Published by Northfield Publishing on October 6, 2020
Genres: Non-Fiction, Adoption
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Has Trauma Affected the Child You’re Caring For?
Just as you prepared your home to welcome a new child, it is important to prepare your heart and mind—especially if the child has suffered from a background of trauma. Perhaps your invitation for love is met with hostility, and you find that this new member of your family rejects connection. If so, then it’s critical to acknowledge the effects of trauma on a child’s ability to attach.
Mike and Kristin Berry realized this when they became adoptive and foster parents. In their twenty-year marriage, they have had the joy of adopting eight children and fostering twenty-three. They now offer guidance from their own journey to others parenting a child who has experienced past trauma. In Securely Attached, they offer practical insights that are supported by therapeutic and medical facts, so all parents can provide best for the children in their care. You’ll learn:
How trauma changes the brainHow to identify trauma-induced behaviorsHow to identify attachment disordersHow to advocate for your child in the community.Get the help you need to better care for the children in your home. Discover how you can create a family and home that is safe and supportive so your children can grow to trust and become securely attached.
As the dad of two adopted kids, I have an uncomfortable relationship with the adoption community. There’s a sense of “saviorism” that can permeate the culture and parents can be ignorant or even purposefully dismissive of a child’s birth family and culture. In transracial adoptions, parents can be ignorant or insensitive to the racial differences between them and their children. In all adoptions, parents can fail to understand their child’s traumatic history. Adoption is trauma and many adoptive parents don’t realize that. That’s why a book like Securely Attached is so important.
The book begins with an overview of trauma. Everyone experiences trauma on some level. This is a good starting point because it helps parents—who probably aren’t adoptees—to identify with their adopted or foster children. It helps you see how little things might be triggers for major traumas. One story they tell is about a five-year-old foster child who insisted on taking his toothbrush to school with him. After discussion, they found that the child had no sense of stability. Having been moved from home to home, he never knew if he would return to where he was staying—and he hated new toothbrushes.
From here, Mike and Kristin move to a discussion of how trauma affects the brain. They develop an analogy of the brain like a house. The basement is pure survival. It’s the foundation, but no learning or relationship building takes place. The first floor is where emotions and feelings live, while the upstairs floor is for “higher” functions like logic, learning, planning, etc. This imagery is helpful because it gives adults (and kids) understandable language in which to discuss trauma. Further chapters deal with resiliency, attachment, and healing. Their one-paragraph descriptions of healthy and unhealthy attachments at various points in the lifespan are great for helping parents determine where their children are at on this scale.
The middle part of the book is about how parents can work toward developing secure attachments with their children. While the book is specifically for foster and adoptive children, there’s a lot of good information here for biological children as well. The Berrys have a wonderful, respectful understanding of parenting that I absolutely admire. I could say so much, but I’ll just focus on their core belief that behavior is a voice:
“The greedy child may have been starving when he was a baby. The silly child may use laughter to cover her insecurities. The quiet child may have learned to cope by pretending to be invisible. The child who is overly affectionate may be informally interviewing for a new mom or dad. To feel safe, the hypervigilant child may need things in precise order. The charming child may use the attention of others to overcome self-doubt. The defiant child may feel that obedience is a loss of control. The lazy child may be too overwhelming, depressed, or anxious to make any step forward.”
In other words, children aren’t bad. They aren’t naughty. They have unmet needs and their behaviors are an attempt to express or meet those needs. Kristin writes of reminding herself during one child’s extended meltdown—this is not pure defiance, this is trauma behavior. That change of perspective can really alter how we view parenting. They advocate asking three questions amid “bad” behaviors: 1) what happened in this child’s past? 2) what is happening to this child right now? 3) what is about to happen to this child?
They devote a whole chapter to helping parents understand the root cause of unwanted behaviors. Is it disrespect or their survival instinct? Disobedience or a lack of executive functioning? Bad behavior or a sensory need? A lack of sleep? A lack of body awareness? And for every question, they have an anecdote that illustrates what they mean. To give one personal example, I remember teaching physical education to a preschool class and one kid constantly ran over the others, pushing them, knocking them down, running into them. He was also head and shoulders taller than anyone else. It wasn’t bad behavior. It was a lack of body awareness. He couldn’t control his body. He wasn’t that much more rough than other kids, just a lot bigger.
The Berrys teach parents how to plan ahead for problems. And this ranges from the normal and everyday to the heartbreakingly extreme. Do you have a child who struggles with transitions? Work a plan to remind them of upcoming transitions and try different methods of transitioning. Do you have a child who acts out violently to the point you may need to call the police? The Berrys provide a whole script for how to call 911, ask for a crisis-intervention-trained officer, be clear that mental illness is involved, is unarmed, and not a threat to police. The chapter on managing crisis behavior is poignant but heart wrenching.
Lastly, the Berrys teach caregivers how to emotionally regulate themselves. Caregivers need help too. Dealing with trauma can be traumatic. Dealing with dysregulation can leave you dysregulated. Learning how to emotionally regulate oneself not only leads to better mental health and better parenting outcomes, but also models for your children appropriate ways of dealings with self-dysregulation.
Securely Attached is a paradigm-changer for parenting. It should be mandatory reading for prospective adoptive or foster parents. Highly readable, filled with anecdotes and stories, founded in solid research, Mike and Kristin write out of their own experiences to present an honest view of adoption and foster care that places the child first. Their understanding that kids do well when they can, along with their acknowledgment of childhood trauma, makes for a loving, empathetic, heart-rending book on how to create an environment for kids to grow into stability.