In those moments of exhaustion, frustration and disappointment,
we often find ourselves yelling out, “What's wrong with you? ”
This child that we dreamed of, prayed for, maybe even flew across the world to bring home, has once again done something so upsetting, you are not even sure what to do. I’ve been there. I have over reacted. It's so aggravating! So, what is wrong with them?
Your mother in law may say your parenting isn’t strict enough, your neighbour may say it is their nutrition, the teacher may say it’s ADHD, and you may worry it’s some mental illness they inherited. I’m going to suggest... it might be trauma related.
Anytime you are parenting a child from a difficult past it is important to consider trauma as a possible cause for any concerning behaviors. Children do not recover quickly from horrible situations. Children are not resilient. They may not cry or talk about their trauma. Their behaviours will look different from those of an adult and may not seem connected to the trauma, or logical. But when anyone, young or old, goes through a difficult situation, they will be changed. They will carry scars. So then our role, as their parents and loved ones, is to role model emotional regulation, to teach them coping skills and help them heal. All the while knowing, most scars never totally disappear.
So, how do you know if you need to begin using some trauma informed parenting strategies at home? First let’s talk about what trauma is...
Trauma is experienced any time a child is afraid for their safety if they witness potential harm to someone else. So this could be physical or emotional harm, real or even perceived. Trauma can be the result of a single event, or it can result from exposure to multiple events over time.
Think back over what you know about your child’s past. Have they experienced any of the following in their childhood?
Emotional abuse or bullying
Physical neglect (for example, resulting in fears of not having enough to eat)
Emotional neglect (limited physical / verbal interaction with caregiver)
Effects of poverty (for example, fears of being homeless)
Being separated from loved ones (frequent family moves, incarceration of a parent, placed in foster care, or an orphanage)
Witnessing harm or threat of harm to a loved one or pet (for example, domestic violence)
Witnessing harm or threat of harm to another person (for example, community violence)
Natural disasters or accidents
Unpredictable parental behavior due to addiction or mental illness
In utero drug exposure resulting in the newborn going through detox
Now, you might say, “But I picked up my child from the hospital and we have had a loving safe home.” That’s great! But I’m going to throw out another bullet point for you to consider. Because your child’s brain was growing for months before they were born, and in those formative months, if they experienced an in utero trauma it can be very damaging. So, do you need to also check off this bullet point?
Stressful pregnancy for the mother (including unstable housing, domestic violence, mental illness, anxiety about an unwanted pregnancy, lack of proper prenatal medical care)
If they have gone through any of these horrible situations, and especially if they have experienced more than one, it is likely that their behaviours are a result of trauma on the brain. Studies also show there is an even greater risk of harm if the trauma occurs in the first four years of their life. If this has been their past, they may be stuck in flight, fight or freeze mode much of the time. They may have higher levels of adrenaline or cortisol pumping through their body. They may be more sensitive to stimulation than other children. It may have nothing to do with you. It may be all do to situations that happened before your eyes met.
A lot of times children from hard places are misdiagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) or ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder) or they get the label of being a troublemaker or bad kid. And there are a lot of similarities between ADHD and trauma related disorders, or your child may even have both! But if your child has been through a trauma then the parenting a treatment is going to look a lot different then just giving them some Ritalin. Make sure you are getting your child the help they truly need in order to grow into loving adults by providing trauma informed parenting strategies and seeking out professional help. This will be too much for your manage alone.
Check out the links below for more information as they were helpful in creating this blog...
Parenting a Child Who Has Experienced Trauma
Is it ADHD or Child Traumatic Stress? NCTSN