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FOSTER CARE AND ADOPTION – PART 4
POOR ATTACHMENT BY ANY OTHER NAME
TRANSITION, TRUST, and LOVE
For children adopted privately or through a foster care system, transition, trust and feeling securely loved are issues they may struggle with into adulthood. It is important to remember, not all children are affected equally by the experience of tramatic events in their lives, but all are affected. The foundation of your parent/child relationship will strengthen according to your knowledge of:
How tramatic life stress has impacted your child
Your ability to recognize and interpret behavioral clues in non-traditional ways
Your willingness to learn and implement new parenting skills that meet your child’s particular emotional needs.
In my experience, parents approaching issues of transition, trust, and emotional security with sensitivity, empathy, and right information will make all the difference in your new relationship with your child. You, the parent, are responsible for creating an optimal environment promoting bonding and attachment enabling your child to experience, perhaps for the first time, the life calming comfort of permanence.
“Home… Hard to know what it is if you’ve never had one.
“Home…I can’t say where it is but I know I’m going home
That’s where the hurt is.” U2
Transition means a passage from one form, state, style, or place to another. For our children, regardless of age, this may have meant multiple moves from one home to another repeated many times. The moves result in loss of toys, a familiar bed, caregivers, parents, siblings, or a special smell of a bedtime blanket left behind.
Even infants experience deep loss and depression. Having been only briefly united with their birth mother a newborn already is familiar with their mothers heart beat, smell, and voice. The loss of a parent this early in life is often called a primal wound. It strikes a blow at the heart of attachment between child and caregiver. Just as a widow or widower will resist washing their spouses pillowcase or favorite shirt to maintain some form of comforting physical presence in a time of grieving , an infant or child experiences this same deep grieving through the loss of a former caregiver.
To understand this child an adoptive parent must be more attentive to suble behavioral cues. A caregiver may notice aversive or poor eye contact. The infant or child may react negatively to touch, textures, food, water, or sensations of cold or heat, by suddenly withdrawing a hand, grimacing, or stiffening the body. He may appear to have a ‘flat affect’, that is he fails to smile or become excited upon seeing his parent. The result is a plain or flat facial affect. He may not take delight in discovery as other infants of similar age. A parent may notice periods of prolonged crying or fussy behaviors hard to comfort, and for which there is no other discernable cause. This can be misinterpreted as colic. The depressed or stressed infant and child may display unusual sleeping patterns as in an infant who sleeps more than the 16-18 hours considered normal, or less than what may be needed for good health. All of this parenting uncertainty and turmoil can wear hard on parent, marriage, and family life. The parents may begin to believe they are not able to parent this child, or that they are “doing something wrong.”
One mother shares her young child’s journey.
“When my child was four days old, his mother left the hospital. He remained in the NICU for the next 10 days. Although the nurses tried their best in making time to hold him, I know he did not get what he needed to feel safe and connected. By the time he came to us at two months he had been in two other placements, making us his fourth since birth. It was a difficult transition for both of us. Even at three years old he remains very clingly and has many fears surrounding separation and sleeping that are much more intense than one might be prepared for with a child.”
Another parent relates her story.
“My daughter came to us when she was 8 years old. Her history stated she had been in six foster placements prior to coming to us. She would stuff all the food she could into her mouth at one time. She also would think nothing of reaching into your plate for whatever she wanted. She is very inflexible to changes of any kind. A trip to the park can be a terrifying event for her. If she believes she misbehaves in any way, she gets her coat and waits at the door prepared to be sent away. Much of her behavior didn’t make any sense to us. Over time and with further education we understood the behaviors as a manifestation of her earlier traumatic experiences. The repeated deprivation and loss of everyone, place, and thing in her life had impacted her so deeply. She always felt she had to fight for her life. When I began to realize what she had gone through, I understood why she seemed afraid to trust us. She couldn’t know what permanent meant. She couldn’t know for certain when she was taken somewhere that she would be able to return. It has taken years of reassurring her.”
It is clear what our kids go through in their young lives is sometimes far beyond our personal experience and understanding. It is also clear that it is beyond their control. These experiences have shaped their understanding of life, home, family, and relationship. What can you do to ease the process of transitioning your child into a permanent home?
Establishing trust between you and your child will go a long way to heal past hurts. But don’t expect it will happen overnight. Remember, each time your child has been moved in the system, she has left bits and pieces of her life, belongings, family, heritage, and culture behind. Even at very young ages, our children have experienced relationship and family as broken and painful. This type of loss is a deep hurt that heals very slowly. But you CAN heal it.
Children need to know they will be safe. They need to know you will be safe. They will only learn it if you model it for them, again, and again, and again. You will be the parent who shows this child what it means to have a parent’s limitless love for him. He learns to see his value mirrored in your eyes and in your words. It is then, that his heart will open and painful cracks left by past trauma will begin to fill.
Children do well when they can trust that all of their needs will be consistently met by the adults who care for them. What do children need?
- Food/nutrition to establish good health in mind and body
- Warmth/material, physical, and emotional
- Physical touch/hugs and tender affection from caregiver
- Responsive care and predictability/knowing the adult will provide and take care of them in a timely manner
- Love/secure and uncompromised connections with other human beings who are constant in their lives
- Boundaries and structure/limits with respect, love, and understanding in order to create an environment of safety, learning, physical and spiritual growth
- Joy, play, and laughter/regular opportunities for optimal bonding and attachment with caregivers to occur
This passage from the well-loved Winnie the Pooh series sums up the needs of all children for trust.
“Piglet sidled up to Pooh from behind.
“Pooh!” He whispered.
“Nothing,” said Piglet, taking Pooh’s paw.
“I just wanted to be sure of you.” A.A. Milne
Children can experience love as a condition of care or attention. “If I am ‘good’, perhaps I can stay here.” “If I do what they want, maybe they will love me.” They have neither had opportunity nor ability to understand the events of their lives. Alternately, children may display destructive behaviors in an attempt to keep from being hurt again. “If I make them send me away now, I won’t have time to let myself like them.” While some children may consciously construct negative situations to protect themselves from further emotional pain, many hurt kids act out from an unconscious place of primitive self-survival.
What do you need to understand?
- Multiple transitions/disruptions in care cause emotional/social delays
- Simple life stress may cause a child to regress in emotional age
- Learn to recognize what emotional age the child is in the moment
- Parent the emotional age not the chronological age
- Become a model and teacher of what it means to give love and acceptance without limit to your children
When a child has a skewed perception of parental love because of early experiences, it is the knowing parent who effects positive change in a child’s thought, and uncovers the truth in her heart. Your clear destination is in front of you. What will happen when parents and child connect? One wonderful word: FAMILY.
For more information and classes in these topic areas, go to the Events Calendar of this site. Or visit www.TogetherAtLastFamily.com for payment online and registration. New classes are forming NOW for September 2010! Conveniently located in the S. New Jersey/Deleware/Philadelphia area. If you prefer a private or group telecourse, please contact me above or at DeborahBeasley20@yahoo.com