Thursday, April 19, 2012

You're Not Helping Me

I was talking to another special needs adoptive mom the other day. 

Actually, my mom. And her kids are the ones with special needs, not the mom. 

Although....maybe that's not strictly true after decades of raising children with trauma histories. 


We were discussing how downright nasty our kids can get when they are stressed out. For example, her 18 year old has nerves about school. Result: She becomes more than just sulky and stressed. She can be pretty darned verbally abusive. 
My 9 year old is anxious about some testing he has to participate in. Result: He has meltdown after meltdown for days. AND... becomes pretty darned verbally abusive. 

We could think of case after case of similar circumstances. Anything that causes stress, or physical or mental discomfort. 

But then, my mom mentioned that one of her kids...
(a little background, yes I am the birth child of a mom who has adopted my several sisters from foster care. I was about 20 when she really got busy!) 

Anyway, one of my sisters, when she is getting crazy with stress or discomfort, will actually verbalize:
And when my mom told me this, I got it!

Normal life discomforts (spacers/braces, appointments, deadlines, social pressures, etc) feel so much more unsafe to our kids who's brains have been formed in trauma. Then, when they enter into an 'insecure' situation, they are so much more nervous than most neurotypical kids.

We encourage our kids to attach to us by saying things like (explicit or implied), "I'm here for you", "You're safe now, we will take care of you", etc.

So then as they are becoming somewhat (insecurely) attached to us, trying to trust, life throws normal stressors at them. Life situations come up. And our kids are way back to, "I'm in danger, and you're not saving me / rescuing me / keeping me safe."

Of course these situations can often be used for growth. Positive interpretation after the fact says, "Look, you were so nervous, but you survived, you're fine!" "You did great, and I was here for you."

But I don't think our spin works. Somewhere deep inside they may still be saying, "I was in danger and you didn't rescue me!"

In our house we do a lot of education about overactive midbrains (fight or flight) with lots of activity all the time because of the trauma history. We try to practice having frontal lobes (thinking parts) talk to midbrains (safety parts).

Frontal lobes tell midbrains, "It's okay, it's not an emergency. Thank you for protecting me when I needed you. I am okay right now." "I am safe." (thank you Carla):

And hopefully they believe their own words more than ours!

So what do you do?? Any great tips out there?

How do you help your traumatized children trough the "Life-Stressor Crazies"?


  1. I don't have very many ideas..but can't wait to hear from others!

    We try to over-prepare our kids when s normal "life-stressor" is coming. And when our children over-react, we try to have compassion with them, encouraging them to tell us what is causing their anxiety. So, I guess we are walking them through the process more intentionally than we do our birth gets..who sort of just "get it".

  2. Oh yeah, the over-preparation is a good one!

    But then some situations we can't even tell our kids about til it happens. Especially 'exciting' events. It's need to know!

    You are right, it's just so intentional.

  3. You're right! The mom has special needs too! This is great...really ties things together. Very profound. Kind of one of those 'well duh!' moments. Thanks for putting it together!