Before You React, Remember Their Loss

The Holiday season can bring up a lot of mixed emotions with our children. Often, it’s easy to mistake their extreme behaviors for just “bad behavior.” But there’s so much more happening. And simply remembering a few truths about this time of year and your children can make all the difference.

This mom was frustrated. Frustrated with a Capital F! She stood in front of me at our resource table, after a full day of training, and poured her heart out. “She just wants to make everything about her!” she lamented about her daughter. “And now, it’s the Holidays and she’s going to do her same old controlling and manipulative behavior the she always does. I can’t handle it!”

I listened, I nodded gently, and then I said, as I packed up our books and freebies, “Makes sense. She’s dealing with a lot of loss, and this time of year probably makes that even greater.” With that she took a step back. “Tell me more about that,” she questioned. I went on to explain that the loss of her daughter’s first family (to name one loss in particular), can bring up a lot of emotions in her year round, but especially around the Holidays (which we were in at the time this conversation took place).

She had never thought about it this way. To her, this little girl’s behaviors were just a means to control and manipulate. She had concluded that all her daughter wanted, every single day, was to make everyone’s life miserable, and Thanksgiving and Christmas were no exception.

I went on to explain…

“Behaviors with children who have a trauma history should never be taken at face-value. There’s way more going on than the behavior alone presents. Our children have experienced a lot of loss in their young lives. Maybe more than we will ever know or understand. Loss perpetuates behaviors. In fact, behavior is the way your daughter articulates the loss that lives in her and the loss she feels. The Holiday season just magnifies this.”

Simply explaining this reality to her lifted a weight off of her shoulder.

“I never thought of it this way before. Thank you!” she replied.

Maybe you identify with that mother. Maybe you’ve been dealing with a lot of extreme behaviors with your child since Halloween ended (it’s normally the months between Halloween and New Year’s Day that extreme behaviors are at their highest).

As parents it’s easy, out of frustration, or exhaustion, to react, or over-react, before remembering what is actually going on with your child.

It’s not just bad behavior. It’s loss. A LOT of it, in fact. It’s loss that you and I may never have experienced personally, or ever understand. Take a step back for a moment and tally up some of the losses your children have gone through…

The loss of first family.

The loss of identity.

The loss of security.

The loss of normal.

The loss of their first home.

The loss of their belongings. 

The loss of friendships they may have made. 

The list goes on and on.

This cocktail of emotions, and memories, swims in our children all year long, but can spill out during the Holidays. Because normal during this season is family. Normal is together. The whole season centers around family. But when that’s a deep loss for our children, triggers go off, very easily, in fact. Sights, sounds, smells, movies, certain foods, locations, songs…they all can be triggers. It’s easy to miss and sometimes the behavior seems to come out of left field.

When I really center my mind on this reality, my heart breaks. My body fills with compassion.

Yours just may do the same if you spend some time considering what your children have actually gone through before coming into your home.

I know it’s difficult right now. I know you may be at your wit’s end. I know you’re exhausted. But listen to me…this is not about a parenting overhaul. It’s about a simple shift in your mindset.

Before you react to your child’s behavior, remember that their loss may be fueling what you’re seeing with them. He or she may still display those extreme behaviors that are hard to handle. Reminding yourself of the origin of behavior does not negate the behavior. But it puts you into a healthier mindset to respond. And, remember that behavior is the primary way your child has learned to meet their needs. That’s hard to undo. It takes time. But you are taking the first, and most critical, steps to building trust and a deeper connection with them.

In time, that will bring healing.

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