“Imagine a constant flow of cortisol and adrenaline — as if you spend every second of every day being chased by a bear with its claws bared and its teeth dripping with blood. You might be jumpy, flighty, overreative, and unable to sleep, feeling neither hungry nor thirsty, unable to read any of your body’s signals.” If your child is stuck in survival mode, he may feel like the description above (from How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos). Maybe you are stuck in a fear cycle yourself. If any of this applies to you or your children, grab a cup of coffee and join Kathleen for part one of “The Brain and Fear.”
Journaling Your Child’s Triggers Part 1
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
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!
*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!
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.”― Caroline Leaf, Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health
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?
Delayed Effects of Trauma in Foster/Adoptive Families
- We potential adoptive/foster parents study the science of trauma.
- We learn about the five Bs affected by Trauma.
- Foster/adoptive parents take all the classes and hear all the reports about how the kiddos were neglected/abused, etc.
- Then we willingly sign on the dotted line and say, “Yep, I’m in.”
Adoptive/foster parents are not saints or superheroes.
Adoptive/Foster parents are just regular people who want to part of the solution. We want to build safe/secure/family oriented environments for kiddos who have had trauma.
We are called special, saints, have patience, etc… when we bring the kiddos home. When they start exhibiting behaviors as a result of the trauma, suddenly we are bad parents. I’ve been there, along with the multitude of foster/adoptive parents who contact me.
I was on the phone with an adoptive/foster parent the other day. One of her seven kiddos exhibiting some violent and destructive behavior. It was evident that she was beating herself up, i.e. blaming herself. I asked her a question that I ask all parents in this scenario – How are your other kids doing? Have you successfully parented them? Every time the answer is slow to come, almost as if it’s something the parents haven’t thought about. “Yes,” she said haltingly. I knew the answer before I asked the question. It’s a question to change the focus. We adopted/foster parents are not responsible for the trauma kids experienced before they entered the home or the effects of it. We try to be. We want hope and healing for these kiddos more than anyone else.
Trauma doesn’t always exhibit after effects right away.
Here’s a key point. Trauma doesn’t always show the effects right away. There sometimes seems to be a delayed reaction.
When I was eight, I had a serious bicycle accident. I flew over the handlebars and landed on my head after sailing over a speed bump. I woke up on in the ER to a doctor pulling rocks out of my face with a tweezer-like tool. I got off the table and said, “This is a dream.” It was pretty horrific. I was placed in a room with another young girl. She was hooked up to wires and monitors. She was in a coma. I overheard the doctor and parents talking about the car accident she had been in a year earlier. Her body was exhibiting the after-effects of the trauma now. A year later, her body was shutting down. (This really freaked me out!)
This is a physical example of what the body may do. In the book, The Body Keeps Score, Van Der Kolk, M.D. says:
“There have in fact been hundreds of scientific publications spanning well over a century documenting how the memory of trauma can be repressed only to resurface years or decades later.”
The Honeymoon Phase
Adoptive/foster parents go through a honeymoon phase with kiddos similar to what young couples go through after the wedding. Everyone is polite, kind, trying to please and be accepted. Then it gets too exhausting. We wives wipe off the makeup and put on our yoga pants because now we feel comfortable enough to be our real selves. Yes, sometimes we take it too far (raising my hand here).
The adopted/foster kiddos version of this is – I feel secure enough to go back to who I was. I don’t have to perform anymore. Or, the opposite end of the spectrum, they’re going to harm me, just like everyone else did, so I’m going to control my environment. I’m not saying these kiddos are doing this consciously or planning it out in their journal. It’s just the survival mode response. We all have it to varying degrees. Parenting the Hurt Child explains it this way:
“The struggle, however, represents something completely different for parents than it does for children. While the parents are simply trying to get the child to accomplish a simple task — such as dressing for school, getting ready for dinner or picking up his toys — the child is involved in a struggle to survive. He resists the intrusion and direction by others and perceives it as a fight for his life. As a result, his behavior becomes stubborn, tenacious, and intense. Think about it — how hard would you struggle if you thought that giving up or giving in would mean certain death?”
Be kind to Foster/Adoptive Parents
On a final note, be kind to adoptive/foster parents. You really have no idea what they are going through (unless you are one). Even if you are an advocate or therapist, you’re still behind a veil. You may know more than others, but you haven’t truly experienced the after-effects of trauma.
We foster/adoptive parents are doing the best we can. We need cheerleaders and prayer warriors more than we need judgement for our kiddos’ behaviors.
Children from hard places have altered belief systems.
What is one firmly held belief you have? Stop for just a second and think of one. Got it? Good. What would it take me to convince you that your belief isn’t true? Could I? Could I in a two hour period? How about a week? A month? A year?
Beliefs — an altered belief system, or the lens through which they see the world. “Some children, in fact, refuse reward systems. They refuse to be involved in a system that challenges their negative view of the world. They may find rewards anxiety-producing. Systems also force them to accept responsibility for their actions. And, while children may be shame-filled, they typically have a difficult time accepting responsibility following early years filled with neglect. They react to having to accept appropriate amounts of guilt”(Nurturing Adoptions). They may think, I would rather have everyone give up on me; it’s easier.
Every Child who comes to us through adoption/foster Care Has a History.
We must remember that each child that comes in that door has a history. That includes a culture that may be greatly different than the one that we live in our own homes. We can’t expect these kids to maintain the same beliefs about themselves and about the world around them. We may truly believe that each child that comes in that door is precious. That doesn’t mean they believe that.The child’s history and the impacts of that history often work together to shape many of the child’s most deeply held beliefs. This includes beliefs about parents, caregivers, teachers, ministry leaders, relationships, themselves and you.
Some common beliefs for kids who have had trauma are:
People don’t help me because I’m not worthy.
If I am lovable, someone wouldn’t have treated me this way.
Everyone is going to leave me.
I’m the bad kid, I might as well act like it.
Remember abuse and neglect. Abuse says I don’t like you, and Neglect says You don’t exist. These become firmly held beliefs.
Key to remember-In order to help children from hard places begin to change their deeply held beliefs, they will need to consistently experience the truth of what they are being told, not simply hear it.
Want to hear more about the fourth B Affected by Trauma – Beliefs? Listen to Episode of Positive Adoption and be sure to download your free printable resource -“How Trauma Affects Kids.”