As parents of children with a trauma history, we often find ourselves engaged in futile battles with them for control. But when we understand the why behind their fight, the way we parent them can change.
Let’s begin there. We understand the battles you’ve gone through (and are going through) with your child. We’ve been there. Every single day your child may fight you for control and it feels exhausting. Sometimes, the battle makes sense. Often, the battle makes no sense at all. As parents we feel that life is a merry-go-round and we just want to stop feeling so dizzy.
If you are experiencing this in your own home, it may look something like this. Breakfast is a battle. Getting ready for school is a battle. Brushing teeth is a battle. Where they sit in the car is a battle. Snack time is a battle. The brand new pair of shoes you just purchased for them are now lying at the bottom of the trash bin, and when you ask for a chore to be complete your child rolls their eyes so far back you think they might get lost in there. You begin to wonder if the sky in fact is blue because that same child just argued for a solid hour to the contrary.
If you’re anything like us, it leaves you confused, lost, and defeated. What if we told you there was something deeper going on? What if we gave you a different perspective on their constant battling? What if we told you that even though your child has been in your care for years, there’s still something embedded deep inside of them propelling them to fight, and it has very little to do with you? What if I told you that a perspective shift could change your parenting and in turn begin healing in your relationship with your child?
Here’s a couple of perspective shifts to help you change the way you view the daily battles with them…
PERSPECTIVE SHIFT #1: Trauma changes the way your child sees the world around them.
Remember that your child’s trauma history has changed their brain. Yes, everyone who experiences trauma, (even a child adopted at birth,) has that trauma wired into the way their brain developed. That memory of the trauma can cause the amygdala (or the brain’s alarm system) to sound, causing the child to function from a place of survival. That survival mode actually overrides the pre-frontal cortex (where the ability to reason lives.) That illogical argument that has been frustrating you, may actually be out of your child’s control.
If your child suffered chronic trauma before coming into your care remember that this can leave the brain in a constant state of alarm. Imagine a fire alarm going off while you are sleeping, working or building relationships (frustrating right?)
Your role as caregiver is to help your child move into a state of emotional regulation so the alarm will turn off. You need to help your child feel safe so their brain can relax and stop fighting at every turn. Listen to your child, acknowledge their feelings, ask questions to help get to the root of what their brain and body are feeling. Do not fight.
PERSPECTIVE SHIFT #2: Consider their loss.
Think about this for a moment. Our children have experienced a deep loss and they had no control over it.
I’m a homebody. I always have been. When I was a child all I wanted to do was stay at home with my parents. The first summer I went to summer camp as a 6th grader was a disaster. The camp was fun but all I wanted to do was go home and be with my parents. I hated being away from them. One night, during the week, I snuck up to the camp lodge and used a pay phone to call my dad to come and pick me up. He did. And boy oh boy, the deep relief I felt when I saw his truck pull into the camp parking lot was beyond relief.
I fought for control during a week at summer camp. Imagine the loss of control our children feel when they have entered into foster care, moved to multiple homes or even experienced the death of their caregivers.
Consider the child who was chronically abused by a first parent, relative, or caregiver before coming into your care. Something was taken from them and they had no control over this, and zero power to stop it from happening. This has left them in a constant fight with the world around them. They fight because deep within them, something is telling them they’re going to get hurt.
Shifting your perspective, can change everything for you. It can change the way you respond to your child. It can change your feelings from frustrated to compassionate. When you change your response to the fight, you can begin to help your child heal and in turn change your relationship with your child.
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