Trauma and Your Adopted Child

Adoption is miraculous in every sense of the word. A child is placed into a home full of family members that surpass the boundaries of love. It’s an act full of meaningful consideration. As an adoptive parent who is able to tuck your child into bed each night, you know this to be true. You also know that, while adoption is beautiful, it comes with its own unique set of challenges.

Right now, you’re at a loss. Your child experienced trauma before you adopted him or her. Before you were able to deflect harm with your protective arms. You don’t know how to help, and questions plague your mind day and night. What if I make it worse? Does my child feel alone? What happened, and, more importantly, what can I do to help? You stare at your child’s somber face and let your imagination run wild. How could someone you love so much have experienced trauma so early-on in life?

Adoption Choices of Colorado knows how badly you want to help your child recover post trauma! Children who have experienced traumatic events need to feel safe and loved, and we’re here to help you do just that! You’re more than capable of providing your child with a nurturing home and sense of love and security.

TRAUMA’S IMPACT

Trauma is an emotional response to an intense event that threatens or causes harm. It’s a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. The harm can be physical or emotional and real or perceived. Trauma can be the result of a single event, or it can result from exposure to multiple events over time. Potentially traumatic events may include the following: physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, separation from loved ones, neglect, bullying, and natural disasters or accidents.

While minor stress in children’s lives helps their brains grow and allows new skills to develop, trauma overwhelms the child’s natural ability to cope. These events cause a fight, flight, or freeze response, which results in changes in the body — such as faster heart rate and higher blood pressure — as well as changes in how the brain perceives and responds to the world. In many cases, a child’s body and brain recover quickly from a potentially traumatic experience with no lasting harm. However, for other children, trauma interferes with normal development and can have long-lasting effects. Significant adversity in childhood alters both the way the genome is read and the developing brain is wired. In this way, early childhood trauma is biologically embedded, influencing learning, behavior and health for decades to come.

HELPFUL PARENTING 

Parenting a child who has experienced trauma can be difficult. Sometimes you may feel isolated, as if no one else understands what you’re going through. This can put a strain not only on your relationship with your child, but with other family members.

Adoption Choices of Colorado knows you’re tired of watching the pain your child feels awaken in his or her eyes. You want so badly to be able to help, but you’re afraid your attempts to address your child’s behavior may be ineffective or, in some cases, harmful.

Try using a few of the helpful parenting tips we’ve listed below:

  • Identify trauma triggers. Something you are doing or saying, or something harmless in your home, may be triggering your child. It is important to watch for patterns of behavior and reactions that do not seem to “fit” the situation. What distracts your child, makes him or her anxious, or results in a tantrum or outburst? Help your child avoid situations that trigger traumatic memories, at least until more healing has occurred.
  • Respond, don’t react. Your reactions may trigger your child, who is already feeling overwhelmed. When he or she is upset, do what you can to keep calm: lower your voice, acknowledge your child’s feelings, and be reassuring and honest.
  • Help to understand and manage overwhelming emotions and behaviors. By providing calm, consistent, loving care, you set an example and teach your child to define, express, and manage emotions. This helps your child see the links between thoughts, feelings, and actions, and to take control of his or her behavior.
  • Listen. Don’t avoid difficult topics or uncomfortable conversations. Also, don’t force your child to talk before he or she is ready. Let him or her know that it’s normal to have many feelings after a traumatic experience. Take reactions seriously, correct any misinformation about the traumatic event, and reassure your child that what happened was not his or her fault.
  • Respect and support children’s positive, stable relationships. Children who have been mistreated often have insecure attachments to other people. Help your child hold on to what is good about existing attachments, reshape them, and make new meaning from them. In addition, encourage your child to build new, healthier relationships with yourself and others.
  • Advocate. It takes a team of people to help a child recover from trauma. You are a key part of this team! Help ensure efforts are coordinated to help others to view your child through a trauma lens.
  • Seek trauma-focused treatment. The effects of trauma may be misunderstood or even misdiagnosed by clinicians who aren’t trauma experts. Advocate for appropriate treatment. Be involved and understand the goals and purpose of the treatment.
  • Take care of yourself. To be effective, you must take care of yourself. Don’t ever forget that! You deserve some tender love, and care as well. Taking care of yourself will better help you take care of your child.

As concerning as your child’s behaviors are, they’re a normal reaction to unhealthy trauma. Your calm and consistent responses are what offer your child the chance to stabilize and heal!

TRAUMA AND YOUR ADOPTED CHILD

Trauma can affect your child’s behavior in ways that may be confusing or distressing, impacting the long-term health and well-being of you and your child. However, with understanding, care, and proper treatment, post-trauma healing is more than possible.

Adoption Choices of Colorado knows that by creating a structured, predictable environment, listening to your child’s story, and working with professionals trained in trauma and its treatment, you can make all the difference in your child’s recovery. You’ve got this!

Adoption Choices of Colorado

For more information on adoption please contact Adoption Choices of Colorado. We can be reached via our website or phone 303-670-4401.

Support Adoption Choices

CrowdriseAdoption Choices, Inc. is partnering with Crowdrise, a fundraising website for nonprofits, to help our adoptive parents and birth parents with much needed financial assistance. We understand that expenses keep clients from fulfilling their dreams. Both with birth parents making a plan for adoption, and with adoptive parents growing their family. It is our mission to provide financial assistance through grants and scholarships, awarded annually in November, in honor of National Adoption Month. Funds assist adoptive parents with matching and placements, adoption finalization and helping birth mothers improve their lives through higher education — and much more.

However, we can’t do it alone. Please read up on our programs and donate money where you are able. Your donation will make a huge impact.

About the Author

Patience BramlettPatience Bramlett, a University of Southern Mississippi news editorial graduate, is a seasoned and award-winning freelance writer. She is also a passionate reader, whose only wish is to live life without fear of the unknown. Her motivation and inspiration to live her best life stems from the words of John Lennon:

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy.’ They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.”

This year, she’s joining Adoption Choices Inc. as an Editorial Intern. Fueled by her love of family, she hopes to educate those looking to grow their families through adoption.

When Patience is not exploring Colorado with her husband, she’s drinking coffee, forever figuring out how to tame her hair, growing her library, and trying to break into the publishing career.

 

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Bibliography

Appleyard, Vera. “Expanding Understanding: Adverse Childhood Experiences.” Evolve Treatment Centers, 19 Nov. 2017, evolvetreatment.com/blog/expanding-understanding-adverse-childhood-experiences/.

Smith, Melinda, et al. “Helping Children Cope with Trauma.” HelpGuide.org, June 2019, www.helpguide.org/articles/ptsd-trauma/helping-children-cope-with-traumatic-stress.htm.

“Trauma and Children – Tips for Parents.” Better Health Channel, Department of Health & Human Services, Dec. 2011, www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/trauma-and-children-tips-for-parents.

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