Wether you are a foster parent or someone who is raising kids, having some knowledge in trauma is useful. I would be surprised if there was one person out there who hasn’t endured some form of trauma in their lives. Some people might have suffered some horrible traumas while others might not seem so big, but trauma is trauma and each individual experience is their very own. We can not say “this child has worse trauma than that child.” Someone who has had sexual trauma could be dealing with life much easier than someone who had general neglect trauma. It’s all about the individual and their perception on things.
Trauma focus is becoming a real big topic especially in the foster parenting world being that it is mainly what we deal with. Having trauma that has not been properly dealt with is a leading factor in mental illness, substance abuse and behavioral issues. Trauma will be an ever changing and growing topic. We now, are just beginning to understand the human brain and all its capabilities.
Sadly when a person has had a traumatic experience their brain goes into a survival mode. Survival mode sounds great but it actually isn’t in this case. The person whom experienced the trauma will become stuck. Their brain will stop growing emotionally. So for instance, a child who experienced a horrific event at age 10 will emotionally be stuck at age 10 even though they are now 15, unless they have processed through the trauma. Seems crazy right? Well that’s the brains way of surviving. It buried the experience deep inside and built the Great Wall of China around it. For some the journey to healing is going to be a long painful process.
With foster care you see a lot of this. Children come in and usually you go through a little honeymoon phase and then boom! Behaviors galore! Aggression, bed wetting, lack of confidence, self sabotage, hoarding, you name it, I’ve seen it! Before all the in-depth brain and trauma training we had no answers to understanding what was happening. To this day a lot of foster parents still have a hard time grasping that the child doesn’t hate you, they just can’t emotionally communicate with you. Plus let’s not forget that it takes a good amount of time to bond with these children and for them to even trust you enough to be vulnerable. Just when you think you are making progress you will get thrown a curve ball! But hang in there because there is a light at the end of every tunnel.
This is where it’s good to gain knowledge on trauma and the brain. Many people live thinking that they experienced a traumatic event 30 years ago but it has no impact on their current life. That’s farthest from the truth. It impacts every aspect of your life and you don’t realize it until it’s dealt with properly. Many people will be triggered by something and not even realize that the trigger was related to this experience that happened so long ago in their life. Like I said earlier this becomes a big player in substance, behavioral, and mental issues.
I have done a lot of studying on the brain and trauma. I am truly fascinated with all the information that is out there. From parenting classes to my own research I have truly transformed my parenting ways. Not only have I transformed how I parent but I have been able to take a look at my life and past and start to piece together why I struggle with things as well. I strive everyday to gain knowledge and practice being better than the day before. Not everyday is a success either and that’s ok. One thing to always keep in mind is without a little failure from time to time there is no room for new success.
It takes some courage to really start studying how the brain works. Some days are dark when you have deep self realizations. But these dark days will be what pushes you into the light. A lot of people are scared to get to the core of who they are because there’s a lot of past there they don’t want to remember. We have to learn to be ok with the good, bad and ugly about ourselves. Once you go inside and accept everything about yourself and heal then you will be able to transform how you parent. This is the most vital step in the process of helping our kids. We as parents have to be emotionally stable to provide an environment where these children can heal.
As a foster parent one of the hardest lessons you will learn will be to not take these behaviors personal. It’s hard…very hard because thoughts cross your mind like you are providing them a good home or you are giving them unconditional love and so on, so why are they causing you so much trouble? Unless you are the one projecting bad energy towards them first then you are most likely not the problem. You are just there and you are going to get the brunt of their trauma. This is when using trauma focused skills and parenting will make a world of difference in both your lives.
You as the parent wether birth or foster/adopt have to remain cool, calm and collected. As you heal as a person you will truly gain that mindset. When we haven’t dealt with our traumas they make us react to situations on the defense. When we can’t figure out why something angers us so badly, it’s usually due to an un-dealt with trauma. When someone’s behavior makes us annoyed, it’s usually something inside us that we are seeing in them that we don’t like about ourselves. For instance I’ve had a child who is a control freak and it made me crazy! Well that’s because I am a control freak and had never accepted that about myself. This child and I would butt heads regularly because of this. It’s not a bad thing for the child or I to be a control freak but we both have to learn when it’s needed and when it’s not.
Being a control freak often stems from anxiety and anxiety comes from worrying about the future and not knowing if you can control what happens. Then this all leads back to a childhood of never fully feeling secure. It takes a lot to break down behaviors and behavioral patterns but once you do you can find the source. Behavior in all people is a form of communication and if you pay attention you can look past the moment of unwanted behavior and see what’s really going on.
All human beings need a few things to fully flourish in life and that is to feel loved, accepted, safe and secure. If you’ve lacked any of those at any point in your life you will naturally put up that wall and do your best to never feel that way again. It’s that dang survival mode! So therefore comes behaviors that we regularly have to keep us away from those negative experiences again.
To be the best parent we can be daily takes work and patience. The work and patience doesn’t just mean for the child but for ourselves as well. It takes time to process our own past traumas but as you do, you will see how to apply new parenting skills with your children.
When you are parenting a child with trauma you must try to keep in the forefront that the behavior is just a form of communication from the child that something is hurting inside them. Don’t fight the behaviors, it won’t do you any good. As long as they aren’t harming themselves or anyone then allow them to go through the emotions. Allowing the child to go through the emotions will help them emotionally grow. Most children of trauma have their lines crossed on what they are feeling. Help them identify if they are sad, angry, scared and so on. Sometimes an angry child isn’t angry at all they are actually acting out of fear but it comes out totally wrong.
One very important thing is to validate the child’s feelings. Never discredit their emotions because this will not allow them to gain emotional knowledge and strength. Even if you disagree or think it’s nothing serious you must give them validation. We are human and each of us has good, bad and ugly emotions that we have to accept as part of us. Our society doesn’t set us up to be emotionally intelligent. We all have masculine and feminine qualities to us and a strong man or woman is most likely the one whom allows themselves to feel emotions and feel them deeply.
When we shut people down on their feelings we shut a part of them down. The more a child or person has to suppress these emotions the more they lack being ok with who they are. They will eventually end up with self-esteem issues and losing who they are as a person. All humans need to be validated it’s just built in us.
To parent a child of trauma you must also leave your judgment at the door. Let’s be real, no one likes to be judge so you must not judge the child for their behaviors. They are just behaviors and they will go away as the child heals. When we judge the child and their behaviors we will fail at understanding what needs to be done to help along the healing process.
Empathy and compassion are going to be big players in a child’s healing. We will never fully be able to walk in someone else’s shoes but we can try. Just by trying to imagine yourself in the child’s position should help give you empathy for them. Once you get a little internal feeling on how they might feel this will help you parent with compassion. The two really go hand in hand. When you parent with a sense of compassion it will help the child feel unconditional love.
Unconditional love is a must in any relationship. You must love a person through good times and bad. To truly have a flourishing relationship with anyone you have to accept all things including flaws of that person. When you have unconditional love for a child or person flaws are not flaws but are characteristics that make that person who they are. Remember we all have good, bad and ugly qualities it’s just part of being human. When we have relationships with unconditional love it balances us and all our qualities. It helps us thrive as individuals when we feel we have unconditional love in our corner. Humans want to know and feel that even if we make a mistake we are still loved and accepted. When we feel this we feel secure.
When parenting a child of trauma you really want your home to be a place where they can freely express themselves and their emotions. As long as the child isn’t doing any physical harm to anyone or anything than it shouldn’t be to hard to provide this type of environment. My husband and I regularly allow our children to voice their emotions and feelings when behaviors arise. We are calm people so we have found that our children calm down fairly quickly because we are not matching their high intense emotions.
When a child feels secure enough in their environment they will heal. We all want security of some form wether it’s money, a good job, a roof over our head or for most children security is love and acceptance.