Many behaviors that adopted children exhibit aren’t recognized for what they are – a result of trauma. After you’re home with your child, it’s easy to forget their past. Stop to ask yourself: Does my child have trauma in his or her history? Could that be the source of some of the behaviors we’re dealing with?
Trauma is any stressful event which is prolonged, overwhelming or unpredictable. Without even considering the child’s past, the transition away from what has been familiar into a family fits all three of those descriptors. Add to that all of the potential parts of his or her history that may or may not be known (abandonment, inconsistent or nonexistent care, abuse, malnutrition, etc..) and we know that every adopted child has experienced some degree of trauma.
A child’s emotional development is disrupted by trauma and that interrupts his ability to tolerate stress. “Stress is recognized to be the one primary key to unlocking traumatic memories. Unfortunately for both the adopted child and family, the experience of most traumas in the child’s life is that the traumatic experiences typically occur in the context of human relationships. From that point forward, stress in the midst of a relationship will create a traumatic re-experiencing for the child, leading the child to feel threatened, fearful, and overwhelmed in an environment which otherwise may not be threatening to other people.” Bryan Post, PhD
Behaviors like defiance, eating issues, lying, tantrums and non-stop talking can easily be labeled as typical age-related actions but in adopted children, they are more likely to be symptoms of trauma. How an adoptive parent recognizes the source of these behaviors and plans very intentional steps for healing will make a world of difference in your child’s life and in your family.
Here is a very insightful flip chart which identifies many of the results of trauma, showing how the brain processes it and how this affects attachment.
by Janina Fisher, PhD