Transformation and Healing After Trauma, Loss and Grief

My Mythic Garden

A blog by author and trauma expert Gary W. Reece, Ph.D.

Understanding a Foster/Adoptee’s Internal Challenges Paves the Way to Parenting with Understanding

By Jeanette Yoffe, M.A., M.F.T.

The biggest challenges a therapist faces when dealing with a newly placed child in a foster/adoptive home are helping the new parents understand from the child’s perspective, what is going on psychologically and emotionally within them. A parent, in my professional opinion, must make the following basic assumptions about their child in order to facilitate attachment, bonding and trust. This is listed below, with permission from the book, Attachment Focused Parenting by Daniel Hughes. A parent must assume:
• Your child is doing the best he/she can.
• Your child wants to improve.
• Your child’s life right now is a “living hell”.
• Your child is trying to be safe by controlling everything in his/her environment (especially his parents).
• Your child is trying to be safe by avoiding everything that is painful and stressful.
• Your child’s attacks (physical, emotional or verbal) on you and her/his resistance to you reflect your child’s fear of your motives for your nurture and discipline of him. He/she has poor affect regulation, fragmented thinking, pervasive sense of shame, inability to trust and lack of behavioral controls.
• For your child to change, she/he will need you to accept, comfort and teach her/him.
• When stressed, your child will regress and revert to her/his basic solitary defenses that she/he used to survive in his invalidating home.
• Your child will have to work hard to learn how to live well. You cannot do the work for him/her nor can you save him/her. You can comfort and teach him/her.
• You will need to come to know his/her developmental age and fine-tune your expectations to match that age so that he/she will have success, not failure. Your physical and psychological presence are the foundation of your comforting and teaching him/her.
• Your child will need you to validate her/his sense of self, while teaching her/him important developmental skills.
• You will need support and consultation from trusted others if you are to be able to successfully comfort and teach your child. You will make mistakes and you need to face these, learn from them and continue.

I also feel, from the parents perspective, that it is not only important but necessary to encourage them to understand their own attachment history of trauma within their own family of origin. Without this understanding they will not be able to facilitate a safe and secure attachment with their new child. A book I highly recommend, which has the questions to facilitate this process, with the help of a therapist, is from the book Parenting from the Inside Out, How a Deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive, by Dr. Daniel Siegel and Mary Hartzell, M.Ed. This is also available as an audio book, and can be found here at this link: http://drdansiegel.com/books_and_more/dvd/

Parenting children with trauma histories is hard work. It may be possible to do it alone, but it isn’t a good idea. I run many support groups in the Los Angeles area under a non-profit I founded called Celia Center, which provides ongoing Adopt Salon support for all members within the foster care and adoption constellation and those serving the constellation. You can learn more by visiting my website at www.CeliaCenter.org

As a therapist in the field for over 10 years, I help parents understand it is important for them to spend time with other parents who have had similar experiences. This helps parents realize that they are not alone. Parenting a child, with a history of trauma is a process and it is important to stay healthy in body and keep their peace of mind. So here are some tips for parents to do just that!

Here are Tips for KEEPING YOUR PEACE OF MIND

1. Know your TRIGGERS: Ask yourself, “What am I afraid of right now?” “What is going on inside of me right now?” “What does this remind me about my past?” It is usually our fear that triggers us and once you are able to make the connection you will not get triggered as deeply and will be able to separate your own issues from your child’s and re-connect. Stop negative cycles by not reacting to your child. When you are reactive, you are allowing your child to set the emotional tone, placing him/her in a position of control. Being proactive involves remaining calm, not taking your child’s behavior personally.
2. Take a “time out” as the Parent. Model for your child: “I’m having big feelings and I need to take a few breaths. I’ll be right with you.”
3. Get Respite: Get help to take a break, babysitter, family when needed for a few hours or more to help you rejuvenate and take care of yourself. Who puts the mask on first, you or your child? You are important!!!
4. Use humor & do a “time in” technique. Find something funny in the behavior to redirect child out of a negative cycle.
5. Do not yell at your Child. Your child will perceive your anger as a personal attack and internalize the anger as self-blame spiraling further into a negative cycle. Be specific and say firmly what you are angry at, “I am angry at the way you threw your food on the floor, I love you and want to listen to you however when you yell or throw things, it is very hard for me to be with you. And boy do I want to be with you!”
6. Take deep breathes, see the child as a “scared child.” Stop all judgments inside and breathe. Look at your child and see behavior as fear.
7. Find a “listening partner.” Someone you can call to vent your feelings to whom does not give you advice or fix your problem but just listens & is there to support you.
8. Do a “grounding exercise” on your time out to get you centered. Pretend there is a long chord connecting you to the center of the earth from your belly button. Imagine this chord is unbreakable, something strong. See the chord in your mind and now imagine the chord is a vacuum sucking out all the negative energy into the middle of the earth. Imagine positive energy coming back to you through your chord in reverse.
9. Journal your feelings to keep track of patterns. Note when you are angry, at what behaviors, time of day, and memories that comes up for you.
10. Exercise, take a walk, go outside in nature to soothe and reassure your self with unconditional love.
1. Ask yourself: What can I do right now to strengthen my relationship with my child?”

JEANETTE YOFFE, M.F.T. is founder of Celia Center, a non-profit support center for all those connected by foster care/adoption within the constellation and beyond. She has worked in the field of adoption for over 15 years and performs intervention trainings for foster and adoptive parents, psychotherapists and social workers as well as monthly support groups called Adopt Salon. Her passion for her work stems from her own experience growing up in foster care and being adopted at the age of seven and a half, she lives in Los Angeles. She can be reached at www.CeliaCenter.org

Leave a Reply