hurting children CAN develop empathy (adoption/foster)

empathy

If your child was diagnosed with RAD, attachment disorder, PTSD, oppositional defiance disorder, or if there weren’t any diagnoses, but your child was neglected or abused, you may feel they won’t develop empathy. Heck, you may have even been told that your child will never show empathy.

It’s not true.

I know I brag about my daughter, Payton, in different posts, but there’s a reason. She was diagnosed with numerous disorders at a very young age, but she has come so far, she surprises us continually. I write about what she’s like to give parents hope. By sharing the attributes Payton possesses,

my hope is that you would see the positives in your children. 

Payton consistently shows empathy for others. She cares when I’m not feeling well (but my health isn’t good, so it’s nothing different when I’m feeling poorly). She regularly shows compassion for her brother, who has Autism. She understands and has empathy for all he is unable to do (for the most part, he is unable to communicate his desires, likes, and needs).

Once in a while there are situations that happen outside our home that really stand out and show her ability to empathize with others. The other day, Payton shared something that happened to her friend at school. The teacher asked Ashley* to get up in front of the class and point to the helicopter in a picture. Ashley pointed to buildings and people, everything EXCEPT the helicopter. Payton said, “Good job,” while the rest of the kids laughed. Throughout the day this took place, she mentioned it a few times, saying she was sad the kids had laughed at her friend.

There is hope that your child will care for others and not be self-consumed.

focusonpositive

Focus on any positive behaviors you notice, capitalize on them, talk about it with your child. As I say often, there is so much negative in your child’s life (their mind is consumed with it; anxiety, will these parents leave me, I’m not good enough, I’m bad, I can’t do anything right) we need to

fill it with positives.

What positive things has your child done lately? Have they done anything unexpected? Did you share with them how happy you were to see it?

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

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putting the HOPE in HOPEless (adoption/foster)

You may wonder why I write this blog, why you should listen to yet another person who thinks they have an answer to helping hurting, traumatized kids. Why am I here? Because of what my daughter has come through, the great progress she has made.

I try not to flag my faith here. My faith in Jesus plays a pivotal role in my life, and sometimes it’s difficult to avoid talking about it. I don’t wave it in front of my readers because I want to welcome EVERY adopter, every foster parent, every parent of an Autistic child. I don’t want someone to read that I am a Christ follower and feel they will be judged or that what I say doesn’t apply to them, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. I welcome everyone here.

Why did I just go on a rabbit trail about my faith? Because I cannot attribute my daughters healing to anything other than God giving us wisdom in how to help her. I can’t credit the progress my son has made to anyone but God. Did He send down divine miracles that culminated in instant healing? Well, we’ve witnessed several miracles in our journey from fostering to adopting and beyond, but no, when it came to their psychological and physical selves, it was a process. A process that took our hard work and dedication. Sometimes God sent the answers quickly, and other times we were banging our heads, falling on our knees, asking Him to show us what to do. And He did! That’s the awesome part, the journey to healing.

I’ve mentioned my daughters diagnoses before, but for the purpose of helping you see where we’ve been, here they are: Reactive Attachment Disorder (please see my opinion of that HERE), PTSD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Failure to Thrive (emotionally), and mood disorder.

We’ve had monumental success with our daughter, Payton, despite this LONG list of diagnoses. We have a really amazing daughter! We always have, but many times it was difficult to see her positive qualities amongst the screaming, raging, defiant, controlling behaviors. We had glimpses of how wonderful, sweet, thoughtful, and smart she was, but in the beginning they were viewed through a window thick with grime, and as we moved forward the grime fell off (well, we actually scrubbed it off with massive amounts of elbow grease). We now have several weeks at a time when we experience life with a sweet, cheerful girl.

Payton is thoughtful of others, she goes out of her way to share food (which is a big deal for a child who’s had food issues) and toys with others. She’s a mini therapist with her younger brother, Jeremiah, who has Autism. She pushes him on the swing, she gives him what he needs, she notices the little things he says and does that are new and exciting (a word or a movement). She does all of this of her own volition. She has empathy for others when they are sick or hurt, or just feeling down. She’s very intelligent and enjoys learning new concepts, in fact her favorite free-time activity is teaching and reading to her animals. She’s a really special girl, and I love spending time with her.

There was a stretch when I looked forward to the times when she went to her Grandma’s daycare for an afternoon, but now those times are extremely rare, I want her around. She plays well on her own, we have interesting conversations, and I like doing things with her. We have truly seen a turn around in her behavior, attitude, and her psychological makeup.

I’m not sharing this to brag, I’m telling you so you can have HOPE. Your child CAN overcome. You won’t be battling this forever. Does this mean it’s easy to get where we are? No, it takes hard work and dedication. However I’m here writing this blog to help you do exactly what we did. My hope is to help you help your child.

Recently, one of my readers was discouraged by my post on detecting attachment issues, she thought her son was getting better and attaching, but when she read the list, she wasn’t so sure.

My response to her was that our kids can heal from much of what they suffer from, but there are some behaviors, attitudes, and emotions they may carry with them the rest of their lives. Although their brain can heal, they will have certain personality traits that stick around because their early life was so formative.

For example, my daughter will probably always be hypervigilant. Her early life taught her to watch out for herself and take care of herself because no one else would. She will always be aware of her surroundings and others, but now the worry is gone from her demeanor. Payton has leadership qualities (notice I say, “leadership,” not “controlling behavior”). She has a need to be in control of other kids. This works well with her brother who has Autism, because she mothers him and is helpful, but it can create problems with friends. I think as she gets older, this will become less of a problem as she learns how society functions, and we’ve already seen some great improvement in this area. We need to focus on funneling her desire to be in charge in positive directions. These are a couple of the traits that may stay with our kids. If they’re truly healing, you will see most of the others fade drastically, or completely disappear.

Besides those formative months and years, we also have to consider their biological beginning. That beginning can influence them inutero or through their biological parents genetic makeup.

There is great HOPE for our children. If we put effort in, there is a gorgeous rainbow at the end of our long road. It’s not a fix that will happen over night, but it can happen. God did not make us so we can’t change. God didn’t bring our children out of hardship so they could be miserable for the rest of their lives. He gives us HOPE. We have fallen, and if we are worth being picked up, then so are our children.

“rock-a-bye baby” isn’t so simple

As I was watching my daughter, Payton, play with her “babies” (dolls), I remembered a conversation I recently had with one of our social workers. The social worker was in our home visiting Jeremiah, but Payton was present during this particular one.

I was sitting on the floor with Payton on my lap. We were singing, “Head and Shoulders, Knees, and Toes,” and going through the actions. The Worker said to me, “It’s weird to think, but you are teaching her to be a mom.” She continued, “It’s sad, but so true.” This Worker is young and new to her job, and I think she was having an “ah ha” moment.

This truth is something that I have learned and seen repeatedly since starting Foster care. As parents, we are teaching our children (even our babies) how to be empathetic, compassionate, and loving.

A friend of mine adopted a girl through foster care. The girl was about eleven months old when they got custody of her. She didn’t play with dolls for a long time. When she finally did, she lined them up and fed them one by one. Notice, I didn’t say she wrapped them up, cuddled them, and fed them a bottle. It was more of a duty to fulfill, without a loving touch. This could have been strongly indicative of what she had been shown (or in this case, not shown) during infancy with her birth mother.

The book Ghosts from the Nursery shares an example of how parent/child interactions affect how humans learn to care for their own children in a true story about a girl named Monica. As a newborn, Monica was fed through a tube in her stomach. For two years she was fed laying flat on her back without any bodily contact. Another tube was inserted in her neck, hence, it limited how Monica could be held and her mother became depressed and withdrawn. At the age of three Monica was able to eat normally, and she grew up with no conscious memories of her early tube feedings. Yet, Monica fed her dolls in the same manner as she had been. Monica eventually had children, and even though her mother, husband, and sister all instructed her to hold her babies close to her in a face-to-face position, she consistently rejected close body or face-to-face contact with her babies while feeding them.

Payton and her baby

When I watch Payton play with her “babies” it touches my heart. Not only from the perspective of a mother watching her daughter pretending to be a mommy, but something much deeper. It’s a knowledge that if God hadn’t plucked her up from where she was, she wouldn’t be telling her babies, as she cuddles them wrapped in a blanket, “Shh, it’s okay. It’s okay.” “Are you hungry?”