Tuesday, January 31, 2012


I’m not going to make the claim that my daughter is a saint, but when she’s hurt because a “friend” is a mean girl, the mama bear in me certainly rises up.  I hate mean girl stuff.  I remember going through some of it myself when I was in junior high and high school, but I don’t remember it being as pervasive as it is now.  I also think it starts with girls at a much younger age now than it did in the past.  The Princess was dealing with mean girl stuff (including participating in it herself) as early as the third grade.  It is particularly vicious now that she is in 7th grade.

My girl came home from school yesterday and asked to get on the computer.  I limit her computer use, but she is allowed to use it by going through her school’s start page.  The school district has Google apps set up for students.  They mainly use Google Docs.  I logged her on, and when she sat down, I asked her what class she was writing for in school.  She replied (without thinking fast enough to lie), “Oh, it’s not for school.”  She was writing a note to a “friend” who said some pretty mean things to her the last couple of days.  This is not the first time this “friend” has behaved this way.  I looked over her shoulder and saw she was writing to a girl we know who also has a traumatic past.  We know her from church as well as school.  What really got to me was that she was writing to beg for a restored relationship with this girl – one that would exclude another girl who does not like The Princess and isn’t afraid to say so.

It all sounds so junior-high-ish, doesn’t it?

Being popular.  Being accepted.  -- It is all so hugely important to a 13 year-old girl in the 7th grade.  It’s her “whole life.”  It’s her social standing.  It’s about how she sees herself.  It’s about judging.  It’s about cattiness.  (And people used to wonder why most of my friends were guys when I was a kid.)  Again, I hate it.  I hate seeing my little girl in heaving sobs over these things.  I hate seeing her go to bed an hour early because she’s literally nauseous from the stress.  I hate the sadness in her eyes, because some kid decided to behave like a little jerk -- a kid who is supposed to be her friend -- and decided it would be fun to hurt her.  I also hate the realization that The Princess has undoubtedly done the same thing to other girls.

We can watch for signs that our girls are being targeted by mean girls (or that they are targeting someone themselves).  Some of the nasty things girls do to one another include:

• Saying something mean and then following it with "just joking"
• Leaving certain girls out of parties/play dates
• Giving someone the "silent treatment"
• Starting rumors/spreading gossip
• Threatening to take away friendship ("I won't be your friend anymore if...")
• Criticizing someone’s appearance (“Why are you wearing THAT?”)
• Forming "clubs" and excluding others
• "Forgetting" to save someone a seat
• Using social media and other technology to send hurtful messages

Of course, the list goes on.  (Feel free to add some of your own experiences in the comments section.)

We need to teach our daughters some specific skills.  I think for traumatized kids, meeting that need is particularly crucial.  Our girls need skills so that they can roll with these inevitable social punches – skills  that anti-bullying education doesn’t seem to be able to touch.  We need to teach them the girl saying mean things to them is most certainly not feeling great about herself.  She is diverting negative attention away from herself, and dumping it onto someone else.  We need to remind our girls to treat one another the way they’d like to be treated – even if someone else is behaving badly.  That doesn’t mean we teach them to be doormats.  It means we teach them to be kind.  (I remember a couple of verses from Proverbs my own mom taught me:  “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the LORD will reward you.”  -- 25:21-22)

There are some good tools our kids can use to combat mean girl stuff and bullying.  I’m busy looking for resources today.  This video shows how kids can develop a couple of good comebacks for verbal assaults.  It also instructs parents to teach their kids not to allow the bully or mean girl to get a rise out of their target – to not give the negative attention that is being sought by the aggressor.  While I don’t necessarily agree with some of the examples this guy uses, I think it’s a good idea for us to help our kids come up with some things they can say themselves:

As a parent of a young teenage girl who is also a hurt child, it’s hard to determine where to draw the line on how far I go when I become involved.  The mama bear would very much like to rip into the jerky little frenemy and give her an education she’d never forget.  However, I think it is much more effective to keep the lines of communication open with my own sweet girl, so that she is able to continue to feel she can trust me with her hurts.  (Of course, if there were physical danger involved, I would do more than teach her to handle things – I’d be involved in a heartbeat.)  By keeping those lines of communication and trust open, I am in a much better position to teach her enduring social skills she can carry into adulthood.  Because let’s face it, there are a lot of adult mean girls out there, too.

Be kind to one another . . . (Ephesians 4:32)

Monday, January 30, 2012

It Is SO Worth It

I’ve written a lot about The Princess’ struggles of late.  Until recently, I considered her the “easier” of my two youngest children.  The truth is, both The Princess and Youngest Son have good times, as well as not-so-good times.  Sometimes, one of them is struggling with a particular trauma trigger.  Most of the time, issues can be dealt with immediately, using therapeutic parenting techniques.  The trigger is calmed.  The child becomes regulated again, and we move on.  Sometimes, the struggles last a while.  That’s what’s going on with The Princess right now.  However, Youngest Son is doing very well – the best he’s ever done since coming home 4.5 years ago.

This time last year, we were dealing with a ton of “stuff.”  Youngest Son destroyed property at church, and at home.  He stole expensive electronics.  He lied constantly.  He sneaked around behind our backs, and he thought it a grand challenge to defy us at every turn.  He was very hurtful to me, as well as to his sister, and he was in constant, CRAZY competition with the men in our home.  We received increased mental health services, and he had changes in meds.  There were many tearful times of frustration for me, as I wondered if this boy would ever “get it” – get it that he was loved, cared for, and worthy.  We plodded along, doing the things we know to do with kids who are terrified – and that’s just what he was – so very afraid and unable to trust.  He was afraid we could not take care of him.  He didn’t like the limits on his world, because he did not understand how those limits are the care he needed.  He thought he needed to do, and to get for himself, just as he had as a young child.  He didn’t trust us.  He didn’t know how.  And yes, he wanted to test us to see if we, and our love, were real.

It was very hard.  In our lowest moments of our own fear, we wondered if we’d made a mistake bringing him home.  We stuck with what we knew we were supposed to do – what we knew was our only real chance for change.  With struggle, we passed that test.  Our son learned there were natural consequences to behavior and that he was old enough to have to deal with those consequences.  We would stand behind him, but we would not stand in front of him and shield him from those consequences.  He learned we still loved him, even if he lied and stole property.  He learned that in our family, we make things right when we’ve hurt someone else (whether or not we meant to do so).  He learned relationships matter, because we required that he make things right with those he’d harmed.  Then, last summer at youth camp, he stood to give his testimony at a campfire.  He told everyone he was glad he’d been adopted and that he’d gotten a second chance in life.  He apologized to his brothers and his sister, who were also there. 

This year, he’s going back to camp as a volunteer junior counselor and will be working with junior high kids.  He’s come a long way.

I am not going to say Youngest Son is completely healed.  He still has trust issues.  He still has to take meds and may need to do so all his life.  In therapy, he’s still working out what’s real versus what are fantasies about his past.  He still has nightmares.  He is still learning the things we are trying so very hard to teach him:  to be responsible, respectful, appropriately resourceful, and reciprocal in relationships.  He has become a young man who cares about other people, but not just for what he himself can get out of the relationship.  In fact, he has become very interested in “being there” for other former orphans.  He cares deeply for the families we know in the process of adopting children, and he wants to be a good role model for their kids when they come home.  He is still a teenager.  He still has snarky moments.  So do I. 

High school is also good for Youngest Son.  His grades are good.  He’s engaged.  He’s a good example.  He does his work, even when he doesn’t like it.  His teachers like him.  And, he WANTS to please them (this is HUGE!).  I’ll admit, however, I feared his going to high school very, very much.  He’s surprised me. 

Youngest Son is learning to trust, because we are parenting him in the way he needs to be parented (for the most part – no one is perfect).  We still keep his world relatively small.  There is a routine to his life, so he knows what to expect, and what is expected of him.  He has shown responsibility in the care of his possessions, and the respect for other people’s possessions.  He does his chores (often without being asked).  He even has real conversations with me.  He jokes around with me.  I have much more hope for this boy, today than I did one year ago, when I did not know for sure if anything we were doing was ever going to make a difference – if we were ever going to break through and start to see some healing.  Yet, he is gaining knowledge, skill, self-control, and good judgment.

Youngest Son is growing up.  Yes, his traumatic past will always be a variable for his life, but I really do think he’s going to make his (very good) way in this world.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Options: When to Limit Them

The Princess hasn’t cooperated in therapy her last two sessions.  Both times, we’ve wasted our therapist’s time and our money.  She is going through a lot and has decided she must seize control of all situations in whatever ways she can.  We’ve tried all the therapeutic techniques we can, but little seems to be helping lately.  After her therapy session last week, I talked with our therapist.  I knew we couldn’t make The Princess participate.  I also knew the therapist wasn’t going to keep seeing her if she didn’t start working again.

Because we’ve been struggling, and because some of The Princess’ struggles have been public, community-based services were ramped up for her and for me this month.  She is considered “at risk.”  This means a couple of social workers are involved in our lives.  One of them saw her for an hour yesterday.  This social worker told The Princess that if she didn’t start cooperating in therapy, she wouldn’t be able to go to therapy any more.  (Yeah.  I heard you say, “UGH” just like I said it when she GLEEFULLY told me last night that she wouldn't have to go to therapy anymore, looking at me with a face that screamed, “Ha!”)

You know, there is a reason I didn’t tell The Princess about this option.  She NEEDS to work on some things.  I need help for her.  And I limit options I know are not good for her.

So, I talked.  I explained that her behavior lately was very concerning to me, her Dad, her brothers, and to our therapist and the social workers.  I explained that is why these people want to see her more often right now.  I explained why we have a medicine check appointment next week.  I explained that working through these things now, while she was young, was much better than trying to work through them later when she’s older.  I reminded her how adults behave who have unresolved issues.  I reminded her that she’s been hurt and that we can’t just bury that hurt inside – that it comes out in places like at the restaurant the other night and at the zoo last month.  I told her we all loved her and wanted the best for her.  I told her God loved her and had given us both some pretty specific instructions about how to behave with one another.  I also told her that I would not allow quitting therapy to be an option.  We would still do it, one way or another.

If you happen think of us, would you say a prayer for us from time-to-time?  Pray for The Princess' therapy appointment next week, as well as her med check appointment.  Pray she cooperates.  Pray for wisdom for me on how best to handle things with her.  I still have much to learn. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s): Our Adoption

An aside before I begin:  Many thanks to the reader who pinned (on Pinterest.com) my recent post about trauma and the young child’s brain.  This has made many more people aware of the effects of early childhood abuse and neglect, as my blog was read this week by several people who would not have sought a “trauma mama” blog out on their own.  Feel free to share this blog on Pinterest.com or other sites such as Facebook, Twitter, etc.  Okay, now for the post:

My husband and one of our college-aged sons visited a local, older lady recently.  We do not know her.  My guys were there to help her with a specific need.  Anyway, in that process, Hubby shared that two of our children were adopted from Eastern Europe.  Older Lady was very interested in this.  She thought it was “wonderful.”  She told my husband he was “a good person.”  Then, she pointed to our son and asked, “Is THIS one of THEM?”  Son told me he nearly peed his pants trying to hold in the laughter.  When he got outside and into our car, he and Hubby burst out laughing.  It wasn’t funny, but it really was, because we get strange questions and comments all the time about our adoption.  It is amazing how many of those strange comments and questions happen right in front of our children’s faces. 

“How old were they when you got them?”  (12 and 9.  Why do you ask?)  “Which ones are the adopted kids?”  (Why do you ask? -- And by the way, some of my children were adopted.  Adoption happens to be how they entered our family.  It does not define their state of being.)  “Do they speak English?”  (They understand every word you’re saying.)  “How are they adjusting?”  (Well.  Why do you ask?)  “Do they have psychological problems?”  (Why do you ask?)  “Do they have any diseases?”  (Why do you ask?)  “What happened to their real parents?”  (You mean their biological parents.  Why do you ask?)  “Why were they given up?”  (You mean why were they placed for adoption.  Why do you ask?)  “Why did they have to go to an orphanage?”  (Why do you ask?)  “How much did it cost?”  (Why do you ask?)  “Are you going to send them back when they are older?”  (Um, really?  I still don’t have a kind answer for that one.  Let me know, dear reader, if you have a good comeback for that one.)  “Are they U.S. citizens?”  (Yes.)  “Has it affected your real children?”  (You mean my biological children.  Yes, it’s affected them deeply.  They would like to adopt some day, too.)  “What did your parents think?”  (My parents weren’t involved in the decision to add any of our children to our family, but they love all their grandchildren.  Why do you ask?)

I answer a lot of questions with, “Why do you ask?”  I do this because some people ask questions simply to satisfy their curiosity.  Afterall, adoption is not “normal.”  People are curious about it.  However, some people ask because they are exploring the idea of adoption for their own family.  I want to be especially sensitive to those who may become adoptive parents themselves.  For the curious, I want to be kind whenever possible.  Most are well-meaning people, even if they are clueless, like Older Lady.

Positive Adoption Language

There are plenty of charts and articles on the web that deal with positive adoption language, so I won’t go into depth here.  I’m going to assume anyone reading this blog knows how to use Google or some other search engine.  What I will do is give you a chart below, showing common language vs. language more appropriate when talking about, or asking questions about, adoption.  Feel free to print it out or copy and paste it to your own blog:

Common Language
Positive Adoption Language
real parents
Birth/Biological Parents
real siblings
Birth/Biological Siblings
real siblings
natural child/parent
Birth/Biological Child/Parent
adoptive parent
is adopted
Was Adopted
give up
Terminate Parental Rights
give away
Make An Adoption Plan
track down
Waiting Child / Child Placed for Adoption
taken away
Court Termination

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Constant Crazy Questions

Have any of my dear trauma mama friends noticed their kids tend to ask a lot of crazy/silly questions?  Does it seem to increase even more when you’re stuck inside the car with them?  I can pretty much guarantee every time I am alone in the car with The Princess, the questions will start.  Even when there are five of us in the car, she asks more crazy/silly questions than she does when she’s at home, for example.

Both of my hurt kids use questions to bait me into an argument.  
Kid:  “Mom, do you think it’s going to rain today?”  
Me, looking up at a lot of gray clouds in the sky:  “I don’t know, but it sure looks like it.”  
Kid:  “No, it’s not.  The weather man said it would just be cloudy.”  
UGH.  Those are questions to argue.  But that’s another topic and I’ll write about it on another post, later.

Remember, I raised four boys before bringing home The Princess and Youngest Son.  I’ve been through the silly questions stage a few times before.  With the older boys, however, constant silly questions stopped by the time they were about four years old.  The Princess experienced a great deal of her trauma at age three.  If kids get “stuck” emotionally at the age which trauma occurs, then the constant questions would be normal for her emotional development.  The thing is, I don’t want her to stay there.  (Selfishly, that’s for my sake more than it is for hers.  Okay, not really.  But yeah.  Kind of.)

We’ve taken to being silent when The Princess asks a silly question – one that doesn’t need an answer – one she can figure out herself – one she already knows the answer to, but just wants to hear the sound her own voice, so she asks.  Silence bugs the crud out of The Princess.  But silence helps her to realize she’s being silly.  Oh, she still tries to cover herself and does the baby voice and says, “What?  Why won’t you answer me.”  Still, we are silent.  (It’s usually about then that one of the boys [usually Youngest Son] will say, “Duh.  THINK about it!”)

One technique I read somewhere suggested parents give a child who asks constant questions a limit to the number of questions they can ask at a given time.  For example, say you’re driving across town.  You might give your child an eight question limit.  This will make them think (if they’re able) about whether or not they want to use one of their questions, or whether the thing they’re asking is worth their time (and yours).  I just may try that when I pick up The Princess from school today.  I haven’t thought about trying it for a while.  I think if we make a game out of it, and I don’t make it too big of a deal, she may actually start to think.  It’s worth a shot.

I also haven’t thought about why she may increase her questioning while riding in the car.  I realized today that her anxiety does indeed seem to increase when riding in the car.  She’s not usually obviously nervous, nor does she SEEM stressed out, but she does get more animated and she really does talk a LOT more in the car.  It could be the confined space.  It could also be that the first time she rode in a car at age three, she was being taken away from her first mother.  Riding in the car could be a trauma trigger.  What do you think?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

ADHD or Hypervigilance?

If you’ve read my blog for some time, you know The Princess is going through, and dealing with, a LOT of trauma stuff these days.  She is diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), anxiety, attachment issues, and ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder) – emphasis on the H!  It’s never dull around here, and I am quite literally EXHAUSTED from it all.  Lately, my patience is so thin, and my therapeutic parenting tool box is so scattered about my brain, that when I need one of those therapeutic tools, I really have to root around my head to find it.  This is especially true when we’re out in public.

Last night at Applebees, The Princess was as animated as a 3-year-old on steroids that were washed down with a 2-liter bottle of Mountain Dew.  She was like that going into the restaurant.  She was like that all through the meal.  She was like that when we left, as she bounced backwards into two people coming into the restaurant while we were going out.  She was like that when she ran out into the parking lot, in the dark, in front of a car driving way too fast for a restaurant parking lot.  (Thankfully, Hubby grabbed her.)  She was also like that as we were getting into the car -- until I yelled at her, “I.  have.  had.  E-NOUGH!”  (No, this is not a therapeutic parenting technique.)  Strangely, I think it shocked her because she stopped, doe-eyed in her tracks.  Still, the shock broke the craziness and she was (mostly) quiet on the ride home.

I’m sure most people who witnessed The Princess’ behavior last night would have either agreed with her ADHD diagnosis or thought we were “those kind” of parents  -- the ones who allow their children to behave poorly.  (For the record, I am not one of “those” parents.  I am a “mean mommy,” and I am proud of it.)  The thing is, when it comes to that ADHD diagnosis, I’m not so sure all the craziness The Princess displays in public is due to hyperactivity as much as it’s due to hypervigilance.

The next time we go out (and it won’t be any time soon), I will spend some time preparing The Princess for our family time.  She needs to be reminded she’s safe.  She needs to be reminded she’s a big girl.  She even needs to be reminded that she will be protected and not abandoned.  We will take care of her.

ADHD is the most commonly diagnosed disorder in adopted children.  Articles I’ve read suggest children diagnosed with ADHD often have a biological parent (usually the father) with ADHD.  Research suggests  environmental factors also play a significant part, including prenatal exposure to alcohol and drugs, a mother’s smoking while pregnant, and low birth weight.  Lead poisoning also seems to play a role in a great number of children diagnosed with ADHD.  Kids coming from orphanage backgrounds, like my kids, are even more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD. 

However, I’ve also read some adopted, hurt kids diagnosed with ADHD may actually be hypervigilant due to past trauma.  There’s an article on Boris Gindis’ website here that explains this observation.  The more I watch my daughter and get to know her, the more I believe she is hypervigilant more than ADHD.  She is able to focus and settle down when she is motivated to do so.  She loves to read books for long periods of time.  She can sit still when she feels safe.

The things that make her seem hyperactive include the behaviors she displayed last night at dinner.  When I yelled, she snapped out of it.  I believe she was still hypervigilant after I yelled; her behavior just changed because she was afraid of my reaction.  As my kids have gotten older and have begun to try to reason (even if they’re often not all that successful at it), I can see how “snapping them out of it” works sometimes. 

Now, I’m NOT saying the WAY to do that is to yell.  However, I am saying a little bit of understanding of how others perceive your behavior isn’t such a bad thing.  Some may call it “shaming.”  I call it “awareness.”  If my child is stuck in asinine, annoying, anti-social behaviors, she needs to be made aware those behaviors are unacceptable.  Sometimes, that awareness needs to happen sharply and quickly.  Otherwise, you’re paying for an ER visit for some poor guy who just wanted to have a nice dinner with his wife, or you’re scraping your kid off the macadam. 

Still sometimes, I think it’s all just a crap shoot.  What works one time doesn't work the next and I'm always trying to figure something else out to do.

Sudden “awareness” can sometimes trigger hurt kids into full out rages.  This happened with The Princess at the zoo back in December.  Thankfully, this is very rare for her.  (A public, full-on rage has never yet happened with Youngest Son.)  Usually, “awareness” works to stop extreme animation in The Princess.  Some may say, “Yeah, but you pay for it later.”  I’m not so sure I wouldn’t be dealing with something later anyhow.  If it gives me a relatively quiet ride home after a dinner that four out of the five of us did not enjoy because The Princess was the star attraction of the Applebees’ Review that night, then I’ll take it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Black & White Thinking

Riding in the car on the way to school this morning, my daughter asked, “Mom, what is human trafficking?”  Talk about a sucker punch. 

My daughter is processing SO MUCH lately.  Hard topics such as human trafficking are not something I was prepared to deal with today, alongside known trauma triggers such as bio-family stuff like I wrote about on Friday, bad dreams like I wrote about HERE recently, or acting out behaviors like at the zoo over the holidays.  Heck, I wasn’t even fully awake yet.  I am NOT a morning person.  So, what did I do?  I took a big breath.  I let it out.  Then, I answered her with a question of my own.  “Honey, were you talking about human trafficking in youth group last night?” 

Well, yes.  It was THE topic of discussion last night.

Another deep breath in.  Another deep breath out.

I kept driving.  I gave her a broad definition of what human trafficking meant.  She asked a few more questions.  She told me some more things her small group leader told her about the topic.  I told her that yes, those things were sadly true.  Then I said I wished the youth leaders told parents when they were going to be dealing with such hard topics.  She said, “Me, too.” 

Then she asked, “What about alcoholics?”  I asked in return, “What about them?”  She rolled her eyes and told me that she is probably going to be an alcoholic, as well as poor, when she grows up.  I asked her why she thought that and she said it was because they discussed it in Sunday School yesterday.  She said that “people who grow up with alcoholic parents become alcoholics, and people who grow up poor stay poor.”  Whether it was discussed QUITE that way or not, I don’t know, but I do know she was triggered by the discussion.  So was Youngest Son.  He confirmed that this was the discussion.

Unfortunately, not enough people working with traumatized kids know enough about them or their needs.  More training is needed – really needed – for anyone working with children.  This education should be part of any teacher training, youth & children’s ministry training, or sports/recreation training.  We trauma mamas need to figure out a way to make this happen!

Traumatized kids tend to see things as black and white.  There are no gray areas.  It doesn’t matter if they’re 6 or 16.  Something either is, or it isn’t.  They think, “If I had alcoholic parents, I will be an alcoholic.”  That’s a traumatized brain.  There are no gray areas that say, “I HAD alcoholic parents, but now I’m being raised in a safe, functional family and I can overcome my past.  I can learn skills that will help me navigate life in a more healthy way.”  Likewise, even though they’ve been told many times, there is no ability to remember that God is in the business of redemption when our kids are triggered.

Black and white, or “all or nothing” thinking, is tied to the most primitive of human responses:  flight or fight.  Kids dealing with complex trauma, when triggered, are transported back to that primitive state of being in flight or fight mode, just as they were when the trauma first occurred.  It is an automatic response on a very basic level.  There is no rationalization.  The brain in flight or fight mode cannot rationalize.  It reacts.  Because traumatized kids are triggered to believe their lives are in danger – that they may actually DIE -- there is no time for “if this” or “maybe that.”  There is no room for gray.  While a youth worker discussing social problems with the youth group may also discuss the redemption of God, or the ability to overcome hard beginnings with good nurturing, the brain of a traumatized kid already in flight or fight mode simply will not process this.  There is no time for uncertainty when your life is threatened.  You need to decide whether to run, or to stay and fight.

The amygdala, which is in the middle part of the brain, and the center for the fight/flight/freeze response, is fully functional at birth.  That means that even a tiny baby is capable of a full blown trauma response.  Even children who do not cognitively remember a traumatic event can still have that full blown trauma response stored in their amygdala.  It “rewires” the brain for life.  It does not go away with love and time.  It can be triggered by events, actions, discussions, sights, smells, touches, and sensory experiences in the future.

The hippocampuses, where the brain assesses stimuli and tells us whether or not it is threatening, is not fully functional until a child is about five years old.  The cortex – the front part of the brain where we can think and figure things out and rationalize -- is not fully mature until around age 12, sometimes even older. This means that when a baby or young child is hurt and frightened, they have no way of understanding what is going on around them. The front part of their brain can’t rationalize what’s happening, so the middle part of their brain simply stores the trauma.  That trauma causes black and white thinking (a flight or fight response), because they do not have the developmental capability to process levels of threat, nor the cognitive capability to even understand what’s happening.

Kids dealing with complex trauma CANNOT simply “get over it.”

The result of trauma triggers such as hearing, “people who grew up with alcoholic parents become alcoholics” is too often a self-fulfilling prophecy.  In traumatized kids’ all or nothing thinking, they believe they are doomed to repeat their biological parents mistakes.  They believe they are destined to BE their biological parents.  Their already too well-established sense of being “damaged goods” is reinforced.  In their black and white thinking, their beliefs about themselves are affirmed.  The instruction of a well-meaning teacher or youth worker is twisted to a belief that is exactly opposite of what any caring adult would intend.

In addition to education for people working with youth and children, parent notification is also essential when hard topics will be presented in the classroom or the youth meeting.  Youth leaders and teachers should notify parents IN ADVANCE that they will be discussing hard topics with youth.  Parents raising hurt children can then decide how best to prepare their child for the topic – or even whether or not to allow their child to participate in that discussion at all.  Some parents may decide to prepare their child and also attend the session with the child.  Still, the decision on how to best approach these topics with a traumatized child should be left up to the parent.  Communication is the key.  Teachers and youth workers should not depend upon children to communicate to parents that a hard topic is to be discussed, or that a documentary on a hard topic will be shown.  One of the greatest challenges for parents of traumatized children is getting them to tell us anything!  Adults need to communicate with adults.  As parents, we are the ones who need to take the initiative.

As parents, we need to be the ones talking to our kids’ teachers, youth leaders, and coaches.  We need to be proactive, and not reactive (often the “fight” of flight or fight response) ourselves.  Communicate with the adults in your child’s life.  Perhaps offer some training.  The FACT SHEETS I posted on this blog are a good tool and can be adjusted to help youth leaders outside the classroom as well as for teachers.  There are also some good resources posted HERE.  Feel free to share in the comments section additional resources or links to sites you have found helpful.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Bio-Family Stuff

As I wrote yesterday, The Princess is processing a lot of “stuff” right now.  She’s dealing with a lot of memories – both real and imagined – and she’s trying to figure things out to make sense of them.  We are trying to help her do that with attachment and family therapy, based on a combination of research and techniques used by folks such as Dr. Bruce Perry, Dr. Becky Bailey, and Heather Forbes, LCSW.  Princess wants to bury her feelings about this “stuff” and deal with things on her own terms – terms which are just not healthy, and cause her to act out with much anger and resentment.  Interestingly enough, however, she is still talking to me – still asking questions.  On her own terms.  In her own time.  I’m realizing I’m not always as ready for “it” as I thought I would be.  Last evening was one of those times.

The Princess started asking questions about her bio-family and past traumatic events.  Her memory of these things is skewed because she was so little, and because Youngest Son feeds her his own skewed memory of the events.  My practice has always been to set them both straight – to tell them the truth I know.  I share what information we have in court documents.  I also tell them the things their paternal grandmother told us when we did biological family research (through an in-country facilitator) a few years ago.  At first, I thought it was best to “protect” the kids from the details.  Who wants to tell their children the woman who gave birth to them did the things she did?  Who wants to hear their birth father’s depression was exponentially fueled by the actions of their birth mother, and the alcoholism of them both?  This stuff was just too hard.  I didn’t want to talk with them about it.  The Princess, however, while she is very immature emotionally, is also very, very smart.  On one hand, she doesn’t want to know, but on the other, she does.  She has questions about her story.  Afterall, it’s HER story.

Processing her story is something I want her to do with me in therapy.  Unfortunately, she tends to process a lot of it at school with friends.  Most of these friends are hurt kids themselves.  She’s attracted to them like a fly is to poo.  (Yeah, I made that analogy on purpose.)  I do not like that this is true for my daughter.  I do not like that trauma too often begets trauma – or, at least, feeds off it.

My daughter has copies of some of the pictures we received when we did that bio-family search.  These pictures are of her grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and even her biological father.  She also has some pictures from her orphanage.  The deal was she could look at these and talk to us about them at home.  However, she has taken them to school on numerous occasions without my knowledge and has shown them around, telling these other hurt kids way too much – much more than any of them can handle.  Much more than she can handle on her own.  And they’ve hurt her more with their comments and questions.  (I wish I fully understood why hurt kids tend to set themselves up for more hurt.)  I have never given her the one picture I have of her birth mother.  I wasn’t planning on giving it to her, or even showing it to her, any time soon.  But I showed her last night. 

I don’t think I’ll ever get why some cultures take pictures of dead bodies at funerals.  I don’t think I’ll ever get why the mourners pose with the dead body and have their picture taken, too.  This is the one picture I have of the birth mother.  The family is gathered around the birth father’s open casket.  She is standing at the head of the casket with Youngest Son.  The Princess is not in the picture, and to our knowledge, she did not attend the funeral (though she insists she did even when Youngest Son tells her she did not).  While it is possible to crop the picture, the image of the birth mother’s face is very tiny.  She is looking down.  The sun is shining brightly on the right side of her face, whiting out a portion of her image.  It is not a good picture photographically at all.  Yet, it is the only picture I have, and The Princess wants it.  She wants me to print it out for her. 

I am not doing that.  Not now anyway.

In my head, I understand The Princess’ need to remember her birth mother and know what she looked like.  The Princess insisted she had blond hair prior to seeing the picture, for example.  She did not.  She has dark brown hair, just like The Princess.  My daughter also insisted that birth mother was thin.  She is not thin in this picture.  She is, in fact, a bit chubby.  I also get that my daughter needs to know WHO she comes from as well as where she comes from.  I get that.  That’s my own driving force in being a genealogy geek.  I learned my mother’s Dad was not her biological father when I was 15 years old.  I always wondered about that man and about the family I was a part of, but did not know.  I found them as an adult, but my mother and my grandmother kept all that information from me.  It wasn’t right.  It wasn’t fair.  Even if my biological grandfather treated my grandmother poorly, I still had a right to know about the PEOPLE I come from.  My daughter has that right, too.  Strangely though, I now understand my grandmother and mother’s resentment at my need to know. 

As we were preparing to adopt, I read all I could about the needs of adopted children to know about the people they come from.  I was sure I would be supportive and that I would never say an ill word about my children’s birthparents.  I would be positive.  I would help them learn what they wanted to learn.  I would even support them having a relationship with extended family members.  I was clueless.

I had no idea I could hate the birth mother of my children.  (Yep.  I said that, too.  I have hated her.)  It is SHE who did this to MY kids.  It is SHE who deserves my daughter’s wrath, though it is I who deal with it.  It was HER actions that have caused MY children so much pain.  Yes, I have hated her.  And I’ve secretly wished my children would hate her, too.

Hate is a cancer that eats your soul.  Trauma is drawn to trauma.  Hate is drawn to hate even more so.  I don’t want my children drawn to trauma.  I don’t want my children drawn to hate.  Therefore, I needed to let go of hate.  Sometimes, I will admit, that need resurfaces and the “let go” is moment-to-moment.  It is then I need to remember I cannot hate someone I’ve never known.  It is her decisions and her actions that I hate.  It is the sin (and yes, that’s the word) that I hate.  I do not hate the person.  (Admittedly, I do struggle to love her.)  She is not well.  She was not well when she hurt my kids.  My daughter wants to know who she is.  So, I will tell her the truth – again and again – however many times she needs to hear it.

I have still not printed out the picture for her.  I do not want it floating around a middle school.  There is one “friend” there that is particularly cruel to The Princess.  I do not want this “friend” having any more fuel for her twisted fires.  I also do not want other friends giving their 12 and 13 year-old opinions about it.  She’s already been made fun of this week for having an “old” mother (me).  I can still at least TRY to protect her from some things, can’t I?  (Oh, how homeschooling sounds better and better to me with each passing day.)

I love my daughter more than I can express in words.  She is MINE.  She comes from her. 

My daughter can look at my copy of the picture. 

We’ll print it out and take it to therapy next time.

Added later:  On second thought, maybe I WON'T print out the picture and take it to therapy next time we go.  I hadn't thought about what to do with it afterward.  As Diana writes below, destroying it is probably not a good idea.  If I file it, I can guarantee both she and Youngest Son will be rooting through ALL my stuff trying to find it.  And leaving it with the therapist is probably something even my therapist wouldn't recommend.  Thanks Diana for sharing some things I hadn't thought about.  Like I said, sometimes I'm just not as prepared to deal with the "stuff" as I thought I would be.  It is on my computer (and backed up) in secure files.  Only I know the password.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Need to Control = Fear

The Princess and I had family therapy yesterday morning.  It wasn’t fun.  This is the second session in a row she has refused to participate.  She just sits there, with her arms folded, and won’t say anything other than, “I don’t know,” or “I don’t want to talk about it.”  There’s a lot going on, but for her, if she doesn’t think about it, then it’s not really happening.  For her, if she doesn’t deal with it, she doesn’t have to feel it.  For her, those big feelings are still there whether she wants to feel them or not.  So, because she will not deal with “it,” she is easily triggered and then explodes, (like she did at the zoo), or she’s constantly talking, bouncing off the walls, and using her baby voice.  You see, she MUST be in control.  If she lets go, if her control goes, then there’s no telling what feelings will come to the service!  She’s crazy scared of what those things REALLY feel like.  The fear is HUGE!

There is nothing we can do to MAKE her participate in therapy or in other community based services.  Nothing.  We can be there.  We can offer her support and help, but if she doesn’t want to participate, we’re (therapist, social worker, SRS case manager, parents) just spinning our wheels.  She’s just not ready for talk therapy right now.  She’s 13 and has the shape of a young woman, but she is still about as emotionally capable as a preschooler.  So, backwards we go.  In therapy, we’ll deal with the preschooler.

After the $140 waste of time yesterday morning, the Princess’ therapist called to talk with me privately.  We had two choices:  quit for now (not an option to me) or revert back to play therapy with puppets, sand trays, play dough, and other toys (like you’d use with a much younger child).  I asked the therapist to try taking her backwards and working with her as though she were in preschool.  When she started therapy two years ago, these are the kinds of tools we used in our attachment therapy.  She responded well then.  She revealed her thoughts and feelings through play and responded well to receiving ideas for helping her to deal with situations.  So now, in going back there, I am hoping she responds well again.  Things have been so hard with her the last several months.  I cannot imagine her (nor I) not having our therapist and HCBS (home & community-based services).  I don’t want to imagine it.  (I know some of you, dear readers, do not have a mental health facility near you like we do.  Please forgive my whining.  I know a lot of you do this on your own.  I am a wuss, and God knew that when He plunked us down here.  Believe it or not, I just “lucked into” finding our therapist.  I didn’t even know we had a MH facility in our community when we moved here.) 

When I picked The Princess up after school yesterday, I told her the therapist called me, and that we talked about adding a community-based service (someone who’d work with The Princess in the community and talk with her about family and social skills).  We also talked about the need to cooperate and work in therapy.  I explained we’d be going back to doing play therapy more so than talk therapy, but that she needed to do the work of dealing with the big feelings that have been bubbling up inside of her.  I did not tell her about the possibility of being “fired” from therapy for not cooperating.  She would seize CONTROL of THAT like a drowning man grabbing a life ring!  I did tell her if she did not cooperate, we would be facing a lot more years of therapy and interventions than we could begin to imagine.  (I did not elaborate.)

The Princess is not afraid of me, nor of her therapist.  That’s not where her need for control rests.  She trusts us.  The person she doesn’t trust is herself.  She doesn’t trust she’s strong enough to handle those big feelings that are festering under the surface.  She’s afraid of peeling off the emotional scab and letting whatever poison out that is there, so the healing can begin.  Alas, we plod on.  We try to help her feel safe enough to “go there,” assuring her that developing coping tools now, while she’s young, will help her out much more effectively than waiting till she’s older to deal with things and does not have us “right there” to catch her, and help her back up.

That’s what therapeutic parenting is, you know.  Plodding on.

Trauma sucks.  Big time.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Scholarly Education on Complex Trauma

When I was a teenager, I spent as little time as possible studying.  I did what I had to do to get by in school.  I was a lazy scholar.  Deep down, I still am.  My thirst for learning is only fueled by my desperation.  When I feel I NEED to know something and do not, it is then I am most ready to study and to learn.  There is much I have needed to know these last several years.  If you also need to know, below are some scholarly papers and websites with resources for higher learning about complex trauma:

     *Neuroscience & Behavior - a free undergraduate level course on MIT's open learning website.  There are over 700 courses on this site - both undergraduate and graduate level courses - in a wide range for fields of study.

     *Articles by Dr. Bruce Perry (one of my favorites):
          Anxiety Disorders
          Bonding & Attachment in Maltreated Children
          The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics
          and FOR TEACHERS
          Children and Loss (on Scholastic's website)
          What Childhood Neglect Tells Us About Nature and Nurture

     *Treatment of Complex Trauma in Young Children:  Developmental and Cultural Consideration in Application of the ARC Intervention Model.  Arvidson, Kinniburgh, Howard, Spinazzola, Strothers, Evans, Andres, Cohen, Blaustein, 2011.  Journal of Child and Adolescent Trauma, 4:34-51

     *The Amygdala, Fear, and Memory.  Fanselow & Gale discuss the role of the frontotemporal amygdala in classical fear conditioning, 2003.

 More links are available at:  Tip Sheets for Psychology Majors.  Additionally, even more links -- more than you will ever read or need, but may want to browse for some gems -- are available at www.trauma-pages.com

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

UPDATED! - Fact Sheets for the Classroom

Educating teachers about PTSD, RAD, ADHD/ADD, FASD/FAE, PDD, anxiety, depression, and even Aspergers is a chore each year for me.  It is a necessary chore, however.  Unfortunately, our teachers are overworked and underpaid and frankly, clueless about what it REALLY means to deal with all these things, or how to best educate a child with complex trauma.  (Let's face it, we were all clueless, too until we had to deal with it face-to-face ourselves.)

I wish I'd found these Fact Sheets back in 2007.  They are posted on the Kansas State Department of Education website and are designed to give teachers an overview of the challenges our kids face every single day.  They are not comprehensive, but they provide the basics.  (Besides, I've learned most teachers don't bother reading much of the information given to them even by their own administrators.  Even if they WANTED to, there just aren't enough hours in the day to read everything they're told is "essential.")  

I've developed a lot of presentations and materials of my own through the years and I promise to share more of those over time on the blog.  But my best piece of advice for communicating your child's needs to his or her teachers is to develop a relationship with them.  Be prepared to advocate (a.k.a. "fight") when you need to, but work with your child's teacher to show them you appreciate their professionalism.  Hopefully, they in turn will respect your expertise as a therapeutic parent, raising a hurt child.  

Do not expect a teacher to work like a therapist.  Their job is to educate your child.  Give them tools that support them in their job, even as you ask them to support your job as a therapeutic parent.  Hopefully, they'll appreciate your efforts to make their job easier, and thus make your job easier by avoiding those triggers which set your kids off on behaviors most teachers never get to see.



     *Asperger Syndrome

Additional resources for the classroom here:  Child Mental Health Resources

Monday, January 16, 2012

Letting Sleeping Teenagers Lie

My two youngest are home from school today.  It’s Martin Luther King Day.  Our school district gives the kids the day off and makes the staff work.  (Yeah, I don’t get that, either.)  Anyway, Youngest Son and Princess are still in bed.  It’s 10:15 as I type this sentence.  They probably should be up, or at least moving.  However, I’m enjoying the peace and quiet.  He’s not barking orders at her.  She’s not bouncing off the walls.  I may have to pay for this quiet later, but for now, I like it.  I like it a lot.

There’s been a lot of trauma-related stuff going on with my kids the last few months.  The holidays are always hard, as I’ve written before.  It starts with Halloween (literally the holiday from hell around here) and builds to a crescendo in January – the anniversary month for a major traumatic event in my kids’ lives.  Every year, the reactions in each kid have been a bit different.  This year, their 5th January home, their reactions seem more introspective, even if they are still sometimes acting out. 

For example, we live near the campus of a former American orphanage.  It is now a children’s home for foster kids who are hard to place into private foster homes.  It’s a beautiful campus.  There aren’t a lot of kids there anymore, but there are still some.  They are kids with significant behavioral challenges.  My kids call it “The Bad Boys Home.”  (I cannot get them to stop calling it that.  I’ve given up trying.  Girls live there, too, by the way.)  Anyway, my daughter and I drove by the campus on the way home from school the other day and she asked, “Why is ‘The Bad Boys Home’ so nice?”  I had to think for a moment what it was she was really asking.  After I paused, I answered her question with another question.  “Princess, are you thinking about your orphanage and about [birth country]?” 

BINGO!  Survivor’s guilt.  Things were nicer in America.  “Why is it so much nicer?”  Even in America, the orphanages were better maintained.  “Why are these buildings so nice when my orphanage was in such disrepair?”

What answers can you give a child who wonders at our middle-middle class American abundance?  How do you handle the irony, when just that morning, she was complaining about how we didn’t have the resources to do things or have some of the possessions some of her friends have?  Frankly, I didn’t answer her questions.  (On one level, I didn’t want to go there.  On another, I knew it wasn’t about what she seemed to be asking.)  I asked more questions instead.

“Princess, are you thinking about the people you left behind in [country] when you came to America?”  (Yes.)  “Are you thinking about some very specific people?”  (Yes.)  “It sounds like you’re thinking about your friends at the orphanage, but are you also thinking about [birthmom]?”  (Yes.  And OH, YES!)  This opened the door for more questions.  “Why did she do this?”  “Why did that have to happen?”  “Why did I have to go into an orphanage?”  “Why didn’t she come see me?”  “Why didn’t she come GET me?”  “What is she doing now?”  “Does she know where I am?”  “Does she think about me?”  “Do I matter to her?” 

These are questions our kids have.  We can’t ignore it.  We can’t take it personally.  We need to put ourselves in their shoes and acknowledge their loss – and their survivor’s guilt.  We can reassure.  We can love.  It won’t take the questions away.  They remain and the questions are sleeping dogs we cannot let lie, lest they wake with a vengeance.  We won’t always have definitive answers to the questions, but we can listen and acknowledge them.  It’s okay to let our kids know we wonder, too.


It’s not quite 11 a.m.  I think I’ll let the sleeping teenagers lie a while longer.  I do enjoy the quiet.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What Friends Don't See

That title would probably more accurately read, “What Friends Don’t GET TO See.”

I received a lovely phone call from one of my best friends last night.  She wanted to tell me how well my two youngest kids behaved yesterday afternoon.  They were responsible and mature.  Pleasant.  Appropriate.  Studious.  They were everything a parent could possibly want in a child. 

This friend is also the mom of an older, internationally-adopted child.  Fortunately, she knows better.  She knew I’d see something different.  This behavior is not my children – not to me, anyhow.   She knew this behavior would not last once the children were out her door and in our care again.  She knew our kids would be stressed.  She knew I was stressed.  She just wanted me to know that I didn’t need to worry about how they’d behaved while she had them.  ‘Made me feel a little jealous, but it was nice to know.

The reason this friend had my kids yesterday is because I spent the day in a hospital emergency room with my youngest biological son.  He is two years older than our youngest son, but many years “older” in social and emotional development.  They are four school years apart.  Youngest son feels his most competitive towards this son.  He feels most threatened for our love, time, and devotion with this son over any of the other siblings. 

Yesterday, our 18-year-old was dehydrated from food poisoning.  He’s still pretty sick this morning.  He’s sleeping now, as I write, but it’s been a long night for his mom.  I am thankful for a school day today.  Even with all the therapeutic parenting tools in my toolbox, I don’t think I would have done well with my hurt kids this morning.  I knew there would be fallout from yesterday, but that doesn’t mean I have the energy to deal with it.  My daughter was “bouncing off the walls” hyper this morning, being too cute, and using her baby voice.  She could not leave me alone and demanded near constant attention.  My youngest son would have nothing to do with me.  He was surly and withdrawn, wouldn’t look at me, let me know he didn’t need me, and didn’t say a word to me – not even when he got the trash without being asked and I thanked him for doing so.

I have to tell you, these are the times I feel most like smacking him upside the head.  (Yeah, I wrote that.)

But here’s what I know and what my friends don’t get to see:  My kids were scared spitless yesterday.  They’re still scared today.  They got notes in the middle of class, telling them someone was getting them from school other than me.  (The note from my daughter’s school office was AWFUL.  “X picking you up.  Red Suburban.  Don’t get violin.  Come right out.  Mom with student in hospital.”  She didn’t know WHO was in the hospital or why.  To say my daughter was terrified is putting it mildly.)  Then, they got taken to my friend’s house and they stayed there until after supper.  While she explained to them what was going on and reassured them (and they behaved appropriately concerned in front of her), they were triggered by past trauma.  Very, very triggered.  They still are.

“How sick is my brother?”  “Is he going to die?”  “Can my mom take care of me?”  “Is my mom going to die?”  “Does my mom still love me?”  “Does my mom love my brother more than me?”  “Do I still matter?”  “What about me?”  “Where’s my dad?”  -- Sounds like the thinking of a 2-year-old, doesn’t it?  That’s trauma.  That’s exactly the emotional age at which my children are responding to their brother’s illness, to my being less available, to an abrupt change in their routine yesterday, and to thoughtless notes from distracted school secretaries.  I cannot expect them to behave like 13 and 16 year olds today – or probably for days to come.  Trauma stinks.

Tired as I am, they need me.  They need to be reassured.  They need me to walk them through a process of process.  Even when I don’t feel like it.

This, my fellow trauma mama friends, is why we need one another.  Do not isolate yourself.  Seek out friendship.  Find other blogs online.  Maybe even sign up for Diana’s find-a-friend project.

I am very blessed to have a good friend who is also an adoptive mom nearby.  But this is a recent blessing.  Through most of my journey, it has been (and still is) my online friends who have always “been there” for me.  YOU are the ones who get it.  You are the ones who know this walk.  It sure can be exhausting, but it’s a lot easier when you know someone has your back.

Thanks for that.  (Thanks especially to my friends who helped yesterday.  You know who you are.)

Monday, January 9, 2012

My First Blog Award Nomination!

Wow!  To say I am humbled does not describe my feelings.  My special friend, Diana has nominated me for my first blog award writing as "Trauma Mama T."

As Diana writes, "There are two parts to it when you are nominated.  First you have to list seven things about yourself that your readers might not know.  Then you pass the love along by nominating (up to) five of your favorite blogs for the award."

Okay, here are seven things you may not know about me:

1.  I've held varied positions throughout my life -- everything from Realtor (R) to Executive Director of a non-profit community/education organization, but my education is in English/journalism (undergrad) and higher education administration & counseling (grad school).  

2.  The thing I have wanted to be the most throughout my life, and as early as I can remember, is a mom.

3.  I am learning as I go.  There is no such thing as a "professional" therapeutic parent.  Some of us have just been at it a little longer than others and have made more mistakes along the way.  I have much to learn.

4.  I love wild daisies.  I like sunflowers a lot.

5.  I'm a genealogy geek.  I got into tracing my ancestry about 12 years ago and even have one line traced back to William the Conqueror and earlier.  My ancestors include English kings, Irish potato farmers, German brewers, Eastern European saints, American horse thieves, and everything in between.

6.  I love history.  (See #5 above.)

7.  I'm a lazy writer.  I have to make myself write.  I enjoy it once I get going, but it's a real chore to get started.

Now, for some favorite blogs:

I have to nominate Diana back.  Her blog at Gold to Refine is one of the best "out there."  She is one of my main "go to" girls.  She's "been there" for me before, during and since our adoption.  I've had the privilege of meeting her in person, talking to her on the phone many times, and corresponding with her electronically nearly every day for more than five years now. 

I also nominate Annie.  She is the writer of "One Mother's Day."  Like me, she has some years of parenting experience (in other words, we're both older moms).  She also has teens adopted from Eastern Europe.  She's pretty amazing, too and like Diana, I've known her for about five years.  I hope to meet her in person one day!

Nominated, too, is Tamara.  She is a young pup, but is not "new" to therapeutic parenting.  Tami has four kids adopted from Eastern Europe.  Until recently, she lived within a few hours driving distance.  I haven't gotten to meet her yet, so now I'll just have to drive a little further some day!  She's written several blogs but has recently established a ministry and her own publishing company.  She's an awesome, professional writer, too!  Check out her blog at Cross River Ministries.

Thank you for blessing me, Diana!