Back to Basics Brain Development – Adoption/Foster Care Edition

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.

 

Resources:

Empowered to Connect

The Whole Brain Child

The Whole Brain Child Workbook

The Connected Child

Nurturing Adoptions: Creating Resilience after Neglect and Trauma

Capital Letter Syndromes and Adoption

Six Risk Factors

To get a copy of Five Things: A Tiny Handbook for Adoptive/Foster Families, click here and sign up to follow The Whole House via email.

If you would like to join our private facebook group –

The Whole House Adoption/Foster Support Group, just send us a request!

Nutrition has Been Thrown out the Window! How can we get it back?

We’re doing a Back to Basics Series here on The Whole House. This week we’re focusing on brain development. If you missed the beginning of the series start here.

What does food have to do with brain development? Everything. You’ve heard the old saying, “You are what you eat?” That’s not just for grownups. As teens and children, we are told we have a fast metabolism and we can eat anything. But, should we?

Should you be concerned about what your kids are eating? Or should you just wait until they are old enough to know better?

The value of good nutrition.

“When you child eats regular, balanced meals and snacks, blood sugar levels remain constant and steady. This boosts learning and stabilizes moods. When we cheat ourselves out of meals, however, we’re also reducing our brainpower. Skipping breakfast or snacking on sugary sodas and sweets are just some of the ways that our daily habits can undermine healthy brain functioning.” –The Connected Child

Good nutrition isn’t just counting calories. When my newbies came home through adoption, they had health issues, including rotten teeth and malnutrition. The dentist informed me the rotten teeth were a result of the malnutrition. My kids hadn’t had access to sugary sodas or candy. The kind of calories my kiddos needed were specific and intentional. They needed protein and complex carbohydrates to grow their bodies and their brains. All kids do.

Deficiencies go hand in hand with a variety of health and behavioral problems. ADHD and diabetes have been linked to a shortage of magnesium. I’m not a doctor or a scientist, maybe you are in the same boat, but you want your child to have optimal health and brain function. My advice? Do some research. That’s what I did when my kiddos come home. Don’t take my word for it.

My youngest son, who is on the spectrum ate gluten-free for years because it “calmed his inner hulk” (his words). Children who have health and behavioral problems may need more vitamins and minerals in the form of a supplement. It’s not a cure, just support. It may be the difference between their inner hulk raging all the time and just making appearances.

“A growing and compelling body of research suggests that nutritional supplementation is extremely beneficial for at-risk populations. In one study at a Canadian hospital, two boys with explosive rage and volatile moods showed dramatic improvement – without lithium or other traditional psychpharmacolic agents – when they took a daily vitamin and mineral supplement. When taken off the nutritional supplement, their rage returned, but once the supplementation was restored, their behavior improved again.” – The Connected Child

Maybe your child is neurotypical.  Maybe he doesn’t have any capital letter syndromes or behavior issues. Should you be concerned about his nutrition? YES!

Eight years ago, I watched a Teresa Tapp seminar about health and nutrition. She said something that haunts me to this day. If we don’t change our eating and exercise habits, then this generation will have more serious health issues in their thirties and forties as opposed to their seventies and eighties our grandparents did. I’m serious paraphrasing here, but she said if we don’t start eating God-made (closest to their natural form) foods and moving, our kids could end up in nursing homes in their forties. YIKES! We don’t want that._The food your child eats becomes the building blocks of his or her brain chemistry._

Throw out the myth that because our kiddos have fast metabolisms, they can eat anything and everything. Food is fuel. Food is medicine. We must fuel our kiddos’ bodies with what will grow healthy brains. What they are eating now is building their future body, brain, and immune system.

“The food your child eats becomes the building blocks of his or her brain chemistry.” – The Connected Child

Just a few tips from The Connected Child to end on. You may already have a handle on this, if so, GO YOU! Maybe you just need a restart, some reminders to get you back on track. I need those often!

  • Make sure your kiddos drink lots of water! Dehydration cause mental (cognitive) function to deteriorate. (I notice this in myself. If I have been working at my desk for hours, I start craving coffee and sweets. I get a quart of lemon water instead and feel fresh and ready to go!)
  • Avoid deep-fried foods. They make the brain sluggish.
  • Use yogurt as a healthful snack.  The live cultures improve digestions and intestinal health. The intestines help produce serotonin, the feel good neurotransmitter. Get the whole fat kind with lower sugar content. Kids need good fats! Don’t do fat-free! Use probiotic supplements for kiddos who can’t do dairy!
  • Keep a food dairy. I love this suggestion. Sometimes we don’t know what the food offender is until we take the time to write down reactions.

Get your kiddos eating as many God-made foods as can and go you! Every time you get nutrition and water in your kiddos, you are enabling better brain function. You’re building strong bodies and immune systems for a long and healthy life.

 

 

Back to the Basics – Brain Development

Do you think about your child’s brain development? I didn’t until something seemed to be off. If you said “no” to that question, don’t feel badly. It’s pretty common for us to be reactive instead of proactive.

In our culture, we don’t go to the pediatrician and say, “My child is eating well, sleeping well and generally can regulate his emotions. How do I keep this up?” We don’t notice our child’s brain function until something is off.

What if we could be proactive? What if we Moms knew a thing or two about brain function that we could apply at home?

Are you in the driver’s seat of your child’s neurological future?

Do you have a roadmap?

Are you in backseat?

Do you know how your child is doing?

Is there an area he is struggling with?

Can you work smarter instead of harder?

Are you scrambling because you are plugging in a few things you hear and not making any progress?

Why do so many kiddos struggle?

Brain Development. A child’s brain undergoes an amazing period of development from birth to three—producing more than a million neural connections each second. The development of the brain is influenced by many factors, including a child’s relationships, experiences and environment.

Are you in the driver’s seat of your child’s neurological future_

“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

When my adopted kids first came “home”, they struggled in many areas of development. They weren’t stupid. They had just missed key components of development. When those components were added in, their  brains will grew. It’s absolutely amazing! I am not an expert. I am a Mom who did a lot of research and applied what I learned.

There are many factors in why so many kiddos struggle when it comes to development. Here are four:

The basics have been left behind.

Nutrition has been thrown out the window.

Movement has been replaced by a sedentary lifestyle. 

Relationship has been replaced by entertainment.

I’ll be covering each of these topics in a little more detail over the next week. The good news? There are many practices that you can put in place at home that will grow your child’s brain! Isn’t that amazing? You can have the roadmap. You can know where you need to go next. You can be in the driver’s seat of your child’s neurological future.