How Do You Process Your Child’s Trauma?

We spend so much of this journey fighting for our children, and helping them fight through the trauma they’ve endured, that we rarely take time to process it ourselves. That’s why a simple question, recently asked of me, has me thinking…

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This past weekend we attended a discussion group in a small coffee house in a neighboring town to ours. The topics ranged from pain, to overcoming grief, to God, to suffering in the world, to personal struggles. And then the facilitator asked us a question that we’ve rarely been asked over our 15-year adoptive journey: “How do YOU process and work through your child’s trauma?”

Me? Interesting….

Over the past 5 years, in particular, we’ve spoken on, written on, and counseled many on how to help their child through their trauma. We’ve even driven home the importance of self-care and being in community when the you-know-what hits the fan. We’ve written articles, posts, recorded podcasts, even taught breakout sessions at conferences on understanding trauma, techniques to apply to your parenting when your child is in an all-out rage, and more.

But when it comes to the nitty gritty, down to the bone, personal processing of the trauma your child has gone through, and continues to go through, sometimes we float past that. And it’s not something I’ve spent much time considering. Me. Us. We. How do WE process this? How do WE spin in our minds, this child whom we love, and the pain, fear, rage, and fight that lives within him all..the..time?

I answered as best as I could. I talked about all of the things we’ve shared with the thousands of parents who follow our work. I even shared honestly some of our own thought process when we’ve been in the muck and mire of the trench hoping and praying for a shred of hope to shine forth.

And then it hit me just how we process…..


A safe space.

A real space.

A non-judgmental space.

A place to dump our truck of deep emotions, let others know that we’re not okay, and not receive the typical jaw-clinching, eyes bouncing away from us, “I can believe he just said that,” subtle raise of the eyebrow look from well-meaning people who have no freaking idea what I’m talking about (or pretend not to)!

Fact is, we’re on-guard so often that we rarely take time to really, deeply grieve over our children. Rarely do we give ourselves permission to process the desperation we feel deep in the caverns of our heart for these children we so deeply love and cherish. The list is long….the haunting memories they can never escape. The fear that propels them to behave in ways that leave us exhausted and emotionally done. The fight for control that they cannot fully understand or articulate. The longing in their eyes to connect, but the inability to do so.

We’re guarded, and rarely show weakness because so much is on the line. To be completely honest (as if we’re not already all the time), we fear showing any amount of weakness….any amount of vulnerability. We’ve been burned by school counselors, therapists, pediatricians, and OTs in the past when we’ve done this. When we’ve decided to let our guard down, show our grief, share our children’s trauma (not from a factual perspective, but a broken one), we’ve been labeled, criticized, and judged.

And we really, really, really, really don’t need that. We’re in the fight of our lives here. We believe in our children….we love them as if we created them biologically, but we’re in a constant state of advocacy. So, no, we don’t take time to personally process their trauma….to grieve….to ugly cry without inhibition….allowing the deep hurt we feel for them, that spends its time pinned up in our brain, to flow freely.

Safe space.

That’s where it begins. That’s what we need to process…. that and maybe a cup of coffee….or a shot of whiskey….or a massage for 7 days straight….just sayin!

The person facilitating the discussion group said those golden words as we wrapped up…. “We want this to be safe space for you.”

Yes. A million times over….YES!

Question: How do you process your child’s trauma? Share openly in the comment section below (no one here will judge you…promise!). You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Talitha Boyd

    This is exactly right. It’s very important to have that safe space to say the things that so many people do not understand. I really relate to what you said about being on guard. For ourselves and our children. Always guarded, not showing weakness…though we are very willing to be honest. Hardly a moment to process our own feelings…thanks for the post!

  • Jennifer Hurd

    This is the best article I’ve read in a while and I desperately needed to see this for my own personal healing. Your words depict the honest, bare truth of our lives. We live minute to minute and cannot afford to let our guard down. We can’t trust, despite the desperate need and desire to do so. We celebrate small victories that other parent and children have far surpasses, and we have very few friends who are willing to listen. We keep pushing forward, knowing that tomorrow has to be better. We are warriors, but we are lonely.

  • Hisgurl

    Lately, as my son gets older (he is 11) and he gets into a rage he has expressed in therapy sessions that he wants to be left alone ( he is claiming it is now better for him). In the past, I have always been the one to manage to get him to his room, close the door, and let him go into his full blown raging. I have endured physical and verbal attacks that leave me very upset for days to follow. But I always stayed with him to show him that I was going to be near and not leave him. So I was surprised when he expressed this need to be left alone during a therapy session but also felt hopeful that he is now knowing how to get through it himself. It is hard to hear him so upset behind closed doors but he eventually comes out ready to connect and talk about the problem that set things off. I have also noticed that he is recognizing his escalation towards a rage and we can usually talk things through as needed to head things off. Through therapy and lots of discussion at home as well, I think he is beginning to feel safe and trusting….in us and himself. We have demonstrated our commitment to him with a lot of love and understanding…through lots of time….and it has not been easy at all….but we stuck with him and I think he feels safe(r). He still needs to hear my approval and expressions of love..constantly..but I feel we are on the road to some healing. As I have said, this has NOT been an easy road but we have worked through some things and it is getting better. Not there yet, that’s ok, just wanted to encourage others to keep on going. Empathizing with our son and his earlier life and trauma before us has helped us a lot. Each time he goes through the emotional explosions I remember what it was to bring it on and that just gives me a strength to endure it and not take it so personal. It’s a process. But we are moving in a good direction.

    • Michelle Sackett McKinney

      This is wonderful! thanks for the hope!