Eight Suggestions For Relating To Your Child About Trauma
I received an email last week from an adoptive parent who wrote. “I want to know how and when to tell my son what he and we went through.” This mother shared with me 9 years of anguish for the family, social,emotional and behavioral struggles that were beyond comprehension and was looking for a way to reach her child with no more medications or therapy. YEA!!!!!!
This parent has been following my work and wanting to implement a tangible, strategic plan, in her words to bring about the change from chaos to calm. She knows that a deeper understanding offered within a safe environment, can bring calm in and of itself.
After speaking with her I realized that she is far from alone, and decided to write down the outline of my conversation with her.
Hoping this brings hope through science and spirit; and sending peace, love and healing to all who this may reach. Juli
Eight suggestions for relating to your child about trauma~
1: First and foremost; get to know your child.
All of the suggestions in this list will mean nothing and do nothing to help you if you do not know your child. The way you will relate to your child depends on their social and emotional age, not simply their chronological age, as well as their temperament. Short conversations during other activities may be best. Sitting down to talk may be best. Waiting until bed time may be best, or worse! Know your child, consider your child before moving forward. Do you know your child? Our objective is to lessen the sensations of threat and fear and to increase safety and acceptance; none of which can be accomplished if you do not know and consider what you know about your child first. Let that which you know and feel be your guide. Move gently, you can do this.
2: Discover what your child already knows.
Before telling your child about the traumatic events, ask what he already knows and remembers about it. Listen to his perceptions, memories and stories. Allow your child to completely and fully speak before you tell them anything else. Move within their framework. Don’t tell them they are wrong, even if they are. Let them know what you know and share your stories as you help them move to the truth. Suggest to your child that their birth parent loved them the best way that they know how to love them. Knowing that we were loved is a powerful force moving into later stages of development and life. Knowing what your child has been telling themselves will help you determine which details to include—and what confusions need to be cleared up as you relate.
3: Maintain a steady confidence in your child and their resilience.
You might help your child feel safer as you share with them the number of people that it took to bring your child to you, how many people worked hard to protect your child and the number of other children who are being protected as well. You can frame the story of your child within lessons in life; bad things do happen to people all over the world, AND we can learn from them, become wiser and move to help others who may be in the same position of need one day. Remember, adoption and foster care is often celebrated by the adults, and grieved by the child. It took a huge loss for ‘our’ children in order for us to gain.
4: Slow and Low.
When you speak to your child I encourage you to practice what I call Slow and Low. If you are highly emotional when you relate, your child picks up that emotion and will have to navigate through the confusion. If, on the other hand, you remain calm, speak quietly, move slowly, and breathe deeply~ your child is likely to grasp what’s important: that what happens in the world can upset our lives, even deeply, but we can learn from bad experiences and work together to recover and even grow stronger. A child who lives with a distressed parent often learns to be apprehensive. A child who lives with a resilient parent tends to show confidence and faith in the face of adversity.
5: See through their ‘lens’.
We each see Life, Love, Family and Relationship through a unique lens. Some of us see family as safe, loving, forever and fun. Others, not so much. Respect the ‘lens’ through which your child sees the world, even if it may be painful for you to learn. The more you can see through their ‘lens’ the safer they will feel with you. Through that safety you can teach the important lessons as your child grows.
6: Explain the truth with some concrete terms.
We can’t always provide the reason why one adult parent will give a child up for adoption in a way that makes sense to a child. But we can offer tangible reassurance that we will not do the same thing and that we are the forever parent. To an 8-year-old who has been given up, the truth is that they can be given up again. Period. Forever. That will never change. They can be given up again. They live within that truth. You cannot take that away from them. You can, however, continue to reassure them in ways that matter to them, that they will be your child forever. Do not be afraid to speak of this. Your child may already be wondering…….
7: Teach your child mindfulness and the power of thoughts.
We cannot change what has happened to us, but we can change how we think about it. Teach your child how to breathe deeply, how to slow down the thoughts as we make sense of them. Teach your child how to become aware of what they think and why they think that thought. Ask your child about what feels true to them and work with that. Ask your child what they think about at bedtime and during the day. Practice slowing down and living more intentionally within the truth so that your child may too.
8: Do something.
Children typically learn the most by doing. You may choose to create a LIFE book, or write a book about their life asking them to name the chapters. You may listen as your child expresses a need to be in touch with a birth parent and seek counsel with regard in how to best proceed. You and your child may volunteer at a shelter or in a food line for the homeless. Focus on the power that your child has to create the life of his/her choice from this day forward and then go out and teach them how to do that!
Your experiences have shaped who you have become. The same is true for your child. The experiences that you offer to your child will help to shape who they will become from here forward.
If you feel stuck or unsure, trauma sensitive and attachment focused parent coaching can help.