Raising Children Who Have Experienced Trauma
You have found yet another disturbing drawing, 40 chewed up crayons, a collection of food under the bed or a pile of missing homework from last school year and you cringe! The next time your friend or neighbor tells you that adoptive parenting is the same as parenting any other child, you will be ready to put your boxing gloves on. Of course I am approaching this with humor because if I don't and you can relate to this article, you just may cry.
BREATHE! The precious one in your care via adoption or foster care was put in your care for a reason. You were trusted with their tender hearts. As a child I remember being a complete perfectionist. If I messed up on a coloring page, I needed to start on another sheet of paper. There is no way that I could move forward and create something beautiful after making that mistake. Many times people treat foster children and adopted children as if they are damaged goods. They act as if something beautiful cannot come from an imperfect beginning. They were created by God to do something great. There may be a few bumps in the road along the way but they can absolutely be all they were created to be.
Many times when you experience odd behaviors such as food hoarding, self-induced injuries, stealing or extreme introverted behavior, they are the effect of something much deeper. Parents usually try to attack these things in anger and with traditional ways of discipline. This may not work! The outward showing of inward pain can be hard to pinpoint. You may ask, "Where in the world do I start?" The healing must begin now and you as a parent can help to facilitate that, no matter how long it may take.
Here are a few tips to help:
1 Make sure that you have as much information about the family structure, situation and experiences as you can. Sometimes there is limited information with children who have been abandoned or in some orphanages. You have to gather as much info as you can to understand what your child has experienced and what possible behaviors may result from it.
2 Keep in mind that many children who have experienced trauma of any kind, do not know why they act out in the way that they do. As they grow, begin to teach counteracting habits and ideas to help them understand a healthier way to respond to things such as anger, hunger, sadness and neglect.
3 Teach and show your children that you are always available to talk about their feelings and meet their needs. Many times children that have experienced trauma respond in one of two ways. They either depend completely on themselves and refuse to ask for help or appear needy OR they will become completely dependent on others and thrive off of the constant attention. Both are unhealthy and as a parent you need to pay close attention to how they are responding to the world around them.
4 Get them help, if needed. If you feel overwhelmed and that you do not have the knowledge to help them through a particular issue, then contact your nearest counselor to help. Being a Christian, I obviously would suggest someone who is familiar with handling emotions and psychology from a Christian perspective.
5 Try to focus on things that are new, fresh and life-giving. You cannot ignore their past or the result of their past. However, giving them a future to look forward to sets them up for the mindset that life can be different.
6 Give them time! Give yourself time! If your child suffered months or years of abuse, neglect, hunger and sadness, do not expect it to go away as soon as the adoption is final. It is a process. They just need to know that you will be there throughout the process no matter what!
Parenting is not the easiest job on the planet, but it is the most rewarding! If you have chosen to raise, love and nurture a child through the precious gift of adoption or foster care, then be encouraged that you can do this! Just because a child has a few bumps in the road or is acting out, does not mean that they are to be discarded or ignored. They need you and you are the RIGHT person for the job!