Adoption 101 Class for Prospective Adoptive Families: January 9th, 2016. Reserve your place now.


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How Childhood Trauma Affects Health Across A Lifetime


By Nadine Burke Harris

Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.

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A Hard And Lonely Road, Not To Be Forgotten.

What an excellent article! It is a hard read.  Very raw and unvarnished.  It is a truth many families live (and survive too!).  We need to hear a balance of the great and really crappy parts of family building.  It’s not fairy tale, it’s messy and its life in the trenches sometimes.   What are your thoughts? 



Preface: This is not a how-to-parent-older-adopted-kids blog post. This is not a why-kids-of-trauma-inflict-trauma post. This is not even a this-is-what-life-is-like-with-trauma-kids post. This is not a feel-sorry-for-us or toot-our-own-horns post. It’s most definitely not a rainbows and unicorns post. However, I want to stress that—no matter how hard adoption can be or sometimes is, I still believe in it. I’ve got an incredible husband and a slew of kids I call my own who agree. So this is not an anti-adoption post. On the contrary, this is a RALLY CRY for those adoptive parents in the trenches answering the call that others refuse to hear, being judged, shunned, and persecuted for their already very lonely and difficult road. This is a no-holds-barred, bare-it-all solidarity-seeking attempt. This is for you, adoptive parents of trauma kids, because you are most definitely NOT alone.

So I’m sitting here spitting nails. I’ll be honest about that from the get-go. And I’m typing a hundred miles a minute. And probably not going to edit a whole lot. BECAUSE ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. There is not a week that goes by that I do not receive multiple emails, phone calls, Facebook messages, or texts either from someone currently in the trenches or someone who knows someone who is. They’re at their wit’s end. They can’t take much more. They’re lonely. Grieved. And scared. And while I could spend forever trying to explain to those NOT in the trenches what it’s like down in the trenches, I’m not going to waste my time. Because the truth is, as you all know, that unless you have lived it, you will probably never get it. You just won’t. Oh, how we parents of trauma kids wish that weren’t so.

And if you’re reading this because your friend or family member passed it along, now’s your chance to erase your presumptions and shred your judgments and just take a listen and try to understand.

But if you’re reading this and already nodding, I’m trusting that you already get it. That you know what it’s like to step out of your comfortable American Christianity and choose one of the unwanted ones. The older, “broken” kids whom no one else said YES to. You know what it’s like to have that kind of compassion, faith, and willingness, that open heart and open home, that open-to-come-what-may. You know what it’s like to love the unlovable. To say yes to a call from God that no one else wants to hear or acknowledge. To take in a child of trauma. And you know what it’s like to be hated—and all but destroyed—by that child in return.

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Trauma Doesn’t Tell Time


061313_1226_traumadoesn1 Many frustrated parents regretfully feel as though all of the years that their child has spent in their safe, loving home has not made much of a positive impact on the child. This can leave parents feeling bewildered and incompetent. When I talk with parents about how their child’s behaviors are being driven by their earliest life experiences, many are overwhelmed by that idea that everything they have done to provide a safe and loving family has not helped their child let go of those earliest traumas. Despite years of “safe mom” behaviors, the child’s brain still believes “moms aren’t safe” or “moms leave.” Despite years of never going hungry, a full pantry, and never being told “no” to food, the child’s brain still believes “I’ll never get food again” or “Hungry = Starving”. Parents start to feel hopeless and helpless. When will the child FINALLY believe they are safe? Not going to go hungry? Parents feel justifiably skeptical when I attempt to convince them that their 9 year-old child’s meltdown over being told “no” to a snack right before dinner triggers the part in their brain that believes “I’ll never get food again.” How can this be possibly true when the child has not gone without food for seven years AND mom is in the middle of cooking dinner- an obvious sign that food will be plentifully available very shortly.

Traumatic experiences, even the earliest and preverbal traumatic experiences, remain stored in our children’s brains. The normal information processing system that stores memories in the appropriate places in our brain is thwarted by the cascade of hormones and neurochemicals that are released during a traumatic or frightening experience. The memory- along with the images, feelings, and body sensations, remain literally frozen in their nervous system.

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Taking a Look at "Time Out" as a Means of Discipline


By Jennifer O’Neill34fb7868143c775898a1b49bf865ca1e725f329c
Photo by Michele Princigalli/Getty Images

Interesting article on discipline and how social scientists and parents view "Time-Out".  I would have loved to see an additional piece included on "Time-In" for those of us with kids experiencing attachment disorder.  Most families with children from institutional care or any traumatic beginning would better benefit from "Time-In".  How did this article make you feel about your own parenting and discipline style?

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Creating Trauma-Informed Classrooms

NCFA Releases Adoption Advocate No. 75 | Creating Trauma-Informed Classrooms

With another school year beginning, it is important for teachers and school administrators to understand the impact of trauma, abuse, neglect, and other risk factors in a child’s history that can affect his or her ability to learn and feel safe and connected in the classroom. In the September 2014 issue of NCFA’s Adoption Advocate, co-authors Casey Call, Karyn Purvis, Sheri R. Parris, and David Cross share the results from different schools employing Trust-Based Relationship Intervention® (TBRI®), and emphasize the power of safe, nurturing relationships in the classroom—particularly for children from "hard places."

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What Kind of Therapy Should We Use?

Worthy and Reposted from: My Life as a Trauma Mama

by "Trauma Mama T" on March 9, 2012

puzzle One of the questions I often hear is, “What KIND of therapy should we use to help our child?”  My answer is always, “I don’t know.”  (Real helpful, huh?)  The thing is, I don’t believe any ONE therapy will help.  Our kids’ “stuff” starts at different places and different ages.  Trauma that happens early (and often) is often much more difficult to treat therapeutically than trauma which happens when a child is older. 

When I started trying to sort through all the therapy options 4.5 years ago, it seemed everyone I knew was singing the praises of Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control (BCLC).  This method was started by Bryan Post (who calls himself “Dr.” but does not hold a doctoral degree from any accredited institution — only an online and now defunct diploma mill, and who was disciplined by the state of Oklahoma in 2007) and Heather Forbes, LCSWC (who has distanced herself from Post and now runs BCLC without him).  I read all the BCLC books.  I read articles on Forbe’s website.  I learned techniques from other parents who’d attended her trainings.  However, some of the BCLC stuff was easily manipulated by my very smart kids.  Besides, my kids NEEDED to feel as though someone was in “control.”  They’d had to control too much in their lives, too early.  They needed the direction of an authoritative parent.  (Notice I did not use the word, “authoritarian.”  Authoritarian parenting results in rebellion and steps backward in the healing process.  Authoritative parenting lets the child know who is in charge, and gives them a sense of safety, consistency, and protection.  My kids need that.)  In short, BCLC had some things that worked, and some things that didn’t.

We have used a lot of play therapy and family therapy (and play therapy as family therapy).  These methods have helped a lot with attachment.  It is SO important to find a therapist who really knows about attachment and trauma.  Activities such as playing games and using sand trays have helped us find breakthroughs for both The Princess and Youngest Son.  For example, our therapist uses the game “Sorry” and adds some rules of her own.  If we get a “1,” we get out onto the board, but only if we say something good that’s happened since our last session.  If we get a “2,” we have to say something that concerns us.  If we get a “3” we have to say something that our family does together that we like, etc.  These games almost always never go on very long before our kids are working, without ever feeling (terribly) pressured to “go there.”  This method helps us deal with specific issues, using Interpersonal Therapy (IPT) methods.  It is the method by which I’ve learned the most in how to BE a therapeutic parent for my kids.

Cognitive Behavior Therapy is a very traditional therapy.  We use it a little bit, but only when things are going well.  When things hurt, and when a kid is dealing with trauma stored in the emotional part of their brain (amygdala), it’s nearly impossible to process things in the front part of their brain where cognition happens.  Still, it’s a therapy that has helped my kids feel as though they have some control over their lives — when things are going well.

As I’ve written in earlier posts, for Youngest Son, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) is the therapy that has changed his world (and ours).  However, this type of therapy would not have been possible with him even a year ago.  It is really just this school year that he’s matured enough, and has become stable enough on his medications, that he WANTS to change the way he responds to things.  Because DBT emphasizes responsibility for one’s own “stuff,” it was able to move him into a place where he could work cognitively and truly “own” his response to the things that trigger him.  It is only in recognizing that he DOES have PTSD, and that there ARE things that trigger him, that he is able to grasp hold of those triggers and change his behavior.

There are a lot of other things we’ve tried, as well, including “out-crazying the crazy.”  (Which is fun!)  We’ve even used (gasp!) traditional parenting methods in our therapeutic approach.  Like any of the above, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.  In my experience, raising hurt kids is a very fluid enterprise.

I found a PDF which may be helpful to some.  It describes various therapy methods in very basic terms and is a good introduction to the world of therapy.  You can find it HERE.  It might serve as a conversation starter when talking to a potential therapist for your family.  There are also lists of questions to ask available on various blogs and websites.  One good list is HERE.

Documentary Brings Light to the Science of Love

thedarkmatteroflove Attachment can be one of the more challenging aspects of adopting a child from an institution. Often these children experience trauma, profound loss, and have severe difficulties bonding with their adoptive parents. The Dark Matter of Love, a soon-to-be-released documentary, captivatingly documents the struggles the Diaz family faces as they try to connect with their Russian adopted children and make their family whole. Director Sarah McCarthy takes viewers on a visually stunning journey that follows 11-year-old Masha, and 5-year-old twins Marcel and Vadim, as they transition into family life with Claudio and Cheryl Diaz and their biological 14 year old daughter, Cami.

Sourced:NCFA Blog

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Parenting Your Adopted Child Deerly

Admin_Magazine_Issue_January 2013_802_1 Deer flee in an instant when frightened. One second they are calmly grazing in the forest or meadow, and the next they are darting in every direction, seeking safety. This happens when there is no real threat, for example a branch falling, and also when there is a very real danger: such as a predator or hunter. Because a deer’s world consists of very real dangers, he is vigilant, constantly on "red alert."

Deer are always wary of their environment.

Traumatized adoptees are similar to deer. They quickly enter states of "freeze", "flight", or "fight", even when there is no visible threat or demand. This phenomenon stems from their early history of abuse, neglect, institutionalization and non-consistent caretakers.

The adoptee with a history of trauma enters into their new family with an overactive stress response system. The traumatic environment is stressful! The child must worry about whether or not he will eat, be fondled, be beaten and so on. The brain is consumed with survival. In this pre-adoptive environment of chaos, the brain over-develops in the areas of fear and anxiety.

The brain is user-dependent; the repetition of experiences strengthens the brain’s pathways. Thus, early experiences have disproportionate impact on how the brain will function for the individual’s lifetime. These adoptees, upon joining their family, will enter states of "flight" or "fight" easily and often when confronted in a manner that the brain perceives as threatening. This phenomenon doesn’t just go away with enough love or time. The brain’s pathways must be re-wired over time, with consistent and long term nurturing parenting.

While chronic abuse can result in the overactivation of the stress response system, neglect can result in other problems. Neglect means that the child’s physical and psychological needs go unmet. In order for the brain and thus, the child, to develop, he needs stimulation and acknowledgement. If these elements are not provided, the basic neural pathways that were ready to grow through experiences with care givers, withers and is less responsive. Overall, the child who isn’t nurtured, may not know how to have reciprocal, affectionate interactions. Again, the brain repeats what it learns. If all it learned is to be alone in a crib, then this is the pattern the formerly neglected son or daughter may re-play.

Certainly, the furthest thing from most adoptive parents’ minds, when accepting a child into their home, is thinking about how their new son or daughter’s brain is going to respond to their caring interactions and their discipline. Yet, today’s adoptive families need to understand some "brain basics." In essence, adoptive mothers and fathers want to learn to "parent deerly." Angry reactions and lengthy time-outs, remind a child’s brain of its abusive and neglectful past.

An adopted child from an institutional setting or fostercare background will respond differently to these "normal" parenting techniques  than does a typically-developing child. For example, the formerly institutionalized child is happy in his room. He seeks to disengage from the family. When stressed, his brain wants to go into "flight."

In another example, Mom asks a simple, "Where is your backpack?" "Did you eat the last yogurt?" "Why did you take your sister’s necklace?" and the child shuts down or begins to yell! In return, Mom escalates, "I’m talking to you!" "Don’t argue with me!" Many parent readers can relate to this scenario. The problem is, your child reacts to simple questions or commands as if they are attacks. A post-institutionalized child is so hyper-vigilant and on-guard that they feel instant panic when a parent’s focus falls upon them. Their brain cannot quickly or calmly respond. This involuntary reaction can appear to a parent as obstinance, anger, ignoring of the question, and disobedience. A child is completely unaware of why he or she responds this way, and unable to correct the behavior on their own.

In order to "parent deerly", moms and dads need to leave the anger and the consequencing mentality behind. Parenting the traumatized child is about parent’s reactions. This is certainly more easily said than done! Yet, calm exchanges are essential to healing the child who experienced complex trauma prior to arrival in the adoptive family. That is, conflict sends the child deeper into flight or fight: more negative behaviors occur in these states.

Calm, cool exchanges (with a gentle voice and gestures) between the parent and child lend to less behavioral difficulties. Under these circumstances, the brain can begin to reorganize itself, and the child heals. The family has a peaceful, emotional climate.

Each parent needs to identify ways to reduce the intensity of their reactions toward their adoptive son or daughter. Tips for accomplishing this seemingly enormous task include:

  • The adopted son or daughter often presents with a lengthy list of behaviors. No one can work on changing more than three at one time. Letting go of various "battles" automatically makes you a calmer parent.
  • Put reminder notes for yourself in conspicuous places, "I am helping my child learn to be more calm." "I am learning to be a more peaceful parent." "I live with a deer."
  • Contrived consequences aren’t all that helpful in changing the traumatized child’s behavior. He doesn’t have cause-and-effect thinking. This skill didn’t develop due to his abuse and neglect. Natural and logical consequences are the best route to forming the necessary logical pathways in your son or daughters’s brain. Natural and logical consequences are "quiet"; they occur with very little effort on the part of the parent. Again, this allows for more peaceful interactions between you and your deer-like child. It may take years (and progress is very, very slow) to see cause-and-effect develop. Be patient, be consistent.
  • "You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." Nice, nurturing interactions will get more  (i.e., better behavior) than frustration, exasperation and fury! Lack of nurture created the problems in the first place. Providing nurture solves many day-to-day behavioral dilemmas. Are you up for the nurture challenge?
  • Keep in mind, parenting a combination of troubled and typical children translates into "that’s not fair." Reduce the hard feelings on the part of your birth and/or previously adopted children by "starting a habit"and having regular family meetings. Typical kids, kept in the loop, tolerate parenting methods that seem biased toward their adopted brother or sister.
  • Lastly, anger simply isn’t good for you or your children! Chronic anger contributes to heart disease, heart attack, prolonged stress, diabetes, more frequent colds, and a host of other health problems. Again, take care of yourself! Just like you hear on an airplane, "Put the oxygen mask on yourself first!"

Author Bio: Arleta James, MS, PCC, has been an adoption professional for a dozen years. She spent several years as a caseworker for the Pennsylvania Statewide Adoption Network placing foster children with adoptive families and then as the statewide Matching Specialist. She now works as a therapist providing services for attachment difficulties, childhood trauma and issues related to adoption. She was the 1999 Pensylvania Adoption Professional of the Year. She is currently on staff at the Attachment and Bonding Center of Ohio. Arleta’s website is:

Arleta is the author of: Brothers and Sisters in Adoption: Helping Children Navigate Relationships When New Kids Join the Family

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