when words are triggers (adoption/foster)

words can be triggers
Risa’s daughter, Ashley, screamed every time she said, “Sit down.” It didn’t matter if it was dinner time, snack time, bed time, or movie time, Ashley broke down.

The question could be asked, is this simply defiance? If it’s in several areas, it could be, but if a child’s experienced trauma, their behavior won’t fall in line as some would expect. There will be defiance from a traumatized child.

In Ashely’s case, the breakdown usually takes place when certain statements are made, like, “Sit down.” If Ashely were able to define how she’s feeling, Risa could ask her what’s going on. Chances are she’s done this, and she’s not getting a response. There a few reasons for this. Either Ashley’s too young to verbalize how she feels or she can’t put it in words because she doesn’t understand. Or, she has repressed the memories that are triggering the fear of the words, “sit down.” Or, those memories are too frightening and she does everything she can to bury them, therefore she’s not able to talk about them.

It’s impossible to know everything that happened to our children before they came to us.

We don’t know if they were with their birth mother at all times, if all of the workers in the orphanage were kind, if Grandpa yelled, if their birth father was abusive, if their mother left them with strangers. So, we don’t know what happened to Ashely before she arrived at Risa’s home. Maybe someone screamed, “Sit down!” before they abused her. Maybe those words surrounded something that happened to her brother. Maybe those words are the culmination of all the fear she experienced in her former home.

If your child is responding similar to Ashley, there are some steps you can take to help them work through this fear.

First, use other directives instead of those trigger words. Risa knows that the words, “sit down” create fear. Whether Ashley shows fear in her face when they’re said or not, something is brought up in her mind that causes anxiety in her. We don’t want Ashley to feel this way, we want to build trust, so Risa would use other words like, “Have a seat,” “It’s time to eat,” or, “Pop a squat.” Whichever works.

Second, try to find out what happened to trigger that fear response. Above I listed a few reasons why Ashely may not be able to express her feelings. Maybe your child is doing the same as Ashely, so here are links to some posts that will help you create trust with your child so they can open up to you.

tips on bonding with an adopted or foster child

These posts will help your child open up to you:
emotional balance begins with us (feelings: part 1)
name those feelings (feelings: part 2)
be available (feelings: part 3)
just deal with it (feelings: part 4)

Third, remember that your child’s been through trauma, whether they’re an infant, a toddler who lived in a foster home in a foreign country, a child who was “well taken care of” in an orphanage, or a child who had great foster parents before joining your family. All of these children have been removed from their birth mom or birth family, all of them experienced trauma. And with all of them, we don’t know the WHOLE story.

Although we don’t know the whole story and need to have compassion, we still need to have expectations and consistency. Ashley has a meltdown each time Risa asks her to do something. Notice, Risa isn’t supposed to say, “You don’t need to sit to eat dinner, you can walk around and do whatever you want.” She still has expectations. These expectations need to fit reasonably within what your child can actually do, but they need to be present. Risa also needs to be consistent by following through with what she says.

Does your child break down at certain times? Have you been able to nail down the cause? Do these tips help you make a plan to reach your child and reduce anxiety? I love comments, so please share your thoughts.

I hope to see you next week. You can receive every post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for more helpful information and links. Feel free to share this with anyone who would benefit. Have a great day!

2 responses to “when words are triggers (adoption/foster)

  1. Hey Tracy! This is a good word. Thanks for sharing. Another trauma I’ve come to realize, but no one really talks about is the trauma of losing your foster family. Many of our babies have come to us just out of the hospital, we nurture, bond and attach with these beautiful little ones God has placed with us for months (the one we have right now has been here 5 months), then they are removed from all they have ever known….mother, father, siblings, their bed, their surroundings, the smells, the sights, and placed with a relative or back with parents (our little Angel leaves Monday to live with his mother in a residential treatment facility). There is no way he will not have trauma or experience loss when he leaves. It breaks my heart to look into his little eyes that are so full of love and trust knowing that he will never see us again in just a few short days. It truly feels like a betrayal on our part as we hand them over. Thankfully, the judge in this case (rare) has had a slow transition that has taken over a month, so he is comfortable with his mother, but we are the only family he has known and that WILL cause loss in his life. Sigh. Hate this part.

    Debbie

    • Thank you Debbie. You’re right, so glad you’re thinking of Angel and the trauma that will arise when he leaves your family. Is there a way to keep a connection with him?

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