Training verses Discipline With Kiddos Who Have Had Trauma (Or Any Kiddos)

Training 

Training is often overlooked when it comes to child rearing. In general, parents are more likely to use discipline and punishment in an attempt to shape and mold their children. 

However, it is much more effective to train children in advance for proper behavior then it is to punish them after the fact. 

Just imagine starting a retail job with no training. You are put on the register at a popular, busy department store. You have no clue how to run the computerized register, and the customers start flocking in. You attempt to ring up a purchase, and when you make a mistake, the manager stands behind you and yells, “That’s wrong! You should know better! That’s not how to do it!” But how was I supposed to know? you think to yourself. After every infraction, there is more yelling and more correction, with some punishment added in. 

This is how most children are raised. I see it every day. Recently, I was in the Walmart parking lot, and I overheard a parent saying, “Don’t tell me you forgot your shoes again.”  I expected to see a seven- or eight-year-old child get out of the van, shoeless and contrite. Instead, a toddler began a sorrowful wail as the parent launched into a cursing tirade about forgetting shoes. Really? How was he supposed to know? It doesn’t make sense to yell, punish, or discipline a child over a practice he hasn’t been properly trained for.

A poster with the poem “Children Learn What They Live”hangs on the wall at Pediatric Dentistry, where all my kids used to go:

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.

If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.

If children live with fear, they learn to be apprehensive.

If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.

If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel shy.

If children live with jealousy, they learn to feel envy.

If children live with shame, they learn to feel guilty.

If children live with encouragement, they learn confidence.

If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.

If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.

If children live with acceptance, they learn to love.

If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.

If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.

If children live with sharing, they learn generosity.

If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.

If children live with fairness, they learn justice.

If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.

If children live with security, they learn to have faith in themselves and in those about them.

If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

“Children Learn What They Live” by Dorothy Law Nolte, Ph.D.

Why Train (or Practice Outside the Moment)

This poem always reminded me of the concept of training — or, as Dr. Purvis called it, practicing outside the moment. It made me think of all the times I criticized my children for doing something right when they really didn’t know what was right. It must have been confusing and confounding for them to be corrected for something they didn’t know was wrong.

One of the definitions of train in Webster’s 1828 dictionary includes these words: “To train or train up; to educate; to teach; to form by instruction or practice; to bring up.” That definition was followed by Proverbs 22:6:

“Train up a child in the way he should go [and in keeping with his individual gift or bent], and when he is old he will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6)

The same dictionary defines punishment this way: “Any pain or suffering inflicted on a person for a crime or offense, by the authority to which the offender is subject, either by the constitution of God or of civil society. The punishment of the faults and offenses of children by the parent, is by virtue of the right of government with which the parent is invested by God himself. This species of punishment is chastisement or correction.”

This definition seems archaic. Our culture tends to shy away from words like offenses, chastisement, and correction. The new way is compassion and understanding — until the child does something that is out of line with the parent’s inner expectations. Then all nicities are often thrown out the window. We have all seen it and have most likely done it ourselves. (Raising my hand here.) We yell, rant, rave, put the kids in time out, take things away, or threaten with gritted teeth. Remember the mama cussing out her toddler for not having shoes on? We call all of the above discipline.

“Too often we forget that discipline really means to teach, not to punish. A disciple is a student, not a recipient of behavioral consequences.” – The Whole-Brain Child

It’s only common sense to understand that a human cannot learn without being taught. It’s true that children mirror us, and some kids are a quick study. But think about kiddos who have come from disorganized parenting, where the rules and expectations shift every day. It makes sense that training might be a little harder for them.

My new Guires had not been taught that they should be obedient to persons of authority. Instead, circumstances had caused them to develop survival skills that included disobedience. That’s how they got by. Life trained them in the best ways to survive in that orphanage, and they stuck to what they knew.

More on Training/Practicing Outside the Moment tomorrow!

*This article is and excerpt from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

The Habit of Celebration

In the month of November, we turn our attention to practicing gratitude. That’s a great focus. Today, I’d like to take that a step further and say, we need to practice the habit of celebration which in turn produces memories to be grateful for!

“Make sure that the good ground of your home includes an abundance of laughter, parties, celebrations, presents, candles, Christmas trees, gifts, surprises, rocky road ice cream, jokes, backyard picnics, vacations, mountain bikes, bike rides, swimming, fishing and games. At the various houses in which our family has lived, we have had things like a swing set, a tree house, a tent, sleeping bags, a basketball hoop, baseballs, gloves and bats.” 

Seven Habits of a Healthy Home

One summer Sunday, we had a family birthday celebration for Amerey and Damian. Their birthdays are three days apart, and we often celebrate them together. We had grilled chicken and veggies and had a build-your-own fajita buffet. 

My brother Jess and his wife Tessa were able to come, along with their two children, Lexie and Alivia. My sister Natasha and her three children, Aaliyah, Aaron, and Israel, came too — plus my daughter Audrey and her husband Adam. We had a full house and lots of conversation and laughter.

The ironic thing about this celebration is that it had been preceded by a catastrophe. An hour before the party was to begin, Amerey and I were in the kitchen doing some prep work. She was making five gallons of lime water while I sliced green peppers. Her boyfriend had called us several times and warned us that a violent storm was headed our way, but it was still sunny, so I just kept chopping. Within minutes, though, the wind picked up, and black clouds rolled in. Amerey and I ran down to the pool patio and put the umbrellas down, closed the shed, and ran back inside with the wind knocking us around and sheets of rain pouring down on us. 

Back inside, Amerey dried off with a towel and checked the garage. An inch of water had flooded in. We began moving drums and anything we could out of the water’s path. Then she ran upstairs, only to find water cascading from the foyer light. 

My brother Jess and his family had pulled up in the middle of the storm and were waiting it out in the car. When the rain slowed, he called.

“Come in here — we need you!”  I said.

He came inside, checked out the light with a flashlight, and found where the water was coming in. The rest of the family arrived home from church, and we worked on sweeping water toward the garage drain. Tessa took over my slicing job. Damian went down and fished the sticks, leaves, and other debris out of the pool. I cleaned out the light and cleaned up water around a leaky window.

I went back to the kitchen to make sure everything was out and ready. Amerey and Tessa were still slicing and dicing, and everything was on track. “I am so through with this house!”  I complained to Tessa, and then we had gone on with the party.

The highlight of the celebration was our tradition of taking turns at the dinner table to speak blessings to the birthday person. It’s a celebration of memories. Each person starts with, “My favorite memory of you from the past year is . . .” 

This particular year, Damian had turned eighteen, and the comments he received were all about his work ethic and how he had matured. My son-in-law Adam spoke of his tenacity in projects, such as taking something apart and building something new out of it. 

The memories people shared with Amerey were about her being on her own, living in an apartment. Ania’s favorite memory was being able to go spend a weekend in the apartment and eating almost a whole pan of brownies together. Fun times!

I tell this story as a reminder: some of our best memories come at unlikely times. Like a fun-filled birthday party in the middle of a massive storm.

Choosing to Celebrate

Celebration is a choice. If our family had waited until all the circumstances were perfect before we celebrated life, that party never would have happened. When it comes to celebration, timing isn’t everything.

“He who observes the wind [and waits for all conditions to be favorable] will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.” (Ecclesiastes 11:4)

 This scripture puts it plainly. If I wait for conditions to be favorable or for everything to be perfect, than I will never sow, nor will I reap. If I want to reap a harvest of memories with my children, then I must sow the habit of celebration over and over again. 

As a parent, you never know which memories will stick. Every once in a while, my children will speak of a bad memory from their past, but more often than not, they share good family memories. 

“Remember when we went hiking at Coopers Rock?” 

“Remember when we made cards at my birthday party?”  

“Remember when we rollerbladed up and down the boardwalk at the beach?”

Each one of these memories were probably preceded by unfavorable conditions. They definitely weren’t experiences that we planned down to the last detail and executed without any hiccups.

While speaking to the Mom to Mom group at our church, I was asked the question, “Well, what if I plan a fun activity like making cookies, and my kid says she doesn’t want to do it?”  My answer? “Do it anyway!” 

I have found that no matter what “fun” thing you have planned, there will be naysayers. The naysayers may drag their feet and complain, but years from now, it may be a fond memory. I am often surprised when my kids mention one of these events as a favorite memory — even though I remember clearly that, during the actual event, he or she didn’t want to participate. 

Hurt children are often afraid to participate. If the situation is a new scenario for them, they may feel out of control. If the child has bad memories associated with a particular activity or event, he may think that it will end up the same way. 

An example I’ve already mentioned from my own life is long car trips. In my childhood, these were scary times for me. My father would become tense and angry as soon as we got in the car. I began to associate long trips with anger. I didn’t want to get in the car and go to the mountains or the beach or anywhere. Even today, in my adult life, I must remind myself  that long trips are not bad things.

*If you’d like to learn more, check out How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos – the book  (this article is an excerpt ) and the course.

Five Bs Affected by Trauma Part 2

“A scar is evidence of a wound, but also evidence that we can heal.” – Scott McClellan

“I didn’t think it would be this hard.”

“My child’s behaviors are out of control.”

“He got kicked off the school bus AGAIN.”

“He keeps punching kids in line.”

“The whole house is like a war zone.”

“I thought I could do this, but I don’t know if I can. It’s just too hard.”

I’ve heard these statements along with pleas for help from countless parents. I have offered to come into the home and do some observation, as well as get some parenting tools that work into the hands of the parents. It seems as if every time, the parent says, “Oh, I don’t know. He/she is so manipulative” — as if the child will pull the wool over my eyes (as he may do with some professionals or teachers), or as if their situation is so unique and so individual that I won’t be able to grasp it. 

It is in this pit of “aloneness” that satan likes to keep us. No one else struggles like you. Nobody understands. We adoptive/foster parents may feel as if we have slipped an Alfred Hitchcock and are captives who will never escape. And the one who is to be banished to the pit at the end of age tries to keep us equally isolated. 

Fortunately, that pit is not where we belong, nor do we need to stay there any longer. There is hope. Isaiah says that God’s people perish for lack of knowledge. To move forward with our kids, we must first have knowledge.

SEcond B 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.  I covered the first B affected here. Today, I’d like to talk about the second B – Biology.

Biology — altered neurochemistry. Complex trauma can cause a variety of issues: sensorimotor development problems, hypersensitivity to physical contact, somatization, increased medical problems, and problems with coordination and balance.

Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers that help our bodies think, feel, and move. However, the levels of key neurotransmitters in many children from hard places are often high, too low and/or out of balance.

Neurotransmitters (NTs) are naturally occurring chemicals that transmit information between the cells (called neurons) throughout your body. Over 5o NTs are present in the nervous system, but only a handful are currently measurable and understood in relation to our health and functioning.

Neurotransmitters or NTs control the on and off switches in the nervous system. They help define our moods, behaviors, and health.

There are two primary types of neurotransmitters:

  1. Excitatory NTs which increase the likelihood that a neuron’s signals are sent. Excitatory NTs are responsible for providing energy, motivation, mental cognition, and other activities that require brain and body activity. We refer to these as the GAS PEDAL. The gas pedal can get stuck.
  2. Inhibitory NTs decrease the likelihood that a neuron’s signals are sent. Activation of inhibitory NTS causes a chemical change within the neuron that oppose the effects of excitatory signals. Inhibitory NTs are responsible for calming the mind and body, inducing sleep, and filtering out unnecessary excitatory signals. We refer to these as the BRAKE PEDAL. The brake pedal can get stuck as well.

A balance between the levels of inhibitory and excitatory NTs is necessary for optimal health, yet many children from hard places show significant, sometimes profound, imbalances in their neurochemistry. This can result from a number of primary causes, such as chronic stress, poor diet, exposure to neurological toxins (e.g. heavy metals, chemicals) and genetics.

A growing body of research has documented significant alterations in hormones and NTs in children with histories of abuse, maternal deprivation and neglect.- Dr. Karyn Purvis

Want to know a bit more on how biology is affected by trauma? Listen to the edition of Positive Adoption below!

Want a free printable resource to share? You can download “How Trauma Affects Kids” on our Printable Resource Page.

What If We Treated Foster/Adoptive Parents as Missionaries?

I’ve long held the belief that adoptive/foster parents are missionaries. When I tell people about our international adoption, I like to say that not only did I visit the country, but I also brought some natives home.

This true for all adoptive/foster parents. We don’t clock out and go back to our dorm or hut or whatever the missionary lives in. We also don’t get on a plane and go back to the comfort of our own home.

What if We Treated Foster Parents as Missionaries_

As foster or adoptive parents, our home is a long-term (forever) mission base. We bring these kids who have been discarded by the culture, hurt by their parents, and harmed by trauma into our homes. There is rarely a respite.

I talked to Elizabeth King, a full-time missionary with twenty-two years under her belt. When she and her husband were presented with the opportunity to adopt two girls, they said, “More ministry? Yes!” They were up for it. Hadn’t they been practicing this for years? She says:

“But we were not really ready for the total onslaught of doing ministry right from the very core of who we were. Always before we had ministered outside of our home or had temporary visitors in our home. Our residence was a place of refuge from the rigors of ministry. But now, by accepting these broken girls into our lives – there was nowhere left to retreat to. Nowhere to relax. No escape from the desperate needs and destructive behaviors of the two hurting souls. We found that all our weaknesses, which we could hide pretty well in the course of normal ministry, were now staring us in the face every day.”

If we change the way we think about adoptive/foster parents and slide them into the missionary category, there will be changes in four areas:

Our Prayers

First, adoptive/foster parents will be prayed for more often. Think of how often we pray for missionaries. We tack their photos up on the fridge to remind us to pray for them daily. If we see adoptive/foster parents as missionaries, we will do the same for them.

  • Pray for safety. Adoptive/foster families need a hedge of protection prayed around them. They are in the midst of a battle.

“The protection of children isn’t charity. It isn’t part of a political program fitting somewhere between tax cuts and gun rights or between carbon emission caps and a national service corps. It’s spiritual warfare.” – Russell Moore

  • Pray that they can minister the gospel. It’s tough to be in the middle of the battle and keep ministering the gospel at the same time. While there may not be actual bullets or bombs, foster and adoptive parents face many spiritual and emotional battles.
  • Pray that adoptive/foster parents will be able to teach and reach across cultural lines. Kids that have come from hard places have come from a different culture. Many of them have come from a culture of abuse and neglect. They don’t speak the same language or believe the same things. Most often when a kiddo is being fostered and he is brought to church with the family, the assumption is that he will immediately speak the language of religion. He won’t.
  • Pray that “the natives” will trust them enough to listen. Once these kiddos walk through the doors of our homes, we expect them to feel safe and secure and attach immediately. They won’t — and beyond that, they can’t. When kids come home through foster care or adoption, the foster parent isn’t automatically held in high esteem. Mom and dad aren’t regarded as trustworthy. They may be viewed as just another pit stop for kids with a garbage bag full of belongings. These kiddos may be thinking that these people will hurt/abandon/molest them too. These kiddos have never felt safe. Why would they feel safe with foster or adoptive parents they just met?

“With “normal” families, you can assume that if they haven’t asked prayer for something specific, they probably don’t have any really urgent needs. But foster/adoptive families kind of habituate to a higher level of chaos and urgency, and you feel like this is what they signed up for, so they won’t usually ask prayer for specific things.” – Kristin Peters, adoptive parent

Our Expectations

If we really, fully understand the full-time ministry that is fostering or adopting, we won’t be shocked when these families aren’t at church every Sunday. We would just assume they are doing their job.

Sometimes foster/adoptive parents are so deep in the trenches, they can’t escape. They’re working so hard on attachment with these kids that any break — even just to come to church — can destroy the work they have done. When my newbies first came home, we didn’t go to church or homeschool group for a while. After a while, I heard the gentle grumblings of the leadership wondering when I was coming back to teach.

When we did come back, I kept my kids with me. It was my primary job to attach to them. All of my other commitments were secondary.

Our Contributions

If we view foster and adopted parents as missionaries, we will do everything we can to make sure they are equipped spiritually, emotionally, and physically before going on their “mission.”

When my family traveled to Poland to adopt our four, we had Rubbermaid containers of supplies, suitcases, and books. On the second trip, the children’s church filled those same containers with supplies to leave at the orphanage for the kids and staff.

Missionary families need physical supplies. They also need training. Would you travel to another country to preach the gospel if you didn’t speak the language or at least have an interpreter? And wouldn’t you go to a Christian source for training instead of a secular one?

So, why don’t we offer spiritual and physical training from a Christian perspective for our adoptive/foster missionaries? It does exist. Why not offer it within the four walls of the church?

Our Involvement

Finally, if we view foster/adoptive parents as missionaries, we will consider it an honor to invest in their journey.

“God asks us to reach out to those who need Him. Adoptive families have done this in a more sacrificial way than most people could even comprehend. It is the right thing for the body of Christ to support those who have given themselves so fully to the care of the little ones God has sent them.” – Elizabeth King, missionary and adoptive mom

This is probably the most difficult one for the body of Christ to swallow. I’ve been told that since I chose to adopt, I just need to suck it up, so to speak. In case you are wondering, I did not receive or ask for money from the church to fund my adoption. But I sure wish it were available for other families. We pay monthly support to missionaries so they can do their thing. Why not do the same for foster/adoptive families on some level?

And there are other ways to invest in foster care/adoption, too.

“You’re either called to bring a child into your home or support those who do! – Real Life Foster Mom

You can take them dinner, offer to babysit, buy school supplies, get them a gift card, buy Christmas gifts, or — my favorite — take a foster/adoptive Mom out for coffee and LISTEN. Not all investments require tons of money. What they do take, however, is time. Sacrifice a bit of your time for those who have surrendered all of theirs.

“Adoptive parents are like missionaries on steroids. There is no furlough from this job, no let-up in sight. If missionaries should be honored and supported, adoptive families – especially those who have adopted children from trauma – need our love, our respect, and our support just as much – and likely more. Maybe finances aren’t an issue. But finding time for friendship when you know your friends will never understand what you’re going through anyway and the demands at home are overwhelming – it’s just so hard.” – Elizabeth King