Children who have been traumatized in infancy and early childhood cannot be expected to behave or respond to stimuli in the same way as children who have not.
Key to remember– As Dr. Purvis reminds us, our children were harmed in and through relationships, and they will find healing in and through nurturing relationships.
Trauma is much more far-reaching than we assumed in the past. We have always been told that children are resilient and they are, but there are effects that trauma leaves behind. It affects every area of life for a child.
Trauma harms the brain. Its footprint can be seen in these areas: Social, learning, behavior problems (regulation), physical development
Dr. Purvis calls children who have had trauma in their lives “children from hard places.”
“The passage of time for these little ones does not in itself reduce trauma’s impact to a bearable level. The trauma contaminates the meaning of life and is part of early personality formation. Neurobiologically, trauma shapes the developing brain.”
-Deborah Gray, Nurturing Adoptions
Did your child have early trauma? If you aren’t sure, read the “Six Risk Factors” and listen to the podcast on the subject (linked in the article). Also, you can find a handy printable resource here.
Today, take some time to think about your child’s history. This will help you begin to recognize the triggers. Write down the risk factors she encountered before coming home to you. Take some time to pray and process how these things can be affecting her behavior.
We’ll cover more on this topic tomorrow. Feel free to comment, share, or ask a question!
If you haven’t faced your past, this week’s assignments may produce overwhelming feelings!
Sometimes it takes actually feeling your feelings before you can move towards healing or helping your kiddos move in that direction. Be sure to find a Christian therapist or counselor to help you work through your past!
Why are memories so triggering?
Have you ever smelled something like cinnamon rolls baking, or coffee brewing, and it suddenly evokes a feeling from a past event? Maybe it’s Christmas morning because your Mom made cinnamon rolls and coffee every year. Or maybe the scent of a perfume sends you to a dark place because you were at Aunt Mary’s house the time you were molested and she wore that scent liberally. Why does this happen? Why doesn’t the past just stay in the past? Tommy Newberry explains:
“Your subconscious mind is incapable of distinguishing between an actual event and one that is only imagined.”
When we have these flashbacks, our mind acts if they are actually happening again. Our subconscious doesn’t distinguish past, present, or future.
Why do we need to process our past?
If we don’t make sense of and peace with our past, we will continue to be triggered. We will live in fearful, reactionary ways. If we want to live positive lives, fully present with our kids, we must take the time to work on making peace with our past.
“Our mind is designed to control the body, of which the brain is a part, not the other way around. Matter does not control us; we control matter through our thinking and choosing. We cannot control the events and circumstances of life but we can control our reactions. In fact, we can control our reactions to anything, and in doing so, we change our brains. It’s not easy; it is hard work, but it can be done through our thoughts and choices.”
If you are thinking “Bad things happened to me and I can’t control that.” This is true. You can’t erase the fact bad things happened, neither can your kiddos. What you can do is change your mind about how you react to your triggers. You don’t have to be ruled by them. You can do the hard work of changing your brain! Are you ready?
For today, let’s start with a positive memory. Think of a time when you a child and were immensely happy. Was it a camping trip? A birthday party? Playing with your cousins? Write it all down in the most vivid detail you can! Have fun with it. Use the five senses. What do you see? Hear? Smell? Feel? Hear?
I started this series in a response to a question via email. As I said in part 1, I know the answer is complex . It’s not a one-size fits all answer. There are some aspects you can see in a trauma-informed church. There are some things you can feel. There are some words you will hear. There are also some practices that will be followed by all leadership in a trauma-informed church.
It starts with trauma-informed training
I’m one of those people who will chase you down the hall and tell church leaders that they need trauma-training. I’m also one of those people who get the door slammed in their face (metaphorically). Leaders for some reason don’t want to invest in training. They also don’t want to ask their staff and volunteers to go through training. I know. It’s a huge time commitment. It is. It’s also an investment.
The parable of The spilled milk
Let’s say you put an open gallon of milk on the table in your kitchen. You hope it won’t spill. You pray it won’t spill. You light a candle and pray it won’t spill. Then it spills. You sop up the mess and tell the child who knocked it over not to do that again, then you leave the gallon again. It gets spilled again. You tell the child again not to knock the milk. The child knocks it again. You tell the child again. What’s the real problem? The adult didn’t take responsibility to put the cap on and put it away.
I see the the same thing happen in churches, homes, schools, and homeschool co-ops. They pray the milk won’t be spilled. In other words, they hope and pray that kids who have had trauma or capital letter syndromes won’t have meltdowns. The kids do. The adults tell the kids to stop. There are behavior charts, stickers, lectures, and Bible verses hurled at them. They meltdown again. They can’t regulate. What needs to happen? The adults, leaders, and parents need to cap the milk by becoming trauma-informed. When leadership is trauma-informed and begin to lead with this in mind, the milk wont’ spill as often.
Start with the Five Bs
The Five B’s Affected by Trauma
Brain – Children from hard places have altered brain development and an overactive amygdala. It’s as if the child is being chased by a bear all the time.
Biology – Children from hard places have altered neurochemistry.
Body – This could include learning delays, developmental delays, and sensory issues (which may be mistaken for willfulness and defiance). The child may be frustrated and disconnected.
Behavior – The child may have an altered ability to self-regulate in response to stressors.
“If a child has had trauma, it’s as though his brain has a bunch of loose wires that don’t connect. If I were back in computer programming, I could imagine that for every if-then statement, I would get an error message: ‘Does not compute.’”-
How to Have Peace When Your Kids Are in Chaos
Understanding the effects trauma has on child (or adult) is a start. Some of the church leaders who have emailed me want their churches to be trauma-informed to better serve the needs of the kiddos (and adults) in the body. Some of you are running into the same sorts of road blocks I do. Time. Money. Leaders don’t want to ask their volunteers to have to invest more time, to come out one more night a week, to watch videos, or host a conference. So the milk gets spilled again and again. And the children get reprimanded for being dysregulated because they CANNOT do what’s expected of them.
For those who want Trauma-informed churches, schools, and co-ops
Want to continue the conversation? Hop on over to our podcast page and listen to the series on the Five Bs Affected by Trauma. These are coffee break podcasts, no longer than fifteen minutes each. Share them with the people who serve your kiddos.
If you’re interested in the free e-course- Five Things , click on the graphic below:
“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:
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.
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!
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.
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.