Journaling Your Child’s Triggers Part 2

Love is Enough

“Love is enough” is a common misconception among parents in general, but even more so with kids who have experienced trauma. Kids who have had trauma seem to have a built-in button-locating radar. They find our buttons and push them over and over. It’s natural that we parents may think they are pushing our buttons or misbehaving to make us mad.

In reality, their behavior stems from early trauma and its effect on them. Most children that come into foster care, orphanages, or other institutions are disorganized in their attachment and stuck in dis-integration. The people who were supposed to care for them hurt them. This sets off a constant warning bell in the brains of these children. We call the result a stress-shaped brain.

Early Life Experience

Early life experience has shaped their brains to expect the worst and be on high alert all the time. This response is known as hypervigilance. The hypervigilant child jerks at every sound.  They don’t recognize their body’s own signals of hunger, thirst, and rest.

Normally, parents seamlessly teach regulation. When the child is hungry, the mother feeds him. If he is cold, she wraps him in a blanket. If he is tired, she rocks him to sleep. This pattern continues, with the mother regulating for the child until he begins to regulate for himself. He asks for a drink when he is thirsty. He puts on his sweater when he is cold, or grabs his blankie when he’s ready for bed. 

Kids who haven’t had this early regulation don’t know how to regulate. This doesn’t just apply to hunger and thirst, though those are the biggies. It also applies to behavior. Behavior is what we see externally, but it’s not the whole picture. We need to learn to watch the external behaviors as a clue to whether the child can regulate internally or not.

“Tantrums, meltdowns, aggression, and most other challenging experiences of parenting – and life- are a result of a loss of integration, also known as dis-integration.”

The Whole-Brain Child

Neurons that fire together wire together. In plain English, the more a behavior is acted out or a trigger is acted upon, the more it becomes a pattern in the brain. It is as if the road is dug out, graveled, 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 into 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 speak what the child is unable to state verbally.

Put Yourself in Your Child’s Shoes

Have you ever been in a situation when you felt anxious or afraid for no apparent or logical reason? Instead of considering a situation your child was in, think of a situation that you have been in. Think of a time when you should have felt safe but instead you felt anxious.  Go back to that feeling for a minute, and as terrible as it is, let it wash over you. Imagine feeling like that all the time. That may be how your child is feeling. 

Five Bs 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. 

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. Take a few minutes and read about the Five Bs – start here. Listen to the podcast series on each B. There is a lot of information to read/listen to. Take your time. It will still be available long after this series is over. Maybe start with one B. Armed with this information, write down some of your child’s triggers with this information as your foundation.

*This is an excerpt from the course How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

Interested in the course? Read more about it and try a free module!

Journaling Your Triggers

Change Begins With Us

The change we desire for our children must begin with us.

“If we’re willing to piece together our stories and see the relationship between what happened then and what’s happening now, we get to make choices about what happens next.”

Tell Me a Story

It’s difficult to make choices in the heat of the moment. This is why it is important to take some time and revisit our past, make sense of it, and begin healing. 

While we are healing, we can put some proactive responses into place. In other words, you can decide how you are going to respond ahead of time. If you know that when your child steals candy out of the secret stash, it triggers a memory in you of your Aunt Verna whipping you with a switch until your behind was raw, develop a pre-planned, go-to response. 

Separate yourself from the situation. Avoid saying things like, “If I had done that, my mother would have…” Instead, tend to the situation at hand logically. The child took the candy; therefore, he can’t have any after dinner — or whatever you decide is a natural consequence. 

As Andy Stanley writes in Deep & Wide, “the past is only the past for a time. It has a way of clawing its way into our future. And if you don’t recognize it for what it is, the results can be devastating.” If we don’t recognize our past and its overwhelming power to invade our “now,” we will remain stuck. If we come to terms with our past and work through it, we can gain a new outlook on it.

Your Past Can Be a Gift

I honestly never thought I would view the trauma in my past as a gift. I had years of anger, bitterness, and a reoccuring theme of “Why me?” 

I don’t feel that way anymore. I realized a long time ago that empathy is a superpower that is only earned by going through trauma. Sympathy can only reaches the boundaries of understanding someone else’s pain. Empathy feels that pain. 

I’m not saying you should be grateful that someone molested you or did horrible things to you. But you can be grateful for the gift of empathy.

“We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.”

(Romans 8:28)

God takes our pain, our past, and our experiences and fits them into a plan to help others. I’ve spoken with a multitude of adoptive/foster parents over the years. They all seem to have a common denominator: at least one half of the couple experienced early trauma. 

I’ve talked to foster parents who spent years in and out of group homes, were raised in a foster home, were raised by alcoholics or drug addicts, or had moms who worked as prostitutes. I’m not mentioning these things to shame their past or their parents, but to let you know that if you experienced early trauma, you are not alone.

Maybe you identify. Maybe you didn’t have the greatest childhood. Maybe this whole module has been excruciatingly painful for you. I get it. So let’s not end on the trauma — let’s end on the gift it has given to you.

Here’s something you can do right now: Take a deep breath and go do something fun with your kid. While you are having fun, respond to them the way you wish someone had responded to you at that age. Smile. Laugh. Praise them. Don’t make it complicated. Find joy in the small things. 

Journal Your triggers

Today, take a little time and journal one of your triggers. One of mine is riding in the back of a car. It’s linked to times my father came to pick us kiddos up for a visit (after my parent’s divorce). He lived in a different state every year.We often drove for days without anyone telling me where we were going. As soon as we got in the car, my anxiety took over. Today, as you write up a trigger, also write a new predetermined response. Mine is – God is with me wherever I go, He will never leave me no forsake me. It’s my go-to when traveling. Also, as much as possible, I find the route to where I am going. What can you do to conquer your trigger?

*This is an excerpt from the course How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

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Adopted, Chosen, and Wretched

My parents had just enrolled me in a Catholic school after the move from Colorado to WV. I had completed some of the science homework ahead of time since I didn’t enter the school at the beginning of the school year. My first day there, I was chosen to go to the blackboard. I was wretched. I felt as if my answers were wrong. I was wrong. I stuck out like a sore thumb among all these kids who had been going to the school since kindergarten. I was the smallest kid in my class and in the class a grade below mine. I wrote the answer to the question in large loopy letters on the chalkboard with fear and trembling. The teacher, Mr. Brummage, commented, “That’s exactly right, Kathleen. If this new student can get this right, you all should.” I felt a tiny bit less wretched.

There have been some social media posts going around about popular preachers saying they are “chosen” with a comparison to Paul, author of 3/4 of the New Testament saying “I am wretched.” Something about these posts didn’t sit right with me. So, I did some studying and thinking.

Here’s something to think about – can you be wretched and chosen at the same time?

Chosen

Even as [in His love] He chose us [actually picked us out for Himself as His own] in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (consecrated and set apart for Him) and blameless in His sight, even above reproach, before Him in love. – Ephesians 1: 4

We can’t take credit for being chosen. Even if we wanted to chosen like those days we waited to see if we made the team, got the part, were chosen to be adopted. It’s not something we can do in our own strength or is based on our merit or good works. Before God put the earth on its axis, he chose us. He chose you. He chose me. We are chosen. (If you want to read some more verses about “chosen,” check out the list at the bottom.)

Wretched

Wretched and miserable man that I am! Who will [rescue me and] set me free from this body of death [this corrupt, mortal existence]?

Thanks be to God [for my deliverance] through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind serve the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh [my human nature, my worldliness, my sinful capacity—I serve] the law of sin. – Romans 7:  24, 25

While Paul describes himself as wretched because of his corrupt, moral existence. He is still chosen. That condition of his existence did not change his “chosen” status. His fight with himself is well documented in Chapter 7. It’s the same sort of fight we all have with ourselves and our desire to do right, yet we end up doing the thing we don’t want .

For I do not understand my own actions [I am baffled and bewildered by them]. I do not practice what I want to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate [and yielding to my human nature, my worldliness—my sinful capacity]. – Romans 7: 15

That’s exactly how I feel! When I hold onto bitter feelings, watch too much tv, don’t use my time wisely, or fill in the blank. How about you? Are you bewildered by your reactions? Do you often practice what you don’t want to? Eat the donut, skip the workout, yell at your kids, come apart at the seams when you have too much to do? I’m preaching to the Guire here.

Adopted, Chosen, and Wretched.

You knew it was coming didn’t you? What about adopted/foster kids? Are they chosen? Of course. We choose to adopt and foster. Sometimes we expect the children not to be wretched. We want them to feel loved, secure, whole, and free of fear.

I remember when we were still in Poland, after a visit to some psychologists, Damian was wretched. Because of something his brother said after the evaluation, Damian thought we would change our minds about choosing him. He said to his brother, “Now you’ve ruined it. They won’t want us anymore.” Of course that wasn’t true. We did choose them from the first time we heard of them.

When our kids come “home” or are part of our family temporarily, they may begin to feel secure and then will be baffled by their own actions. So, will we. Those triggers will make some ugly feelings rear their heads. It may feel as if they don’t feel chosen. Isn’t that just human nature though? We have a place at the table of the family of God, but we tend to slip off our chair and have a fit when circumstances don’t line up with what we want or think theyshould be.

Why talk about Being “Chosen” verses “Wretched” during the holidays?

Now more than any other time during the year will we have to understand that we can feel wretched even when we are chosen. This is the time of year triggers of past memories, good or bad, are present in abundance. Same for our kiddos from hard places. When we tell our kiddos to be on their best behavior when Aunt and Uncle so and so show up and they CAN’T, these kiddos will feel wretched. It’s our job as parents to connect and correct. It’s our job to reaffirm their chosen-ness and value. It’s our job to structure the environment to make them feel safe. 

Want to hear more about this topic? Want to thrive this holiday season?

Some of us are parenting hurt children who have come from hard places and have no foundation of celebration. Holiday activities may seem strange or act as triggers for their past.
Grab a cup of coffee and join Kathleen as she shares some tips for thriving this holiday season!

Join our free e- course:

Welcome to your twenty-five day countdown and survival guide. Raising children from hard places is challenging. Surviving the holidays with a smile on your face while parenting is even more challenging, that’s whyI wrote this handy little Advent book and created this course. Don’t stress. It’s not a huge to-do, not more than a paragraph or two each day. Easy peasy and encouraging. So, take a minute each morning and read. This year, let’s not just survive the Christmas season, let’s thrive!

scriptures

Chosen: John 15:16, Romans 11: 5, Ephesians 1: 4, I Thessalonians 1: 4, I Peter 1: 2, I Peter 2: 9, Jude 1:1, Revelation 17: 4

Wretched: Romans 7: 24, Revelation 3: 17

Making Sense of Your Past and the Six Risk Factors

Why It Matters

What you bring to the parent-child relationship matters.

I thought my past would automatically help me empathize and understand my kids from hard places. It was a book I could keep safely on the shelf. I could just say, “Been there. Done that.” As if that would cover it all.

There was one huge problem with that sort of thinking. My triggers and their triggers were often the same. I struggled with being the adult in the situation when all chaos broke loose. I wanted the right to react. Plus, I often didn’t know what my triggers were, and they didn’t know what theirs were. It was a recipe for disaster. Knowing all the scientific facts in the world couldn’t bring peace in that situation.

“Don’t change yourselves to be like the people of this world, but let God change you inside with a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to understand and accept what God wants for you. You will be able to know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect.” (Romans 12:2)

Just to be clear, we can’t make peace with our past in a day, or a month, or even year. What we can do is examine it and see where we had trauma. We can start paying attention to our reactions and then start reacting differently. 

When we have had trauma, we often take things personally. When our kids behave badly, we automatically think they are doing it on purpose. When we get trapped in this sort of thinking, it’s an us-against-them mentality. 

Once you begin to make sense of your past, then you can learn and apply the science. When we can look at the science with a new perspective, we can see our kiddos’ behaviors for what they are: needs, however inappropriately expressed.

The great thing about this particular article is the built-in dual purpose. You may even want to go over the material twice. Once with you in mind, and then again with your kiddos in mind. You’ll see what I mean in a moment.

As we say on The Whole House podcast, “Are you ready?”

Six Risk Factors

In an article for Psychology Today, Andrea Brandht, Ph.d., wrote, “Whether you witnessed or experienced violence as a child or your caretakers emotionally or physically neglected you, when you grow up in a traumatizing environment you are likely to still show signs of that trauma as an adult.” 

There are six types of early trauma that make children more likely to experience behavioral issues, mental health problems, and physical issues, such as cancer, depression, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, stroke, COPD, and more (see npr.org for more info). They are:

  •  Prenatal stress and harm.
  • Difficult labor or birth.
  •  Early medical trauma.
  •  Trauma.
  • Neglect.
  •  Abuse.

As you read the list, did you start thinking about your childhood? Good. Can you think of a specific story or incident about any of these risk factors? Good. Take a moment to reflect.  Maybe write it down or talk to someone about it. Maybe you never thought about these as being risk factors. Below, we’ll go over each risk factor individually.

Again, I recommend going through this material twice. Think about yourself and your childhood first, then your kid/kiddos. In the next chapter, we’ll go deeper into the effects of your child’s past. So, don’t stress about getting it all down pat right now. 

Prenatal Stress and Harm

Over 80% of children adopted/foster care have been exposed to drugs or alcohol. Cortisol crosses the placenta alters the structure of the brain and damages the immune system. Remember:

“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

Difficult Labor or Birth

Modern medicine is a marvel. It can save babies who would have been lost fifty years ago. I went into preterm labor at 28 weeks with one of my pregnancies, and with medication and bedrest, the birth was held off until he was only a month early. C-sections, preeclampsia, prolonged labor, breech position, and other complications are trauma — not only for the mother, but for the baby.

Early Medical Trauma 

We usually associate medical treatment with healing instead of hurting. Medical professionals are trained and skilled in saving lives. This is probably why it has taken us so long to understand that interventions and interactions with medical professionals are traumatic in the scientific sense.  Now social workers, researchers, and other health care professionals are saying medical treatments can result in post traumatic stress.

“According to Barbara Ganzel, PhD, MSW, of the Bronfenbrenner Center for Translational Research at Cornell University, “Medical traumas are psychological traumas that result from medical diagnosis and/or medical intervention. Threat of serious injury or threat to life due to illness is now encompassed within the DSM definition of psychological trauma. This means that medical patients can be evaluated as having illness-related trauma disorders.” – Socialworktoday.com

I’ve seen this firsthand in my kiddos. When my four came “home” from Poland, the sight of a white lab coat would send them into a severe meltdown. It wasn’t until a few years after they joined the family that we understood how severely they had been affected by the prolonged hospital stays they had each experienced.

I didn’t know of my early medical trauma until I was in high school and asked about my birth. Maybe you don’t know yours or haven’t thought about the trauma side of it. If so, that’s something you can do right now: Ask about your story.

Trauma

According to the “Early Childhood Mental Health” website put together by the Missouri Department of Mental Health, there are three main types of trauma:  acute, chronic, or complex.

  • Acute trauma is the result of a single incident, such as a car accident or house fire.
  • Chronic trauma is prolonged and repeated. Neglect and abuse fall in this category.
  • Complex trauma involves exposure to multiple, varied traumatic events. Often, the trauma is relational and therefore more invasive in nature.

Neglect

Neglect is one of the worst sorts of trauma. Almost all victims of neglect are children or invalids. The reason is simple: in order to be a victim of neglect, you must be dependent on a parent or caregiver for your physical and emotional wellbeing. 

Neglect can be a precursor to PSTD and other trauma later in life. 

Abuse

Although the consequences of neglect are far more devastating long-term, abuse has its own set of consequences. Living in an abusive environment sends a mixed message to the brain. One moment, a parent is loving, apologetic, and showering a kiddo with gifts. The next moment, the kiddo is being thrown across the room. This makes it difficult for the brain to form cohesive neural pathways. Abuse or maltreatment of any kind shapes the way we develop. Trauma affects how we interact with, perceive, and attach to others. Abuse interrupts the attachment cycle, causing breaks in attachment.

“It’s important to remember that abuse fosters the belief ‘I don’t deserve to exist.’ When you grow up with that belief, it will affect your relationships with your children. You may suffer from low self-esteem, depression, PTSD, learning disabilities, an eating disorder, suicide attempts or any number of issues.”- www.psychologytoday.com

Change Begins With Us

The change we desire for our children must begin with us.

“If we’re willing to piece together our stories and see the relationship between what happened then and what’s happening now, we get to make choices about what happens next.”- Tell Me a Story

It’s difficult to make choices in the heat of the moment. This is why it is important to take some time and revisit our past, make sense of it, and begin healing. 

While we are healing, we can put some proactive responses into place. In other words, you can decide how you are going to respond ahead of time. If you know that when your child steals candy out of the secret stash, it triggers a memory in you of your Aunt Verna whipping you with a switch until your behind was raw, develop a pre-planned, go-to response. 

Separate yourself from the situation. Avoid saying things like, “If I had done that, my mother would have…” Instead, tend to the situation at hand logically. The child took the candy; therefore, he can’t have any after dinner — or whatever you decide is a natural consequence. 

As Andy Stanley writes in Deep & Wide, “the past is only the past for a time. It has a way of clawing its way into our future. And if you don’t recognize it for what it is, the results can be devastating.” If we don’t recognize our past and its overwhelming power to invade our “now,” we will remain stuck. If we come to terms with our past and work through it, we can gain a new outlook on it.

Your Past Can Be a Gift

I honestly never thought I would view the trauma in my past as a gift. I had years of anger, bitterness, and a reoccuring theme of “Why me?” 

I don’t feel that way anymore. I realized a long time ago that empathy is a superpower that is only earned by going through trauma. Sympathy can only reaches the boundaries of understanding someone else’s pain. Empathy feels that pain. 

I’m not saying you should be grateful that someone molested you or did horrible things to you. But you can be grateful for the gift of empathy.

“We are assured and know that [God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

God takes our pain, our past, and our experiences and fits them into a plan to help others. I’ve spoken with a multitude of adoptive/foster parents over the years. They all seem to have a common denominator: at least one half of the couple experienced early trauma. 

I’ve talked to foster parents who spent years in and out of group homes, were raised in a foster home, were raised by alcoholics or drug addicts, or had moms who worked as prostitutes. I’m not mentioning these things to shame their past or their parents, but to let you know that if you experienced early trauma, you are not alone.

Maybe you identify. Maybe you didn’t have the greatest childhood. Maybe this whole chapter has been excruciatingly painful for you. I get it. So let’s not end on the trauma — let’s end on the gift it has given to you.

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

Love and Respect in a Marriage

When you hear the word submission in reference to marriage, do you cringe?

When you think of submitting to your hubby, do you want to revert to flight, fight or freeze?

You’re not alone.

There’s a lot of confusion on what breaks up marriages or what make a great marriage. No one wants to have a mediocre marriage, right? I don’t want a marriage that says, “Oh, honey, I tolerate you.” Been there. Done that. Sometimes on a daily basis.

Even in the big ‘C’ church we get confused about submission. We women of The Whole House don’t have all the answers. We’re just some women who have some stories to share. Prayerfully, they will encourage you. Anne shares on our recent podcast how her marriage almost ended in catastrophe because she misunderstood what love and respect really are. She admits she didn’t understand true submission.

Love and Respect.png
However, each man among you [without exception] is to love his wife as his very own self [with behavior worthy of respect and esteem, always seeking the best for her with an attitude of lovingkindness], and the wife [must see to it] that she respects and delights in her husband [that she notices him and prefers him and treats him with loving concern, treasuring him, honoring him, and holding him dear]. Ephesians 5:33

 

Submission gets a bad rap.

Look at the above verse in context.

19 Speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, [offering praise by] singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord; 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for all things, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ; 21 being subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.

This set of verses precedes the instructions for husbands and wives. We are to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ. It’s often overlooked.  We women are better at being subject to others, right?

  • Sure, I’ll make a couple dozen cookies for the bake sale.
  • Of course I’ll lead that small group.
  • Yes, I’ll watch your kids so you can go shopping.
  • I’ll make those curtains for you.
  • I would love to clean up after that event. No problem.

It’s all well and good until we stick the word husband in there.

22 Wives, be subject [d]to your own husbands, as [a service] to the Lord.

Then the claws come out! “No one is going to tell me what to do,” we cry.

Why is that? And what’s love and respect got to do with it?

What is Love and Respect?

“We believe love best motivates a woman and respect most powerfully motivates a man. Research reveals that during marital conflict a husband most often reacts unlovingly when feeling disrespected, and a wife reacts disrespectfully when feeling unloved. We asked 7,000 people the question, “When you are in a conflict with your spouse or significant other, do you feel unloved or disrespected?” 83% of the men said “disrespected” and 72% of the women said “unloved.” Though we all need love and respect equally, the felt need differs during conflict, and this difference is as different as pink is from blue!” loveandrespect.com/

 

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