Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Trauma, Part III ~ The Unwelcome Guest

Trauma, I did not invite you into my home.  I didn’t even know you existed.  You surely caught me off guard and have momentarily changed who I am and who I want to be.  You, Trauma, will no longer rule my home.  You are not my child; you are a byproduct of his past, but you will not determine his future!  ~Connie~

*please remember my caveat ~ I am not an expert.  I am only sharing my understanding of the research I’ve read and the counsel given by those who are experts*

According to Heather Forbes and Bryan Post, there are only two primary emotions: love and fear.

Obviously, we know that love produces good things, but what are the manifestations of fear?

In our kiddos from hard places, their fear may present as anger, defiance, stealing, killing animals, setting fires, manipulation, self harm, lying, hoarding, gorging, screaming, arguing, etc.

To take a step back, when an infant or child is in need, he cries.  If that need is not met, and this happens repeatedly, the child eventually is conditioned to stop crying because he has learned it is to no avail.  The need is still there, the stress is still there, but the child has learned to suppress it.  (If you’ve ever stepped into an orphanage full of silent babies you know what I’m talking about.)  This results in a state of fear which will remain unless and until the child experiences trust, positive response, presence…over and over and over and over again.

As a parent, it can be so frustrating when our kiddos don’t ask for help or just say what they need. But when we consider the years of unmet needs and having to sooth themselves, we can begin to understand why it is difficult, or even impossible, for them to do so.  The child has never learned to appropriately deal with the state of stress, and since stress exists in every corner of our world, they find it hard to adapt and can easily become overstimulated.

If our kiddos have never had the opportunity to express, process or understand why certain things have happened to them, how can they express the pain?  They may not have the words or the feelings, so they express their pain through behaviors.  

In my personal experience, many everyday occurrences can cause a war zone, becoming an imaginary battle for survival for the child unable to adapt.  It may be a misinterpreted expression, a misunderstood word, a food served at dinnertime, a touch, a scent that stirs up a memory, a simple instruction.  Suddenly, the child feels threatened and responds from a place of fear. 

In our experience, this is where traditional parenting (child’s actions = consequences) may not work.  We are gradually trying to make the shift to a new kind of parenting…after 24 years of doing things one way.  It.is.hard.

It helps for me to understand that the manifestation of anger, disobedience and disrespect is actually rooted in fear.  It is not a calculated response.  It is a conditioned response, perhaps even an unconscious one.  The child who lives in a state of hypervigilance may easily be set off, even by things we don’t imagine or expect.  For us, the key is recognizing the fear and stopping the escalation. 

How can we do that?  

First is the recognition, and second is our response.  What could my child possibly be afraid of in this particular situation?  Does he feel threatened?  Unsafe?  What is he imagining the outcome will be?

Then comes our response.  Is my instruction too complicated?  Is my tone angry?  Could my presence be perceived as a threat in this situation?  Did I say something, even unintentionally or perhaps misunderstood, that arouses his/her self doubt?

Our response can make all the difference.  In our experience, this is not the time to ‘preach’.  It doesn’t work.  With ‘preaching’ comes ‘the look’.  The my-eyes-are-glazed-over-my-body-is-stiff-I’m-outa-here look.
So what is the response that brings healing?  We are still working on that, and I don’t feel properly equipped to share yet.  If you’ve tried a new parenting style that works and opens the door to positive change, I would be so grateful if you’d share it.


Cari said...

Hi Connie,

This is a very informative and honest post. I think you express very clearly what happens in any given situation with a child that has lived through trauma.

I don't know if this will help you, but about a month ago I read Kevin Leman's book "Have a New Kid by Friday", because after 16 years of parenting a certain way...we needed another approach, too. It's a very easy read and had great response ideas that help me to work through a situation and keep my emotion/anger/frustration in check. I'm using the ideas with my almost 15 year old and have seen positive results. I'm now reading "Have a New Teenager by Friday" so that I can compare the two books.

Pray for you often,

connie said...

Cari, I have that book and read it years ago! I'm going to re-read it now. Thanks for the reminder!!! We are slowly learning a new way, but as you know all too well, time is not on our side. Thank you, friend, for your input!

Serving the King said...

Sheesh Connie, it's like you are living in our home and describing one of ours. Thank you for the encouragement, I needed that today.

Rebecca said...

We have a very strong willed bio son... I read Have A New Kid By Friday and its great. Another really really good one is Parenting Isn't For Cowards by Dobson. Probably the best I've ever read. I know with adopted kids, things are different, but at the core, they are all still in need of the same things. Interesting thoughts on fear... This is something I'm going to look into... You never think of your bio children who have been nurtured from birth as having issues with fear, but I'm wondering if that could be at the center of a strong willed child as well. Thx for sharing.

Sammie said...

I have two kids with histories of trauma and I applaud you for making this change. It is hard as our kind of kids need to be parented in such a different way. It is so often opposite of how we would normally parent.

I love Heather Forbes and her approach. I also have found reading a lot about trauma and its impact on the brain to be helpful.(books by Daniel Siegel are good there are others too) Our kids who grew up with trauma and neglect, have brains that did not get wired as they should. So to create change they need a very different approach in how we parent them. I am glad you are open to trying new things to help your kids. Know that others won't understand what you are doing and will say you are being "indulgent" or not setting strict enough rules. Those of us who have kids with these issues know that it won't work for our kids and we have to do what does.

Sending you a big hug.

Mom to two with trauma histories

Love for Lilly Yin said...

I have read and watched EVERYTHING from Karin Purvis. She has helped me a TON.

lizzielou said...

Hi Connie!
ARe you going to put up a new chipin?

Heather Austin said...

TBRI Trust Based Relational Intervention developed by Karyn Purvis and David Cross at TCU has helped me. But there are still days where the trauma just sneaks in and takes me by surprise and knocks me over with no warning.

Mama D’s Dozen said...

Great post!

We adopted 2 bio. sisters from Africa, and even with the two of them, they respond very differently to each parenting situation (even their fear responses are very different). We just have to keep looking at each individual child, and praying for the Lord's wisdom in how to best meet their needs.

Keep up the good work.


Anonymous said...

Or you've been drinking the kool-aid, along with all the other self-proclaimed "trauma mamas". Barf, I loathe that term.

connie said...

"JaninaF", please come out of hiding and share your wealth of knowledge, because you obviously have all the answers. BTW, I never used the term 'trauma mama.' I did jokingly refer to myself as a traumatized mom. As you can see, there are many families seeking ways to help our children heal, so if you can help, please do so. We would so appreciate it.

Paige said...

Thank you for this post! We are currently dealing with an anxiety disorder due to trauma with our daughter and have been working with a psychologist who has given us some great tips. It is hard to share when you are struggling... it is good to know there are others!

Linette said...

None of the following help when we're nearing meltdown mode...and two are consequences, which are not what you asked for...but the three tactics below have helped me correct my child without sending him into meltdown mode.

1. Prefacing a correction with, "I love you, BUT [stop poking me; you may not call me stupid; close the refrigerator door already...]" It seems obvious to me that my correcting a minor behavior is not about whether or not I love my child, but apparently it's not so obvious to my child.

2. Oddly enough, calmly giving this child one item of laundry to fold has worked wonders. I use it as a consequence for inappropriate touching (too rough, wrong place, etc....this child really struggles with awareness of how touches are coming across). Folding one item of laundry is not a big enough deal for the child to get upset over, but the change of activity helps change gears, and reinforces where my boundaries are without my having to communicate negative emotions (which can induce shame, anxiety, discouragement...and the anger that goes with them). Sometimes I have the child practice doing the touch the right way afterwards, especially if it's something really needed, like a hug.

3. Again, this is more of a consequence than what you are probably looking for, but I have been really pleased with the results of having my child (and sibling!) replace bad words with good. E.g., if one calls the other stupid, they have to think of something positive to say about the other one. Often they are too upset to do it right away, so I tell them that is fine, they can do it whenever they want but it needs to be done before [she watches her favorite TV show, I give him the computer password...whatever they are looking forward to]. And then I find another activity for myself and leave the ball in their court. I have miscalculated once or twice, but normally they come around pretty quickly and end up feeling okay about each other.

Brooke said...

We adopted two Eastern European children after their first adoptions had been dissolved. Our daughter came home at age 4 chronologically, but much younger in all other ways. We parented her according to the age she was developmentally and emotionally, which was about 18 months. She cried silent tears; our neighbor girl taught her to cry audibly.

Less than a year ago, our 12 year old son came home. He had been diagnosed with RAD, ODD, and ADHD. He had severe behavior issues and had spent the previous five months in a juvenile detention center because that's where his adoptive family had abandoned him. No one else in our state would take him. God called us. We said yes. His first 6 months home were some of the hardest months we had ever lived through, but my husband and I grew closer to each other and closer to God as we helped this aching child heal.

Some things that helped were staying near him, and staying calm when he was out of control. To keep ourselves calm, we prayed. One time, our son even stopped shouting asked my husband, "Are you praying?" Because my husband just sat near him with his head bowed while our son was exploding. That gave them the opening to start talking.

Telling our son about the fear in his brain and helping him to understand why his fear was affecting his behavior was crucial. He did not understand why he behaved the way he did.

Helping him understand that progress is a series of ups and downs, not continuous progress uphill. Letting him know that when the downs come, it's OK. We are starting our pre-Thanksgiving downhill trend. Memories are coming back. His stress level is rising.

I have a good analogy for stress levels on my blog. It's about smoothies. It really helped our son, and our other kids understand in a very concrete way, what was happening inside their new brother. It helped them to extend grace and love to him, even when he was unlovable. Here is a link:

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