is love enough? (adoption/foster)

Is love enough?
Pam Parish, a woman who writes insightful words over at,  asked for input on the “love is not enough” idea in a Facebook adoption group. I had quite a lot to say about the subject since I’d heard Nancy Thomas speak on “Love is Not Enough.” I had disagreed with Nancy to a point, and I constantly hear other parents use those words, “Love is not enough.”

Here’s what I shared with Pam (with a few additions), which she posted on her blog: I think it all depends on what a persons definition of LOVE is. Is love putting a roof over a child’s head, providing clothing, toys, entertainment, taking them on vacation, being there for them when they need it?

Or, is it much more than that?

Is it providing consequences to teach them how to live life? Is it holding them when all they’ve done is push you away? Is it living through the ugly and dirty moments when we feel such hate being slung our way? Is it moving on with each day even though we don’t have strength to even look at the dirty dishes in the sink?

I feel it’s all of the above and more.

This is HARD because our children came from HARD. I believe the knowledge of this begins with the original training foster and adoptive parents receive before a child is placed with them. Although we never truly understand what it takes to raise a hurting child until we are living with them day to day, I feel I had a better starting place than many. Because of our training, I was able to empathize with my children and I knew it was going to be HARD.

My love has been enough, but then my definition is probably different than most.

I see where some adoptive parents are coming from, we hear others say, “I would love to adopt, children just need love,” and maybe they don’t realize the amount of “love” a hurting child needs. One mom on the Facebook page said, “Those who look at our family think, ‘Look, all they needed was a family to love them.’ ” But, that family knows how much “love” it has taken to heal their child.

original photo by joeymc86 via

Is love enough? Some might say, no. But does your love include educating yourself and learning about trauma? Love should be all inclusive. As I was working on this post, I received an email from my dad. He had listened to my radio interview, and said, “I know you have developed a relationship with Payton and the two of you are very close. One thing to remember is it is a continual learning process.” I think that process entails love, a love that is willing to try to do the best, and be the best for a child. It includes loving through the process and in the process.

Love is a big word. Our children need a big love and we can do it.

I am rewarded daily for the immense amount of love I’ve poured into both my children. When Payton runs to me after school, yelling, “Mommy!!!” and gives me a big hug, my heart is filled. It used to be that I showed up at her school and she wanted me to leave and didn’t want me to help her with her craft. Now, she WANTS me to sit with her on her classroom floor and read with her. Now she gets slightly jealous if I help other kids in her class, whereas before, she couldn’t care less where I was or what I was doing.

Love is a big word. When children come from trauma, they need a big love to carry them through.


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the intelligence behind a hurting child (adoption/foster)


I talk frequently about our children and their brains, how a hurting child’s brain is less developed than a child who’s had a typical upbringing (love and consistency). I talk about their inability to think logically, and that’s why consequences and reward systems don’t work. However, none of this means that a child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized isn’t smart. I think all of this can be misconstrued and parents can assume their children aren’t intelligent, when that’s very far from the truth.

When Dr. Bruce Perry talks about a traumatized child’s brain being smaller, it means certain areas haven’t developed fully. It doesn’t mean the processing areas aren’t functioning, it means the areas that control the social and emotional haven’t developed fully. A hurting child is aware of what’s happening around them, they are able to manipulate, they can give you directions and street names, but solving A=B issues is very difficult, even impossible for some, hence the logical consequences don’t compute.

In the book Little Bee, two girls have escaped an England prison, where they’d been held as illegal immigrants. Little Bee says to Yevette, “You aren’t dumb, Yevette. All of us who have got this far, all of us who have survived – how can we be dumb? Dumb could not come this far.” It’s so true, and something that parents need to understand about their hurting kids, they aren’t lacking intelligence, it only looks different.

Bryan Post writes, “In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, researcher Mihaly implies it’s no mystery that individuals of genius nature are in fact genius because most have all experienced life-altering trauma. In essence, he explains that in environments of neglect and abuse the child does not receive an equivalent balance of cognitive/social/emotional experience, therefore a neurologic compensation occurs. Whereby what the brain does not get emotionally, it compensates for cognitively, thus a very intelligent child. The catch, though the child may be cognitively advanced perhaps even brilliant, rarely can this be accessed because of the constant emotional hijacking which occurs when the trauma brain gets triggered and takes over.”

For those who don’t enjoy reading about brain development, essentially what Mihaly said is that while our children weren’t developing in the social/emotional area of their brain, the cognitive area had adequate time to mature.

My daughter, Payton, is just one example of this. She had extreme difficulty with controlling behaviors she knew were unacceptable, she wasn’t able to figure out A=B for consequences. [If you do A (behavior) then B (consequence) happens.] Yet, when I spelled out “ice cream” when she was two, she knew what I was spelling, and she could give me directions to the grocery store. She was reading books at age four, and I could go on and on with her knowledge of where she was and how things worked. This happens so many times with kids who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized.

Dr. Bruce Perry has also said, “If you have relational poverty you walk around as a dysregulated person. You’re more vulnerable to trauma…and it’s harder to learn new things.” Perry describes the one who is in relational poverty as a high risk child or one who’s in foster care. Also, just because a child has entered your home or been there for a few months, it doesn’t mean they’re no longer in relational poverty. It takes time for relationships to develop, especially when a child has learned no one can be trusted.

This is also explained well by Joseph LeDoux, “In times of stress, our thinking becomes confused and distorted and our short term memory is suppressed.”

Hurting kids are constantly under stress until they have made significant attachments, even while they’re making attachments they will slip back into a stressed state.


On the topic of stress affecting our memory, even I can attest to this. I walked into a Starbucks earlier this week and stood at the counter, it was the first time I’d been at this particular store, but I had ordered this particular drink dozens of times, yet I froze. What was it that I order every time? See, it happens to all of us…I think.

So, there’s a good chance your child is intelligent, it just may be hiding underneath a lot of pain, or you may see it and wonder how your child can be so smart, yet not obey simple rules. I hope this gives you some insight into your child and what’s going on inside of them.

These links may be helpful in learning more about a child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized:

detecting attachment issues
why consequences and rewards don’t work 

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why consequences & rewards don’t work for hurting children (adoption/foster)


You can listen to a recording of this post, just scroll down to the bottom of this page and don some earbuds. 🙂

“My child doesn’t respond to consequences, I can take away anything and he doesn’t care.” “Rewards mean nothing to my daughter, I can offer an ice cream at McDonald’s or a new Wii game, it doesn’t matter to her.” I hear these stories ALL. THE. TIME. It’s as though all of us who have children who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized live in the same house! Yes, every child is unique, but there are many similarities in hurting kids.

One of the similarities that’s common in hurting children is their response to consequences, discipline, and rewards. At some point in your journey, you may have been encouraged by other parents to read Love and Logic or attend one of their seminars, other parenting advice may be thrown at you, saying, “I promise, this works.” The problem is, there’s a missing link, their child probably didn’t experience trauma, neglect, or abuse, or at least it didn’t have the same affect on their child.

Love and Logic, Have a New Kid by Friday, as well as other parenting books and classes have some great information, but they aren’t the cure-all for a hurting child.

When we were struggling with our daughter’s behaviors a friend of mine (she had adopted domestically) suggested I read Have a New Kid by Friday. She said, “It works. Find something she cares about and remove it if she makes a wrong choice.” I said, “I’ve tried that.” She replied, adamantly, nodding her head, “There’s something.” I read the book anyway, there were some good ideas, very helpful ones for children who aren’t hurting. But, why don’t consequences and reward systems work for kids who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized?

Because many adopted and foster children don’t care about the material world around them.

Often they don’t have a favorite toy, stuffed animal, or blanket when they’re young, they aren’t connected to anything, so removing it doesn’t make any difference to them. Neither are rewards important enough for them to turn off their strong emotions and behaviors for them.

The logic part of Love and Logic doesn’t work because hurting kids don’t think logically, their brain isn’t calm enough or reasonable enough to do so.

Their brain looks different than a child’s who has been loved and cared for since their birth. This DOES NOT mean they aren’t intelligent, oh no, most children who’ve been through trauma are very smart (all about that in another post), but logical they are not. Not until they’ve made significant attachments.

These kiddos are constantly in fight or flight mode. There are three responses that children have to trauma – fight, flight, and dissociation. When looking at the trauma response in adults, Putnam says, “Among the constellation of symptoms associated with the trauma response in adults is dissociation. Dissociation is simply disengaging from stimuli in the external world and attending to an ‘internal’ world. Daydreaming, fantasy, depersonalization, and derealization are all examples of dissociation.” Putnam goes on to explain what happens to a soldier during battle and how dissociation can take affect, and he concludes, “It is this very ability to dissociate which can keep soldiers alive.”

It is much the same for our children. They have connected to the world around them; what’s going on, where they are, and who is present, not a person or item. They were in life preserving mode before they came to us, and it’s going to take a lengthy amount of time to learn that their new parents and caretakers can be trusted.

It will take more than a few months to learn they don’t have to fight, flee, or dissociate from their life any longer. I’m not encouraging you to throw out all consequences or rewards, we need to use them to lay a foundation for their future. Your child still needs to know they can’t get away with hitting, tearing apart the house, or yelling.

Some ways to begin to curb your child’s behaviors are through time-ins.

Time-ins are time with you, if your child is small enough, that means sitting on your lap, preferably while rocking (make sure you are safe and not harming your child). If your child is bigger, you can have your child sit in a chair near you. You can also have your child do something with you, preferably not something fun if this is being utilized as a consequence.

Using natural consequences lays that foundation I mentioned earlier. An example of this is if your daughter draws on the couch with a marker, she can’t use markers or crayons for a set period of time. (I don’t recommend using natural consequences with food related instances.) Remember that you may not see a difference in your child’s behavior, they have to make attachments, then their brain will calm down and heal so they can think logically and care about those around them.

When you have a child who’s come from a neglectful or abusive situation, your parenting techniques need to be tweaked.

Dozens of times I’ve seen parents of older biological children say, “My other kids turned out great, what’s the problem? It can’t be me, because I did it right four times.” What they don’t see is that parenting a hurting child and one who’s been loved consistently is vastly different. Parents think they can implement the same techniques they used with their biological children with their hurting children and it will all turn out the same. Sadly, they’re wrong.

Hurting kids come with a whole different set of rules, and many of those rules are difficult for us to understand. One big one is that it takes time. Lots of time. Are you willing to be patient with your children? Are you willing to show them love, read on this website about how to parent your child, and be consistent?

  • A child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized will react differently than a child who has been loved consistently to consequences, discipline, and rewards.
  • Hurting children aren’t connected to the material items around them, so removing them won’t make a big difference immediately. You can use these discipline techniques, but understand you are laying a foundation for later.
  • A hurting child’s brain looks different than a child’s who has been loved and cared for consistently.
  • A hurting child doesn’t think logically because their brain isn’t calm. This doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent!
  • Often dissociating is what kept our children alive in their neglectful, abusive environment, and this will carry over to their new environment – your home. It will take time for them to heal.
  • Use time-ins when behavior is unacceptable. CHOOSE your battles. Use consequences and rewards to lay a foundation.
  • Parenting techniques for hurting children need to be modified.


Be sure to check out my CONTENTS page for more posts on how to help your foster and adopted children and your family.
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taking the HAUNT out of Halloween (adoption/foster)

(In this post when I talk about our children who came from a scary place, I am including those who were neglected or abandoned. Although they weren’t abused or frightened by some larger person, their experience was extremely fearful for a child.)

halloween haunt

I’m not a fan of fear. In college you would have thought differently. The movie Fear was released when I was in college, and it was played numerous times in my dorm. I read books that made me think every noise was an intruder coming to take my life. I went to the best haunted houses in the Phoenix area. It was a phase, a very brief phase. I no longer like haunted, scary, or spooky.

We all know that Halloween can be filled with some frightful stuff, some people thrive on it, some love scaring others, or being spooked themselves. But what happens when our children who’ve come from some really scary places meet bloody, spooky, skeletons? It doesn’t help them.

Our children who’ve been through trauma have logged their fears and concerns in their brain. In The Whole-Brain Child, Dan Siegel writes,

“What’s crucial to understand about implicit memory – especially when it comes to our kids and their fears and frustrations – is that implicit memories cause us to form expectations about the way the world works, based on our previous experiences.”

Because our children have previous experiences that were scary and worrisome, they are basing their view of the world through that lens. So, what happens when a teenager with a gory mask steps in front of them during trick-or-treating? No matter how much we’ve talked, saying, “You’ll see scary things, masks, statues, but it’s all pretend. A kid is wearing that costume,” our child will be frightened.

In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Bruce Perry writes,

“…If the incoming information is initially unfamiliar, new, or strange, the brain instantly begins a stress response. How extensively these stress systems are activated is related to how threatening the situation appears. It’s important to understand that our default is set at suspicion, not acceptance. At a minimum, when faced with a new and unknown pattern of activity, we become more alert.” (Emphasis is mine.)

That section about our default being “set at suspicion” is referring to people who have not necessarily experienced trauma. How much more will our child who has definable reasons to fear and suspect respond to the unfamiliar, strange, or in this case, scary? They will become frightened.

When I was of trick-or-treating age, the tricks were much less terrifying. With the ever widening capabilities of plastic molds come scarier masks. Just today I saw one that ran a blood resembling substance under a clear plastic that was molded to a really creepy mask. That didn’t exist in my youth, but I was still plenty worried about whatever creature might poke its head from behind a bush, no matter how real it looked.

Our children store their fear in their brain in an area called the amygdala. When they’re frightened or anxious, their brain immediately brings up those stored memories (even if they can’t identify or name them, they know the feeling).

This can cause a number of reactions in our children. They can become defiant, or get an attitude as a way to protect themselves and be in charge of the situation.

They may question and try deciding for themselves if what they’re seeing or experiencing is safe or not, without listening to your counsel. Bruce Perry also writes, “Human beings fear what they don’t understand. The unknown scares us.” Once again, Perry is referring to a person who hasn’t experienced extended trauma.

Before our children have bonded with us and begin to trust us, they live in a fearful state, so scaring them more will add to what’s already happened. It won’t be funny, it won’t be easily forgotten, it will compound the problem.

So, can you do? Months before Halloween begins, displays are set out in stores with moving skeletons, our neighbors put out a full Headless Horseman display and more. Even when it’s not Hallow’s Eve, kids now wear hoodies that cover their faces with artwork of various evil designs. I’m not saying all this is wrong, I won’t share my opinion, but what I do know is that we need to protect our children as much as possible. Here are some ideas you can incorporate to take the HAUNT out of Halloween:

  • Talk about what your kids might see surrounding Halloween, during trick-or-treating, or at school festivities. Remind them that it’s not real, and if a child or adult is wearing a costume that there is a person underneath. If there is a particular one you can’t get away from, say on a Subway, ask that person to show their face so your child won’t be as frightened.
  • Avoid scary as much as possible. This can be difficult, I know. Last year we went to our downtown Farmer’s Market, a seven+ foot tall monster roamed the street, and this was in September! On Halloween night don’t go to the house that has a man in the yard with his head chopped off, just don’t go there. Walk far around scary yards and creepy costume covered people.
  • Don’t let your child stare, try finding something to distract them. Payton has always honed in on the scary. She will stare at the store displays or people who are dressed in alarming costumes. We try to distract her, and sometimes it works, but we have to be aware of what she’s looking at.
  • Find safer Halloween alternatives. When you go door to door, you don’t know who or what will come out to greet you with a bowl of eyeballs. Really not cool. You don’t know what will jump out from behind those bushes, and you don’t know when that eerie skeleton will get its groove on. Some malls offer a safe alternative, churches and schools do too.

I hope this helps take the HAUNT out of Halloween and helps you understand why fear isn’t good for our kids. May you have a safe and fun filled Halloween.

You can also check out this other post on making Halloween happier.

You can receive each post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. If you’re on a mobile device, this can be done on a web version. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for more helpful information and links.

the behavior battle (adoption/foster)

Behaviors come in all shapes and sizes. There is avoidance, vocal aggression, physical aggression, self-abuse, rude comments, bowel issues, sleep issues, food issues, and the list goes on, and on, and on. Many of you are in a battle with behaviors.

Last year we had a Speech Pathologist and a Developmental Therapist coming to our home for our son. They suggested we bring in Patrice, a Behavioral Specialist. After visiting our home one time, she said Jeremiah exhibited behaviors. Well, I was not a happy Mama. My son was well behaved, especially when considering where he came from and what he deals with. I equated much of his crying (behavior she was referring to) with his lack of understanding language (he’s nonverbal). Jeremiah is developmentally delayed and has Autism, but does not struggle with many of the attachment issues our daughter does.

Before school began, I attended a meeting with Patrice and Jeremiah’s other therapists. I mentioned, as kindly as possible, that Patrice said Jeremiah exhibited behaviors. One woman said, “He does.” A few minutes into this roundtable discussion, I found out they all believed behaviors aren’t a bad thing, but are a child’s way of communicating.

If we look at our child’s behavior in this way, it alleviates some of the frustration we feel when they act out. We can also see that our child’s behavior isn’t about us, which so many parents of hurting children tend to think.

Our children are telling us something. They are responding to triggers that send them back to their days of trauma, neglect, and abuse. They are trying to control their environment because they don’t believe they will be safe if they don’t.

like a wave, our child's behaviors come from deep within.
like a wave, our child’s behaviors come from deep within.

I listened to a webinar on The Attachment and Trauma Network that was very enlightening. In regards to a hurting child’s behavior one of the speakers said, “If your child had acid reflux and threw up, it would be because of the acid reflux. So it’s the same as when your child tries to ruin things when they are going well, their brain is more comfortable with the chaos, the calm scares them. Their body is reacting, they aren’t doing it because of you.” This internal response to the chaos in their brain produces behaviors that we don’t like.

Our children who have been neglected, abused, and traumatized have behaviors, some big, some small, and many are colossal. I hear parents consistently wanting to fix their child’s behaviors, so they can have a more peaceful life. I’ve been there many times myself. We think, “My child should understand this, she’s so smart,” “Why doesn’t my child get the consequences that come about every time she does…” “I am so tired of repeatedly telling her the same thing,” “Why can’t we get past this, it’s been years since the trauma occurred.”

Why can’t behaviors be quickly fixed with consequences, discipline, and rewards? For our children to create a lasting behavior change they must bond with us (see the end of this article for links to posts on bonding). When our children bond with us, their brains are forming connections that previously did not exist. Before our children bond, their brain is disconnected.

In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Dr. Bruce Perry says, “Because of the enormous amount of information the brain is confronted with daily, we must use these patterns to predict what the world is like. If early experiences are aberrant, these predictions may guide our behavior in dysfunctional ways.” Our children will not behave properly when their brain is disconnected.

Consequences, discipline, and rewards used in the right way are elements that help our kids develop, but when our main focus is on those three facets and not on bonding, it’s like placing a new board over a rotting one. The rotting board doesn’t go away, it’s still festering underneath, it will continue to rot until it’s replaced.

I equate the rotting wood with the beliefs our children have formed about life and themselves. When our child bonds with us, we are replacing those old ideas with new theories of themselves (they are lovable), their caregivers (safety and love), and life (they don’t have to control everything). When all these pieces begin to come together you will see your child letting go of their control, which will in turn change some of their negative behaviors.

For practical ways to get your child’s brain connected (bonding with the caregiver) head over to my other posts:
let’s bond already:creating attachment with an adopted child 
rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just apply to infants)
what’s on their mind?
why consequences & rewards don’t work

adoption = special needs

The first time I heard someone mention adopted children and special needs in the same sentence was during a meeting with ten professionals. The psychologist speaking was not referring to the adopted children who are classified as special needs because of a cleft palate or a heart condition, she was alluding to any child that is adopted.

Labeling has been used to the detriment of countless children, yet when I heard this, my mind was put at ease. It was the same as when I found out my son was Autistic. Both diagnosis gave me an answer, something I could look into, something to lean on when I needed to know where to go. In the instance of special needs in association with adoption, it only gave me a peace of mind. I knew there were issues with my daughter, she’d already been diagnosed with multiple disorders (they are not a crutch for us, but a building block, and a way to understand what she’s dealing with), but now I also found contentment in knowing that the medical community was recognizing our children’s pain. When practitioners get behind something, we know that there is more acceptance in society.


Since the psychologist in that meeting mentioned special needs in the adoption community I have found these two quotes:

“Even a casual inspection of the statistics related to foster care shows that this population has special needs.” American Academy of Pediatrics “Helping Foster and Adoptive Families Cope with Trauma”

“The truth is that all adopted children have ‘special needs.’ This is not said to pathologize adoption in any way. But prospective parents need education around what ALL adopted kids need and the extra parenting tasks required to meet those needs.” Adoption Today
April 2013, “Ten Things to Consider About Special Needs Before Going that Route” by Madeleine Krebs LCSW and Ellen Singer LCSW-C

This information confirmed how I had felt about adoption since bringing our daughter home. Adopted children cannot be raised as biological children, they require altered parenting techniques. Essentially, many of them have special needs, they /need/ special parenting to help them heal from their past trauma and neglect.

I do believe there’s a minimal number of adopted children who do not have special needs. Whether that be because they didn’t feel a separation from their mother at birth, or their adoptive parents innately knew what to do to help them deal with their feelings surrounding their adoption.

This whole concept of adopted children having special needs is something that’s overlooked in the adoption community. Adoptive parents (especially ones who adopt infants domestically) want to imagine that their child will do well and won’t suffer or have any repercussions from their early separation, or from being unwanted in the womb. This is a world that needs to be placed under the microscope, if only to help those children and adults who need it, not to create something that doesn’t exist.

Have you heard about adopted children in general having special needs? What do you think?

how Paradoxical Parenting works

I will be writing an extremely important post on bonding next week and this information will be helpful in implementing the upcoming technique. But first, I would like to say that there is no quick fix for our hurting children. The information below is not an instant solution, but it will help you move forward with some bonding methods that truly work.

Today we will be looking at Paradoxical Parenting, which works with children who have attachment issues (any child that has been through trauma, neglect, and/or abuse). Why? Because our children are no longer in control when we use this strategy.

Our children want to be in control. When they were in their previous situation everything in their life was out of control, so they now find a need to manage all moments of their existence so that whatever happened to them in the past won’t materialize again. They assume control, and in doing so, they believe they are keeping themselves safe.

“After all, one of the defining elements of a traumatic experience…is a complete loss of control and a sense of utter powerlessness. As a result, regaining control is an important aspect of coping with traumatic stress.” Dr. Bruce Perry

Really, you have to give your child a lot of credit for their intelligence, many of them have set in motion a set of survival skills.

Is your child defiant, does he/she create tension when asked to do something other than what they want? Does it seem like everything is a battle? This is a sign that your child wants control and deals with attachment issues. The book, The Whole-Brain Child, explains why our children are defiant and respond with “No.” “When the nervous system is reactive, it’s actually in a fight-flight-freeze puzzle piecesresponse state, from which it’s almost impossible to connect in an open and caring way with another person… When our entire focus is on self-defense, no matter what we do, we stay in that reactive, “no” state of mind. We become guarded, unable to join with someone else – by listening well, by giving them the benefit of the doubt, by considering their feelings, and so on. Even neutral comments can transform into fighting words, distorting what we hear to fit what we fear. This is how we enter a reactive state and prepare to fight, to flee, or even to freeze.” Does this describe your child? If you have a child who has been through a neglectful situation, trauma, or abuse, I can bet it does.

Paradoxical Parenting sets our child’s brain in thinking mode, instead of reacting mode. It is the idea that when you foresee an issue arising, you stop it by using language that defines what your child is about to do. You tell your child how you expect them to behave, or what they will say. If you know your child will yell at you, tell you “no,” stomp their feet, slam their door, or whatever negative behavior they might exhibit, you name it.

So, you might say to your son, “You’re going to hate doing this, so I want you to yell, ‘No way!’ and stomp off to your room.” Wait and see how your child responds. At first your child will look at you like you’ve come down from Mars. You say, “No, really,” and repeat what you said the first time. If they don’t move and still seem stumped, say, “Go ahead, I’m waiting.” You might be surprised by their reaction. Your child might say, “I’m not going to [insert what you said],” then move forward with the request as if they are the ones who just came down from outer space.

When my daughter had become more bonded with us, we found that Paradoxical Parenting lightened the mood. We make it dramatic (because I am the drama Queen after all). We act like a two-year-old, whining and waving our arms in the air, and she actually laughs. I am ALWAYS a proponent of adding laughter and smiles to our every day lives.

I recommend only using Paradoxical Parenting when absolutely necessary, if it’s over-utilized, your child will anticipate what is coming, and we want to catch them off guard. This is not a permanent fix, we only want to use this method to get them to participate in a specific bonding moment, or if there is an immediate need that should be met before the caregiver pulls their hair out.

Paradoxical Parenting takes the control from your child’s hands. No matter the outcome, in the end, the child does what we need them to do. Whatever decision your child makes, it is one we have chosen for them. If they act out, we told them to have free reign, and if they choose to do what we have asked (make their bed, get their backpack, clean up their mess) they have complied with our request. Win. Win.

*I did not come up with the concept of Paradoxical Parenting, it is a technique that is occasionally used by therapists.

signs of neglect, trauma, and attachment issues

My last post delved into attachment issues and what we need to know so we can begin helping our children. In that post, I said we would be looking at what attachment issues can look like and how we might not notice them.

I would like to change that verbiage a little. I will be writing on the symptoms of neglected, abused, and traumatized children, as well as children with attachment issues. I believe that many children who enter a foster or adoptive home due to neglect, abuse, and trauma will have difficulty attaching to their caregivers. For all of these children, trust has been broken and it will take an adult who is willing to work through their issues for them to heal and make attachments.

“The quality of early caregiving sets the stage for a child’s future interpersonal relationships.” –

Many of our children have come out of a traumatic experience, this includes, but is not limited to; a neglectful home, an abusive home, or an orphanage. (You can see a more extensive list here.) Even children who are adopted at birth can suffer from trauma. For instance, they may have had a birth mother who did drugs (including legal narcotics), or was hiding her pregnancy, or they simply may have difficulty separating from the mother they heard while in the womb. One mom, who adopted her son at birth, talked to me about his behavior issues. She felt they stemmed from the birth mother hiding her pregnancy, which resulted in lack of nutrition and possibly other problems.

When our children come into our care, they are bringing with them their traumatic experiences, which cause attachment issues and other problems in our children.

Our daughter, Payton, came to us when she was nine-months-old. She is the unfortunate example of what neglect and trauma can do to an infant. Many people think that babies and young children are resilient to the wrongs inflicted upon them, but I believe this thought process is very wrong, and my daughter is just one instance. (You can read my thoughts on the term “resilient child” here.)

Before entering foster care, my daughter’s bio mom had been homeless, and left Payton with countless strangers. While in foster care, she lived in four different homes.

Our first sign that something was amiss was when Payton’s foster mom brought her to us. Payton didn’t cry. She would laugh, but her smile didn’t reach her eyes. In fact, we thought it odd how much she laughed. We were completely new to her, she was in a strange house, a different room, but when she woke up in the morning, she still didn’t cry. (Yes, she slept those first couple months and then everything changed, and then major sleep disturbances ran our house.)

About a week after Payton arrived, the laughing stopped and she withdrew into herself. Our social worker, Belinda*, came by for a home visit, I told her about PaytonPayton and she observed her. She was shocked. Payotn’s first foster parents, the Beans*, had told her Payton was doing well, and they described her as being a “good baby.” Somehow we received the information that in the Bean house, Payton had spent most of her time in a playpen. Payton was so withdrawn that day when Belinda visited, she said she would diagnose her with Failure to Thrive, even though she wasn’t authorized to make the diagnosis. Payton didn’t match up with the definition of Failure to Thrive, she was overweight (she had been given a bottle to quiet her when she made noise, even if it was a cry for attention, hugs, or changing), so lack of nutrition wasn’t the issue. However the absence of emotional connection is what I believe led Belinda to say this.

I continued what I had begun the moment she joined our family, I ran to Payton when she fell (she never cried when she was hurt), I picked her up and hugged her, telling her I was there for her. I spent a large majority of my time with her or near her. Once she finally began noticing that someone was paying attention to her (I don’t think she realized yet that I truly cared about her) she was like a calf with it’s mama, she followed me everywhere. We had a long road ahead of us, but I was excited she was aware of my presence.

My daughter had been born into a harsh world, one where she quickly learned that no one would take care of her needs. She shut everything off and laughed at the world around her. She was so good at hiding her true feelings, the other foster parents thought she was fine. Well, I don’t really think Payton was so good at hiding everything, I think those foster parents didn’t notice what was right in front of them. I don’t believe any child escapes from trauma, neglect, or abuse unaffected.

As Payton began to heal, many other behaviors surfaced and we have had to learn to deal with each one as it attacks her.

Following is a list of behaviors that are common in children who have been neglected, abused, been through trauma, or have attachment issues. This is by no means an exhaustive list.

  • Overly aware of the world around them. It may seem like they aren’t paying attention, but they can give you directions to the grocery store.
  • Easily distracted/Difficulty focusing
  • Disconnected/Lack of emotions
  • Inability to entertain themselves. They haven’t learned to play and teaching them how seems like an endless task.
  • Becomes angered quickly
  • Self-centered/Wants constant attention on themselves
  • Apathetic about anything around them – consequences mean nothing
  • Irritable
  • Food issues – can be insatiable
  • Have great difficulty expressing feelings
  • Obstinate/Defiant
  • Controlling
  • Excessive worrier
  • Always alert/Hypervigilant
  • Emotional
  • Sleep issues
  • Lies
  • Untrusting

These symptoms can change as your child moves through their various stages of healing. A child may come into care disconnected, with a lack of emotions, but as healing takes place, they may become overly emotional. This is to be expected, I liken it to the stages of grief. As our children heal and realizations come, other areas of their brain and hearts open and show a different layer that needs to be worked through.

Your child may have exhibited some of these behaviors and you may not have recognized them as being related to their neglect or trauma, after all, some of these issues are common among children who have not been through a traumatic experience. That’s okay, you now have the information and can move forward in helping your child.

“Ultimately, what determines how children survive trauma, physically, emotionally, or psychologically, is whether the people around them – particularly the adults they should be able to trust and rely upon – stand by them with love, support, and encouragement.” –  Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D.

My follow up posts will give common sense approaches on how to help your child move past their trauma and bond. So you don’t miss any of the posts on Lovin’ Adoptin’ you can go the right side of my website and sign up to have the newest entries delivered to your email.

I also have an article coming out in the June issue of Adoption Today called, Connecting with Compassion. The June issue is mostly dedicated to attachment and trauma in adopted children.

* Names have been changed to protect privacy.

Following are more posts on attachment:
attachment in adoption – the first things we need to know
let’s bond already – creating attachment with an adopted child
rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just apply to infants)
play = bonding time
why “good nights” are illusive