Thursday, March 3, 2011

Understanding the Impact of Trauma

Children who are placed into foster care and/or adoption loose everything they know--their parents, other family members, school, friends, church, possibly siblings. They experience an extreme amount of loss, and therefore grief. Loss = Trauma-- in addition to the trauma they have been living with their whole life, thus the reason for removal. "Survival behaviors." Children develop these behaviors to cope with/survive the chaotic lives they've been living. These behaviors work for them, although they are not healthy. They will likely carry these behaviors into your home and thus disrupt the family life you know. These behaviors can range from withdrawal to aggressiveness, but all have an underlying emotional message. The emotions are too complex for the child to cope and it's our job, as their adoptive parents, to help them "unlearn" the old way of coping and learn a new way--a way that is healthy and socially acceptable--"repair the damage", if you will. Much patience, tolerance, and perseverance needed!

These past experiences, which can include unstable homes, abuse and/or neglect, bouncing around from home to home cause difficulty with forming attachments. It was interesting to learn about the attachment cycle and the impact on a child's (and adults) relationships...must be the psychology nerd in me (that was my minor, after all). We learned that it is OUR responsibility to make sure that the attachment forms, not the child's There are things we can do to help build that attachment. Most importantly--You can't take it personally! They drilled that into our heads tonight. It takes persistence!

Discipline!I was really uncertain about the whole discipline thing after the first/second session, but after tonight, it makes sense. It's just like dealing with the challenging behaviors of a child with Autism (well, sort of). It reminds me of when I worked in the schools and had to work with teachers on managing the challenging behavior of the students with Autism in their classrooms. These kids had special needs, there were reasons related to their disability for the behavior. Did that make acceptable? Absolutely not! But, you had to approach it in a different way. You couldn't discipline these children with same approach as the typically developing kids. You had to figure out the purpose of the behavior and implement strategies based on that. In the meantime, not in the presence of the challenging behavior, you taught them appropriate, socially acceptable means for achieving their needs. Many teachers were resistant to this, after all it was their classroom and they had rules. All the other kids had to follow them. That was my first reaction when I heard we'd have to discipline these children differently. It's our house. We were both raised with rules and consequences. We were spanked every now and then. Our parents were strict. And we turned out just fine. That's the way we are going to raise our children, too. But at the first session, that bubble was burst when we learned that you can't discipline children placed in  your home the way you may be used to. I feel much better about it all after tonight. I can do this--it's what I do everyday with my clients. I have to set rules and expectations with therapy sessions. I have to make sure they follow the rules. But I do it in a positive way, using a kind tone of voice. I do realize, though, that in the midst of "real life" stresses and having the child 24-7, it will be a bit more challenging.

1 comment:

  1. Well it sounds as though you will have to teach the grandparents a few things, too. After all we are the parents who were strict and used the occasional spanking. And our kids did turn out pretty great! But we know this will be a bit different. Hopefully we are not too old to learn new tricks! I think we are ready to learn!