Are You Instilling Healthy or Unhealthy Fears in Your Child? (Capital Letter Syndrome/Foster/Adoption Edition)

No Fear

Is your child the opposite of fear?

Taking dangerous risks because he has no cause-and-effect thinking?

Does he think the laws of nature don’t apply to him?

When raising a child with a capital letter syndrome or one from hard places (a child who has experienced trauma), healthy fear is a little more muddled. While we want our kiddos to have healthy fears, some of them seem to be in a no-fear frame of mind when it comes to outdoor play and all fear when it comes to some other aspects of life. What’s going on here?

1. Lack of Cause-and-Effect Thinking

Kids who come home to us through foster care/adoption have had trauma. One of the five Bs affected by trauma is the brain. Kids who have had trauma have altered neurochemistry. The Hebbian principle states that what fires together, wires together.

Simply put, an infant’s brain is experience-expectant. Experiences wire the brain. This is where the attachment cycle comes in. The infant expresses a need and the parent meets that need, thousands and thousands of times, until eventually the loose “wires” in the brain are connected.

What does attachment have to do with healthy fears? Everything. When those “wires” connect, the child is “wired” for cause-and-effect thinking. If there are breaks in attachment (or the child has a capital letter syndrome), then cause-and-effect thinking is not in place. It’s as if the child has some lose “wires.” This isn’t to say that the child isn’t intelligent — in fact, it’s often the opposite. It’s just that he doesn’t expect B to happen if he does A.

Instilling Healthy Fears

What does this look like?

  • A child decides to catch bees in a jar but didn’t think they would sting him.
  • A child watches a video of a man leaping from limb to limb high in a tree and tries it. (Yes, this actually happened in my family, and yes, he fell.)
  • A child tries to ride his bike under the trampoline.
  • A child starts a forest fire playing with a lighter.
  • A child walks on the pool cover and their foot falls through.

These are all true stories, and I could tell many more, but the point is that in each of these cases, no cause-and-effect thinking was applied. You may say, “Well many kids are adventure seekers and do these sorts of things.” That’s true.

However, neurotypical kids have a learning curve after these types of adventures. Kids with capital letter syndromes and kids with trauma often don’t. They will continue to try to defy the physical laws of nature with intensity and regularity. They don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them.

Here’s a good test: If you warn your child that the activity he is about to embark upon may cause harm and he says, “I’m not going to get hurt, I’m not that stupid!” then cause-and-effect thinking probably isn’t happening.

Unrealistic or faulty connections

On the other end of the spectrum, these kiddos may have one bad experience and instead of adjusting their approach and trying again, simply declare, “I’m never doing that again!” What does this look like?

  • The child refuses to put sunscreen on (because he won’t get burned), gets burnt, and won’t go to the beach ever again.
  • The child falls off a rock while climbing, scrapes his knee, and won’t climb again.
  • The child doesn’t think he can do something, so he says it’s stupid and refuses to try.

Trying to instill healthy fears in these kiddos can be confusing. They need to be watched more closely and encouraged more than neurotypical kids to keep them safe and get them trying new things.

2. Felt Safety

Another conundrum with kids with capital letter syndromes/foster/adopted kids is they often don’t feel safe when they are safe. To describe this, we use the term “felt safety.”

“Felt safety, as defined by Dr. Purvis, is “when you arrange the environment and adjust your behavior so your children can feel in a profound and basic way that they are truly safe in their home with you. Until your child experiences safety for himself or herself, trust can’t develop, and healing and learning won’t progress” (p.48, The Connected Child).

Fear is crippling. I know. Not only have I watched my own kiddos struggle with feeling safe and talked to countless moms whose kids struggle with it, but I have also experienced it myself. My fears were an oddly shaped gift that, when opened, gave me empathy.

Because of some trauma in my past, I feared riding in the back seat of a car, going through tunnels, riding elevators, and more. My fears helped me understand my kiddos’ fears. Your child’s fears may seem weird or unrealistic to you, but they are super overwhelming to them.

“From research, we know that fear left unaddressed can have pervasive and long-lasting effects on a child, including negative impacts on cognitive ability, sensory processing, brain chemistry, brain development, ability to focus and ability to trust. As a result, it distorts and dictates much of what our children are dealing with.” – empoweredtoconnect.org

Instilling healthy fears and avoiding unhealthy fears is hit-or-miss with these kiddos. We keep trying, keep asking, and keep being flexible. No one wants their kids to be overwhelmed with fear all the time. No one wants their kiddos to get injured because they don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them, either. So, I’ll finish with some tips. Feel free to comment and add your own tips!

Tips for Instilling Healthy Fears and Disarming Unhealthy Fears in Kids From Hard Places or Kids With Capital Letter Syndromes:

  • Watch these kiddos more closely.
  • Talk them through their fear even if the solution seems obvious to you.
  • Help them try an activity away from the crowd.
  • Ask them what they need.
  • Remember that they don’t think the physical laws of nature apply to them.
  • These kids have enough fear; don’t instill more.
  • Clap for them if they accomplish an outdoor feat even if you think it is below their ability. Baby steps.

On the one hand, you are instilling healthy fears and calming ones that seem far fetched and unrealistic to you. On the other hand, when you provide fun, S.A.F.E. activities, you are relieving fears, which is healthy!

This week on the podcast, Amerey and Kathleen talked about healthy summer living/eating on a budget. They delved into the topic of healthy fears when discussing some outdoor activities. You can listen here. And don’t forget to check out Part 1 of this article, the Neurotypical Edition, here.

Healing Alongside your Child

“The challenges, problems and pain that our children face are real, and as a result, they affect us as parents as well. These challenges impact the whole child; and therefore we must be willing to engage and embrace our children (and ourselves!) at the same time holistically. At the same time, we must always remember there are no quick fixes-merely changing behaviors will not accomplish what is needed. Our goal must be nothing less than healing for the whole child. Much like our own journey of spiritual healing and maturity, the healing we desire for our children will be a process, and it must be anchored by hope- real hope.”- Dr. Karyn Purvis, Michael and Amy Monroe

 

Kids from hard places: fostered, adopted and special needs kids need lots of extra care. The care needed affects us parents, draining us of all of our resources: physical, emotional and spiritual. We need to embrace ourselves as well as our children. I’ll all for self-care with the proper motive. I like to walk/run for my therapy. A coffee date with a friend always gives me a boost of encouragement. Reading a great book by another woman who has experienced twists, turns and trauma is a great self-care habit. But these are not the only ways we can find hope and healing.

We can get healing alongside our child.

Your self-care doesn’t always have to happen without your kiddos. We don’t want to give our kids the message that in order to enjoy our lives we have to be away from them. What sort of message are we giving them?

The women of today have become proficient in saying “me too” to one another. What about your child? Have you said it to them?

Me too:

  • I messed up.
  • I’m afraid.
  • People said ugly things to me.
  • I wasn’t sure I could make it through ________.

I’m not saying you need to dump your past onto your child, but a little empathy goes a long way.

Healing is a process, not a one time event!

The greatest gift you can give your child is enjoying their presence. Smiling at them. Settling down into the moment or trying something that scares you (and them). Try sailing down the hill on the sled with them when you’re both afraid. Scream your head off with them. Go somewhere new and try something new with your child. Show them that you can conquer this together. If we truly desire hope and healing for our kiddos (and ourselves), we have to do the work. Healing is often a process, not a one time event. Let’s participate in the process with our child.

 

Working with Kids From Hard Places

Do you work with kids from hard places? 

Maybe you’re a teacher, a counselor, a CASA worker or a foster parent.

Maybe you work at a Day Care.

Maybe you adopted a group of kids who didn’t get the best start in life.

Maybe you have extended family members who have struggled with raising their own children and you have stepped in.

Or maybe you have had tragedy or divorce in your family and everyone is in survival mode. 

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If you can say yes, to one or all of the above, then this podcast is for you.

Amerey interviews her husband, Seth, about working with kids from hard places. They discuss unique educational experiences and Seth’s work at Chestnut Mountain Ranch, a Christian home and school for boys in need of hope and healing.

Your kids, family, classroom or _______ may not be exactly the same as Seth’s situation, but there are common denominators. Hopefully, this episode will be a starting point for some conversation about those issues. Instead of sweeping these things under the rug and just trying to survive, let’s talk. Let’s share our burdens and our struggles. I’m going to say those powerful words “me too”. I know the struggles of trying to bring hope and healing to kids from hard places. If there is a topic you would love to see on The Whole House Podcast pertaining to kids from hard places, comment here or email us -thewholehouseteam@gmail.com. We would love to hear from you! We’d love to come along side you and be a support. We love you guys!

iTunes link here.

Podomatic link here.

Time in Verses Time Out

Does Time Out Work?

A really popular parenting tool is time out. Here’s the problem, kids from hard places who have already been discarded, neglected or abused- time out just reinforces some beliefs:

  • you don’t matter
  • you’re not valuable
  • I’m going to separate myself from you

What they need instead is time in. What is time in? When a child is dysregulated, he needs to be beside you so you can co-regulate. Instead of sending him away, you keep him beside you. Keep them 2 or 3 feet away on a chair (or on the floor) until they calm down. When the child is calm, have a quick conversation and move on. This is a great chance for a redo (post on that here). You are looking for connection. Parents have an opportunity to connect after the child calms down. Our goal is build relationships. These kiddos were harmed through relationship and they will be healed through relationship.

Time out often breeds violent behaviors because the child needs someone to help them regulate.

Beside me jobs.

This simply means keeping the child beside you while you do chores. Let the child talk. She may put one dish in the dishwasher to your ten, it’s okay. This time of connection grows during this time. Beside me jobs, shoulder to shoulder allows the kiddo to spend time with you. During this time you are helping them regulate. The fruit of years of beside me jobs is a child is able to sort things through conversation. Not only that, but a child will mirror your behavior (see post on that here). If you are enjoying your chore and her company, she will eventually do the same.

 

Here’s a video from The Whole House Adoption/Foster Care Support Group on the subject. Comment if you would like to join or find us on Facebook!