Seth and Annie spent a few years going through the adoption process, with the many false starts and dashed hopes that are so familiar to adoptive parents. They were so excited when an agency finally placed a little boy with them, and they showered love and attention on him.
Three more years have passed, and Stefan is in elementary school. He’s a bright boy, so Seth and Annie assumed he’d thrive in the classroom environment, but that hasn’t been the case. Stefan’s teacher has described him as aggressive toward the other kids and disrespectful toward the adults. While he’s been well-behaved at home until now, they’ve started seeing similar behaviors and are understandably concerned. Are they doing something wrong?
We’re learning more about the effects of childhood trauma. What’s known as traumatic stress is what happens when young brains are exposed to situations and struggle to cope with them, and it’s not unusual for children who have been adopted to have come from hard places. Even if they didn’t experience abuse — and physical and sexual abuse are sadly common among children who have lived in foster care — they may have never been able to form attachments with caregivers or have lost caregivers at an early age.
That traumatic stress can surface in many ways as they grow, from brain function and how they think, to their response to everyday stress. They may find it difficult to trust adults and act out in ways intended to protect themselves. They may have greater amounts of stress hormones, keeping their brains at a higher level of activity. Often, they find it difficult to process their own emotions, even when they may be quite sensitive to those of others. As a result, they may act out in inappropriate ways during stressful situations.
The good news is that children who have experienced such trauma can heal from it. One method our professional counselors use is known as EMDR, short for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It helps people of all ages deal with traumatic memories that they haven’t processed and replace the negative feelings they experience with more constructive emotions.
EMDR therapy is based upon what physicians have learned about the role of rapid eye movements (REM) in sleep. A trained therapist will manage the child’s eye movements while guiding them through their memories and replacing the negative associations with positive ones. For example, children who have experienced sexual abuse may think of themselves as bad and worthy of that abuse. Through EMDR therapy, the therapist can replace those emotions with a sense they deserve real love and can trust others. What physical therapy does to repair the body, EMDR therapy can do to heal the brain.
If you’re the parent of a child (adopted or otherwise) who has experienced significant trauma and is struggling with the effects, EMDR therapy may help you restore peace to their life. Learn more by setting an appointment with one of our counselors.
More about Jean here.
Helpful link for working with kids from hard places or showing difficult behavior.
Why do kids flip their lids video.
If you would like your group or school to have trauma informed training, please contact us.