Have you ever struggled with a child? Have you ever tromped around the same mountain and wondered- is this child ever going to change? Will he ever recover from the wounds he suffered in his life before I was his home? I’ve been there. I have circled until there is a trench up-to-my-shoulder-deep and I could barely see the light. I’ve been there more times then I would like to admit. How about you? Here are some words I jotted in my journal after a painful trying-to-save-the child-week.
“Whenever you are struggling with _____, thank Me for him. ….Don’t give up. Don’t give in……Picture him as the infant you adopted all those years ago. He didn’t know anything about hot stoves, electrical outlets, toys, older siblings- it was all new territory- so is this being responsible for his own actions- he may get burned, trip, get mad, slam doors… but in the end, he will learn where the boundaries are. He will learn to fight for something he wants- to apply his own blood, sweat and tears instead of riding on the backs of others, emotionally manipulating them and never feeling satisfied. My Word will work. Keep reading it. You cannot change him. Give him consequences. Let me do the work.I did not rescue these little ones to rot in another hell. Pray the Word, not the circumstances.”
Raising a child who has suffered loss
If you are raising a child from a who has suffered loss, abandonment and rejection in their early life, day to day living can be a struggle.
“To compound the situation, many children who have experienced neglect, abuse and abandonment have not yet developed an internalized set of values by which they judge themselves and others. They are not able to receive and experience empathy- nor can they develop insight -so they tend to project blame on others and onto objects. They blame their adoptive parents for causing their anger, and they blame toys for breaking. They blame things that could not possibly be responsible for anything!”
– Parenting the Hurt Child
How do I practice thankfulness in midst of pain? Thank Him for the child. List the blessings.
1. Morning hugs
2. He said he was sorry.
3. God sent someone my way to encourage me.
4. Dinner out with family. Everyone joking. Telling stories of the past.
5. The kids chilling/talking in the family room.
Victories are Sweeter
When parenting kiddos who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome, victories are sweeter. When the kid who couldn’t even place the letters of his name in a linear sequence writes his name on a line (in order), there is great cause for celebration. When a child who has been afraid to stand in front of people participates in the social studies fair even though she has tears running down her cheeks the whole time she presents to the judges, that’s a huge victory. When we think about the fact that these kids have to work harder at these victories, they are much sweeter tasting. These victories aren’t small. They’re huge.
It will change you
When we talk of raising kiddos from hard places, we often focus on the kiddos – their behaviors, their victories, their healing – those are all good things. Here’s another part of the picture – raising these kiddos will change us. Looking through the lens these kiddos see through will make me a better person. When I see a child laugh at a joke for the first time. When I hear a child ask for help and leave survival mode behind for the first time, I see things differently.
Also, raising kiddos from hard places has given me the opportunity to operate more in the fruit of the spirit. We parents will have to practice more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5: 22, 23).
Want to hear more about this topic? Listen to Episode 107 of Positive Adoption.
Are you raising a child who has had trauma or has a capital letter syndrome? Days can be long and tough. We know. How do you practice gratefulness during this season? Join Jerry and Kathleen as they tackle practicing gratefulness when raising kids from hard places (and with capital letter syndromes). They’ve lived it and have some great stories to share. Grab a cup of coffee and join this dynamic duo!
This is the last in the series on “The Five Bs Affected by Trauma”, you if you missed the rest, start here. Also, hop on over to the printable resource page for a copy of “How Trauma Affects Kids.”
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.
Behavior — an altered ability to self-regulate in response to stressors. This can manifest as impulsiveness, self-destructive behavior, aggressive behavior, excessive compliance, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, substance abuse, a re-enactment of their traumatic past, or pathological self-soothing behaviors.
This is the one we seem to put the most emphasis on. Why can’t this kid just behave?
Children from hard places have an altered ability to self-regulate in response to stressors. Kids are impulsive!
When a baby is born, the mother regulates for him. She feeds him when he is hungry. Wraps him in a blanket when he is cold. She rocks him to sleep when he is tired. When he gets a bit older, he begins to co-regulate, this is the two-year-old who gets the juice out of the fridge and pours himself a glass and gets it all over the counter. He begins to recognize his needs and try to meet them. Self-regulated is the final destination of this journey. This is when a teen or young adult can regulate himself. He drinks water and doesn’t become dehydrated. He eats food. He sleeps when he is tired. He starts handling his bank account on his own.
Children from hard places often have this cycle of regulation broken. Their needs are not met consistently. They miss the season of co-regulation. As a child, they don’t recognize their own body’s signals for food and water. Their sleeping patterns are messed up. They walk around slightly dehydrated. They don’t eat enough or do the opposite. Gorge.
What we see on our end is dysregulation. A child who can’t sit still. A child who fidgets. Speaks out of turn. Who doesn’t listen.
Key to Remember – “Good/excited stress loads in a child from a hard place in much the same way as bad/traumatic stress. Generally, a child cannot tell the difference.” – ETC
As a result, children from hard places often experience heightened and persistent levels of stress and fear, driving them to develop an array of survival tactics and inappropriate behavioral responses. However, as Dr. Purvis reminds us: Every behavior has a purpose and a function. Behind every behavior and misbehavior is a need, and we must come to view our children’s needs not as something negative but as something very positive. Needs are one of the primary ways that God uses to bring people into a relationship with others and with Himself. So, we need to learn to follow the needs of our children.
Behavior is a need however inappropriately expressed.
“It’s can’t, not won’t.”
Many children from hard places deal with heightened levels of stress and fear. In order to help our children heal and move forward, it is critical that parents understand how pervasive fear can be and what it looks like in our children’s behaviors and responses.
Fear is much more than a feeling. Fear is a state of being, and for many children from hard places, it has become a way of life.
There are three ways that children from hard places typically respond to fear and stress:
Fight- frustration, explosive or aggressive, resistive, acting out, saying “I won’t, You can’t make me!”
Flight- Goofy, Physically or emotionally distracting behavior, running, escaping behaviors, distractible, clowning, redirecting, easily bored, effectively saying, “I’m out of here.”
Freeze- Body is often not receiving signals from the brain- whiny, tearful, clingy, fearful, reluctant to separate or to try new things, withdrawing, hiding, saying “I can’t!”
THERE IS A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN FEELING SAFE AND BEING SAFE!
Instead of asking, What are you afraid of, ask, what do you need?
In order to truly address the issue of fear, we will need to create a sense of felt-safety for the child.
Key to remember-You provide felt-safety when you arrange the environment and adjust your behavior so that the child can feel safe. Felt safety is just as important and real as actual safety, even for adults. Think of a time that you were perfectly safe and yet you had anxiety. Everyone has something that raises their anxiety level. It could be heights, snakes, spiders, elevators, flying, or crowds.
Now think about how you react to those around you when confronted with those fears, and you’ll understand your children’s behavior better.
Want to hear more about behavior?
In this episode of Positive Adoption, Kathleen continues the series on the Five Bs affected by trauma with “Behavior.” Behavior — an altered ability to self-regulate in response to stressors. This can manifest as impulsiveness, self destructive behavior, aggressive behavior, excessive compliance, sleep disturbances, eating disorders, substance abuse, re-enactment of their traumatic past, or pathological self soothing behaviors. Grab a cup of coffee and join Kathleen as she finishes this series!
*I started this series as a response to a question I got via email. If you missed the beginning, click here.
At the end of the first article, I said a few words about teens. I’d like to continue with more on the topic today.
Let’s not excuse behaviors, Let’s Understand Them
If you read through my first two articles, you may be thinking trauma-informed means excusing behaviors and doing everything to make the child happy. That is not what it means. We don’t excuse behaviors. We nip them in the bud. A trauma-informed church, school, or co-op, uses the IDEAL Approach. Instead of letting a behavior escalate, it is dealt with immediately. Directly. Efficiently. And leveled at the behavior, not the child.
For all interactions with your kiddos, use the IDEAL response as a guide. The IDEAL Approach is among the best tools for parenting, teaching, or supervising kids who have had trauma:
I: You respond immediately, within three seconds of misbehavior.
D: You respond directly to the child by making eye contact. Get down on their level (or look up for some teens).
E: The response is efficient and measured. Use as few words as possible.
A: The response is action-based. Lead the child through a re-do.
L: Your response should bed leveled at the behavior, not the child.
Applying the Ideal Approach to Teens
When Dr. Karyn Purvis and her team from the TCI Institute of Child Development, trained staffers from Methodist Children’s Home in usingTBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention), the youth (aged 11-18) experienced remarkable changes. Several of the staffers remarked that Dr. Purvis didn’t let the kids get away with anything. This may be because when you start talking about focusing on relationships instead of behaviors, some people get the idea that you are going to excuse behaviors while you float on rainbow clouds and eat ice cream.
What Dr. Purvis did is respond immediately to behaviors with a redo or whatever fit the bill and went back to connection quickly. (For more information on how to respond, read our “Instead of” Tips.) One of the most important things that trauma-informed organizations do is make sure staff/volunteers are present. It’s a mistake to take a group of teens who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome and let them hang out unsupervised. Adults need to be present and participating in order to be a co-regulator for the teens and stop a meltdown before it starts (no guarantee that the teen won’t meltdown anyway, better to have an adult present).
I asked three of my adult boys about this topic this morning. They agreed they shouldn’t have been unsupervised at youth type events. They also agreed hanging out with other teens with proper supervision was super healthy for them.
Social Camouflage, is a way of learning social nuances, that help, to fit in, and function in this world.
The natural camouflage teens perform is to do the thing when the adult isn’t looking and then stop when the adult is. This is when you hear the “Yes, sir,” or “Yes, m’am” types of responses. These kids who were behaving badly suddenly act good. We adults know the pattern (most of us). What we must understand is teens who have had trauma or have a capital letter syndrome don’t camouflage. They don’t behave one way in front of adults and another in front of peers. They just are. And. This. Gets. Them. Into. Trouble.
Why does the inability to camouflage get teens into trouble? Usually because they watch a peer performing a dangerous feat or breaking the rules and they follow suit even after the adult appears. These teens who can’t camouflage don’t turn off the behavior. Some don’t have cause and effect thinking. Some don’t have a break pedal. They will keep performing the behavior until someone gets hurt (usually themselves). This is why kids who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome need adults to be present and participating.
The Inability to Regulate happens at home too
It’s not just when these kids get with a group of people they endanger their lives. They do it alone. As I said, many lack cause and effect thinking. They dysregulate alone. There are stressors everywhere. It’s not the other kids. It’s their own inability to regulate. It’s their inability to process stimuli. These kiddos are impulsive. So, if the idea has crossed your mind that these teens are just misbehaving for you, it’s not true. When you replace behave with regulate, it makes more sense. These teens can’t regulate no matter where they are. If we are going to minister to them, we have to become co-regulators.
Want to read more about co-regulation? Click here.
Just a reminder teens CAN sometimes be toddlers in larger bodies. If you begin to picture them that way, co-regulation becomes a little easier to swallow. You have the opportunity to be their pre-frontal cortex until it has time to mature!
Want some free trauma-informed e-course for your church?
That’s a great question with a complex answer. I’m going to tackle it anyway.
First and foremost, trauma-informed churches are more about relationship than they are about proper behavior. As I said in the article linked above, trauma is a buzzword. Churches are hopping on the bandwagon and saying they are sensitive to attenders who have had trauma, all the while, making sure everyone’s behavior measures up. I’m going to focus on kids here because that’s what I’m trained in (mostly through experience).
Trauma-informed churches don’t expect kids to regulate (behave).
Most churches who are trauma-informed say that relationship trumps behavior. Acknowledging the idea is a great start. Do they follow through?
At- risk children can easily feel alienated and cornered, alone against the world. Feeling that way, it almost guaranteed that they will come out fighting, manipulating or fleeing. Then the only adult attention they receive is endless scolding and punishment. Soon this dysfunctional dynamic becomes a habit, and the the children learn to seek familiar and available attention by acting out. What a scary and miserable way to live!
The Connected Child
When a child can’t stay in a seat for worship, is the behavior a detriment to the relationship? In other words, will the child be put in time-out, shamed, sent back to parents, berated, or fill in the blank? Does sitting in a seat, being in an environment that produces sensory overload, or the inability to regulate due to stressors cause a break in the relationship? Is the child put on the chopping block and asked to measure up to a standard before he is accepted? This is not what a trauma-informed church looks like.
The concept of “being good” in church.
I totally understand the concept of “being good” in church. When I my kiddos were younger and I sang in the choir. I had to be at church early for warm-ups. With hubby out of town or at work, all seven of my kiddos had to sit on the front row while I was up on the risers with the choir. I got pretty durn good and shooting looks at my kiddos that meant “behave or else!” I grew up in an era when everyone had to be respectful to adults, especially those in the ministry no matter how we felt about it. If I got in trouble at church or school, I was sure to get double trouble at home. No explaining away my behavior. No excuses. Kids submitted to authority or suffered the consequences. If you grew up like I did, it may be difficult to shift gears to a new way of thinking especially in a spiritual or religious setting.
A new way of thinking about behavior.
Things have changed. Science has discovered many ways that trauma effects kids. I have written many articles about that, for the sake of brevity, let’s say – Kids who have had trauma cannot behave, not – will not behave. When Sunday school teachers, children’s church workers, youth leaders get that scientific fact firmly placed in their belt of truth, we will see more effective ministry for kids who have had trauma. If we want our churches to be trauma-informed, we’ll be the adults that say, “It’s up to us to figure out what works to build relationship with each child.”
Start with talking to the parents (or whomever brings them to church).
Trauma-informed churches ask foster parents, adoptive parents, parents of kids with capital letter syndromes what the kiddo needs to feel safe and what helps the child regulate. Trauma-informed churches put needs of kids who have had trauma on the list right next to severe allergies. If one child cannot have peanuts and another goes into overload if the music is too loud, skip the peanuts and have some noise reducing headphones. It looks like an away room with headphones, adults to help a kiddo regulate, and someone to connect with even if there has to be a correction first. Especially if there has to be a correction first.
If you need help with how to train your staff on correcting, try the “Instead of Tips” here and download a printable resource here. Trauma-informed churches have a system set up that everyone can follow. All of the staff and volunteers use the same approach which give another layer of felt-safety to the kiddos. If you’re interested in an e-course to accompany the graphic, make sure you get on our email list to get the link when it’s live.
A short word on Teens
If a group of teens comes to the after-school program at your church and you know they have had various levels of trauma, make sure you have trauma-trained staff to supervise. This usually means more staff, more supervision, and more structure.
It’s a fallacy to think when teens who have had trauma or a capital letter syndrome will be able to regulate just because they have large bodies. The truth is most of these kiddos are half their physical age emotionally. Teens with large bodies and little ability to self-regulate in response to stressors can quickly spiral out of control.
I’ll continue this line of thought in one of my articles.
What are some things you do to make your adopted/foster child feel at home?
“Top of it:Schedules.
Their own stuffed animal bought by us the day they arrive.
A light on at night.
An anthem.” – Paige Bowser
I asked Paige to explain the anthem, and she said, “A song. Let the older child pick a song that expresses what he feels. This becomes their anthem.”
“I’m not sure how to answer this. We have only had a couple of placements and they have been babies. We give hugs and talk softly. We give them a new blanket. We try to get to know them as soon as we can by watching carefully so they have a chance to teach us who they are, and then we meet them there.” – Rachel Eubank
“ I agree with Rachel. We first have to see how traumatized a child is. Comfort comes from different things for each child. I think the first thing we give each one is Space enough to catch their breath. An overwhelmed child can’t make healthy trusting connections. Honestly, You have to trickle your love and comfort Into their lives. They gradually begin to trust You. The second thing is a smile and words of comfort.” – Bob Eubank
Smiling is super important because kids will mirror you. Everyone feels stress when a kid is first coming into your home. Don’t let it show on your face. Smile.
Some things to consider when welcoming a child:
Toys. Some kiddos (mine included) have none when they come “home.”
Ownership. Having their own stuff when they come to your home is big deal.
A comfortable bed. Some kiddos have never had their own bed.
A backpack. We got L.L.Bean backpacks embroidered with the kids’ names when they came home through adoption.
Words of reassurance. We need to give words of reassurance such as, “So-and-so loved you so much that they bought you this gift.”
Consider the perspective of the child. Older kids are more aware of what is going on in the adoption/foster care arena, so they may be able to communicate their thoughts, feelings, needs, and wants. Either way, it’s important to put yourself in their shoes as much as possible. Consider what they need and do it for them instead of for yourself.
Ten Practices to help your adopted/foster Kiddo feel welcome:
1. Calm fears. If kids don’t feel safe, they will act out in survival mode. Be aware of their past, and keep an eye out for triggers. You’re not always going to know why a child is afraid, but they almost always have a reason.
We all have fears, and even as adults, we sometimes can’t figure out where they came from. One of my fears is riding in the back of a car. It took me a long time to trace the fear back to after my parents’ divorce, when my dad would come to pick us up, load us into the back seat of his car, and start driving without giving us any information about where we were going.
2. Adjust the surroundings. You may have to adjust your surroundings for a season to help your new kiddos feel more comfortable. To them, you are weird, and your house is weird.
Even if a child was removed from an unsafe home, that doesn’t mean his home of origin didn’t feel normal to him. He’s still connected to it. Be more flexible than you are used to being. It will be chaotic for a while, and that’s ok. Helping your child achieve felt safety is worth it.
3. Be aware the child may have never been alone. My college roommate adopted a sibling group of three who had never been alone. For the first few years, they refused to sleep in their own rooms, opting instead to all share the same bed.
In cases of neglect, on the other hand, a child may be a little too used to being alone. It’s important to be aware of this and gently coax them into family time together.
4. Be prepared to adjust your menu. When we brought our four home, the youngest had a cleft palate. Getting nutrients into him became my second career. He was underweight, and because of his limited food choices in the orphanage, he wasn’t interested in eating anything new. I bought a food processor and pureed a variety of foods to meet his nutritional needs. It was a challenge.
After his cleft-palate surgery, he lost the ground we had gained in eating new foods after his month of liquids. One day at lunch, I stayed at the table with him, trying to get him to eat. All the other kids had left the table. I was so frustrated, I cried. I called a friend for prayer. Her husband answered the phone, listened, and prayed with me. Food challenges are real.
Yours might not be that extreme, but you still have to be flexible. You may find out your new kiddos refuse to anything spicy or that they hate peanut butter sandwiches or something else that’s a staple in your house.
5. Your child may miss friends (as well as family, which is a given). Be sensitive to that. Let them talk, and don’t take it personally. Missing their bio family, their old friends, and other parts of their past is natural. It’s not a comment on your abilities or value as a foster/adoptive parent. It’s not even necessarily a reflection of their thoughts or feelings about you.
6. Make sure your kiddos have plenty of snacks they can get to. In the orphanage, my kids didn’t always have the food they needed when they needed it. Kids from neglectful homes may have had a similar experience. You can alleviate the fear by having a snack basket within easy reach that they can access whenever they want.
7. Be sensitive to the clothing needs and the types of clothes your kids want/need. My kids had never owned a pair of jeans, so jeans were the item they wanted first.
8. Understand that their belongings have meaning, but they may not understand the value of things. Our kid came with nothing. Some kids come with a blanket or stuffed animal. Those belongings are important to them, even if they seem insignificant to you.
Keep in mind that kids who have never owned anything may not know how to take care of things. They may let something float downstream because they lack cause-and-effect thinking and don’t think about the fact that the item cost money.
Also, understand that if you put a high value on things, that will be tested by these kiddos. Remind yourself: “People are more important than things.” I reminded myself of this aloud so much that my kids repeated it to back me when something got broken.
9. Remember that your kiddos may need extra supervision, online and otherwise. In The Case of the Missing Person (more on that below), Sera is messaging people without her parents’ supervision or permission. All kids need supervision, but kids from hard places can get into trouble quickly and have trouble spotting dangerous situations.
One of my kids, for instance, started a forest fire out of a simple lack of understanding that lighting a fire in the woods is dangerous. The orphanage didn’t give them much practical experience with the great outdoors.
10. Schedules are security. They let kids know what will happen next, which is especially important to kids who find themselves suddenly in unfamiliar surroundings with complete strangers, as foster kids do.
If you’re not a schedule type of person, don’t worry! You don’t have to break your day into inflexible half-hour increments with every second account for. Instead, you can implement a general “first this, then that” routine. For instance, “after breakfast, we do chores” or “after lunch, we take a nap.”
The video below is an advertisement but paints a realistic picture of what happens when foster children come into your home.
Remember the weird things you had to tell your kids?
If you had biological children before you fostered or adopted, then you know you have to tell kids things you never thought you would have to say — like “Don’t lick the bathroom floor” or “Don’t lick your sister.”
Remember that, and apply it to foster kids. You don’t know what they have been taught about hygiene or whether they know the stove is hot. They may have been taught things that are not acceptable in your family culture. Don’t blame and shame the child for where they came from. Grace. We all have our perceptions of good and bad.
Assume that they know nothing — not as though they are stupid, but in the sense that they weren’t raised in your family culture. The first few times they do something “wrong,” assume they really didn’t know any better. Don’t assume they are being intentionally defiant or trying to push your buttons. They may just not know that something is annoying, generally frowned upon, “gross,” or “bad.”
Also, be specific in your instruction. Remember that it’s easier for kids to process positive instructions (“Do this”) than negative ones (“Don’t do that”). Instead of saying what you don’t want them to do, take some of the guesswork out and let them know that they should do. For example, you could say, “Use your inside voice” instead of “Don’t yell!”
Excerpts From The Case of the Missing Person
In the podcast, we mentioned The Case of the Missing Person — a book I wrote about a girl named Sera who is adopted through the Colombian hosting program (more info about that program here). The following scene describes her thoughts on coming “home.”
“Let me show you your room, Sera,” Clare said. I mean Mom. I couldn’t get used to that. I had spent my first eleven years in Colombia without a mother. I had come to the Craven family as part of the Colombian hosting program. Through that program, I had stayed with the Cravens for three weeks. The Cravens had decided to adopt me. I was glad. Most of the time.
Right now, I was scared out of my wits. There was no going back to Colombia now. It wasn’t perfect there, but it was all I had ever known. Now I was here in the U.S. in a home I would be in forever. FOREVER.
The house was nice. Clare liked white. A lot. White walls. White cabinets. White furniture. There were a few colors in pictures on the walls. Totally different from the bright colors in the orphanage. Sunshiny yellows. Oranges. Terracotta tile floors. My room was white too. White bunk beds. Those were new.
“What do you think?” Clare, I mean Mom, asked.
“It’s very white,” I said quietly.”
You can listen to the first chapter of The Case of the Missing Person below:
Kristin and I take a few random moments in this week’s podcast episode and respond to some of the criticism we recieved about this article. One theme was that we shouldn’t see our adopted/foster kiddos as a ministry. Our response?
Whatever we put our hands to is a ministry.
We aren’t running around John 3:16 ing everyone. I didn’t to adopt to have a ministry. I love my kids. They are a priority to me. I’m very protective of them. I don’t share their stories. Those are there own.
Another theme was – all parents need support to an extent.
All parents need support to an extent. Fostering is different. It’s harder. You can’t plan a vacation. You can’t take them to get a haircut. There is so much added stress. The visitation is planned according to the the availbility of bio family, not foster family or the child. Saturday-
Another theme was -Reunification should be the goal.
Culturally, that is not always a good goal anymore. Drugs, alcohol abuse is prevalent and our culture has changed. There has been a moral downward shift in our culture
It is not always in the best interest of the child to be reunified. Keep children in mind first.