that took place sometime in the past; it is also the imprint left by that experience on the mind, brain and boy. This imprint has ongoing consequences for how the human organism manages to survive the present.”- The Body Keeps Score
When I first got married, I naively thought that my past was wiped away as we similarly think that our adopted children’s past is wiped away. It’s not. We both carry our trauma into the relationship. The more aware we parents are of our triggers to our past trauma, the better we can navigate. It’s not easy. But, it is easier if your recognize them.
The more we do the work of healing for ourselves, the more we can help our kiddos. There seem to be a great many parents entering the foster/adoption world because they have had trauma – a troubled childhood, alcoholic parents, or fill in the blank. Our past can become their greatest gift and worst enemy -all in a minute. One moment the parenting is full of empathy, the next triggers send us into our past. Our past takes over and we are ashamed of our words and our actions.
The Road to Healing
To properly travel any route, we need a map. Even in this day and age of GPS via my phone, I like to see the trip before I travel. I’m one of those old school people who still print out a map. It helps me see where I’m going. If all this information is new to you or you don’t know which way to turn, start below. The video gives a great map of what may be going on with your kiddos. Below the video are some resources that can help you and your kiddos on the road to healing.