Parenting multiple traumatized children Part 2

Parenting multiple traumatized children Part 2

Part 2

What not to do:

Don’t compare one child’s behavior, history, healing to another child’s.

As we noted above, parents may compare children’s limbic brain responses and “determine” one child is healthier than the other. There is danger in the comparisons. Unintentionally, parents will be drawn more to the “healthier” child because it will seem like that child is more compliant—easier to parent. That child may not receive the needed treatment because the parents have ascribed “health” to the child. Another danger is that parents may begin to minimize the acting out child’s traumatic experiences. For example: Brittany states, “Susan had less trauma, why can’t she be as nice as Sarah?” Lastly, when parents judge their child’s recovery journey they must be prepared for bumps in the road. Even though, the child is more emotionally regulated today-or this week-or month, this does not accurately predict the child’s ability to manage all intense emotions or triggers for the rest of their life.

Don’t get caught up in constantly focusing on problems, as the definers of the child, we can wind up defining them as problems.

When dealing with problematic behaviors resulting from a clash of internal belief systems, parents must be ever cautious of the tendency to devote inordinate amounts of time, assets, and attention to problem solving. The number of problems needing solved is multiplied by the addition of traumatized brains. It is very hard…very, very hard to avoid getting caught in this syndrome with one child. It becomes almost impossible with multiples. When problem solving is prioritized too highly on the list of parental functions, our children are taught to define themselves as problems.

Don’t parent by group

As family size increases, parents seek ways to manage multiple children. Sometimes, activities are designed for “group” participation and other times the children are segmented by age or gender. For example: Brittany separated her children by age and declared all the “Littles” would play outside, while the “Bigs” went to the park. This became the schedule for the entire summer vacation. This was problematic for Susan because she was never given the opportunity to develop her desire to stay inside and bake with Brittany. Additionally, the schedule failed to develop her ability to enjoy the quiet and read mystery novels. As baking with Brittany, enjoying quiet times, and reading mystery novels are excellent ways to positively define oneself, she was stunted by the over use of group activities. When infrequently used, this practice is not problematic. For traumatized children, problems arise when they are overly defined by group with a shortage of attention to the development of the individual. Trauma creates a child with a negative sense of self. Grouping decreases the child’s opportunities to discover personal interests. It is more difficult to challenge the NIWM and instill a positive sense of self through group identity.

When family sizes increase, especially with children in care, parents tend to confine movement and activities by group. The children grouped by age may be left overly restricted or be granted levels of freedom they cannot handle safely. In the latter case, there is often an assumption that group members will provide that safety. This places undue pressure on peer and/or sibling relationships, often resulting in “you suck” messages sent to the traumatized child.

Children with a history of early trauma have developed dysfunctional strategies to handle the fear of exploration. Group assignment continues to convey the child is not safe unless in the group and prevents the needed developmental exploration. It also limits the individual from acquiring more effective fear strategies (decision making). We work against ourselves whenever children are placed in a situation, they do not have developmental skills to handle. 

What to do:

Parenting a child with a history of early trauma is not just parenting. This child MUST have an emotionally present, attuned, and available caregiver with the strength to withstand the barrage of negative messages and behaviors during the healing process. It is more than twice as difficult to be this emotionally present, attuned caregiver when more than one traumatized brain is in the mix.

Use the list below to determine if you have the capacity to proceed in accepting a second placement. If and when you accept the challenge of parenting two or more traumatized children, then, this list highlights areas that need to be strengthened and maintained in family life.

Know limitations

Know your limitations: Emotional, scheduling, physical, environmental, financial

No matter how much some people would like to ignore this, we are all finite. Things like our emotional depth, our time to schedule, our physical energy, and our environmental and financial assets can all be represented as pie graphs. They are not unlimited. The trauma that occurred in children’s lives are likely examples of birth family pie graphs lacking sufficient space allocated to parenting a child. Every parent has experienced occasional shortages in these areas. But we can do additional harm to already hurt children when we routinely commit more than we have to give. Parents can be challenged to set limits with agency staff who encourage the family to take a new placement, especially when their hearts are aching for the child’s sad story. Their decisions can be emotionally driven, not what is best for their family or the child. The following areas should be evaluated before making the decision to take a second traumatized child.

  • Know the limitations of your marriage:

The marriage relationship is the backbone of the family. It becomes the barer of the weight associated with co-regulating all the family’s emotions. Additional traumatized children unavoidably add additional marital stress. Both parties must desire the new child, not just be in agreement and willing to accept him or her. Beware the partner who says “Whatever, if you think you can handle it.” When marital relationships break down under the stress of unequally shouldered weight, placement disruption may occur and all members of the family will be traumatized.

  • Know the limitations of your birth children in your home:

No parent sets out to traumatize their children. When we bring a traumatized child into our home, we expose our children to the world of hurt and fear our foster/adoptive child came from. In this process, we must learn to manage our own distress while helping our birth children and our foster/adopted child with theirs. How much discomfort and stress are you able to tolerate in your children? Additional traumatized children equal additional trauma for all the children in your family. They will all be impacted by this decision. Are you OK with the pain you are about to bring into their lives? Do you have a plan to help them endure this stress?

  • Will you be able to maintain your self-care strategies? Multiple children require more time, attention, and emotional energy. When these things come into short supply, the first thing to drop off is self-care. If you are attempting to parent more than one traumatized child, DO NOT DROP SELF-CARE. You can’t save them if you don’t save yourself.
  • Do you have a strong grounding in the Trauma Lens Paradigm Shift? Two or more traumatized children mean two or more brains opposing a parent’s positive internal working model. A stronger parental grasp of this point of view is an absolute necessity. Don’t be tempted don’t to parent more than one traumatized child at a time as you acquire it. Learning is much more difficult in the heat of the battle.
  • Do you know what resources you will need and if they can be acquired? Define what you can and cannot do—housework, grocery shopping, work outside the home, etc. You may need help, but can you be vulnerable enough to ask for it? In addition to the daily chores, will you have time with your children? Children with early trauma must have parents with extra skills and time to build relationships for healing. The children are the priority. Can you say no to outside stressors?
  • Can you narrate, narrate, and narrate more…what is happening in the environment, relationships, triggers, trauma symptoms, etc. Keep in mind when parenting multiple traumatized brains, you will need to be able to narrate for them all!
  • Will each child be provided with needed one-on-one time with the parent? Having one-on-one time with a parent instills a sense of self-worth in a child. Multiple children equate to multiple one-on-one time. Will you be able to meet this need…multiple times over? Each child must have a parent that finds, identifies, and supports each child’s character traits, qualities, and interests to build an individual sense of self.
  • Do you have the knowledge, time, and community resources to determine each child’s Trauma Disrupted Competencies (TDCs) and address them separately? Remember addressing TDC deficiencies is done verbally, with actions, and by adjusting the environment, all of which require resources. Making sure multiple children get what they need is extremely demanding. Professional assistance is likely to be required. Some resources may not be available in every community. Therefore, you will be tasked to find and use community resources and support for multiple children. As we have reinforced, multiple children require individual treatment. Parents must seek appropriate and well trained: respite, treatment professionals and para-professionals support team members. Parents may need to seek extra financial subsidies or increased foster care daily rates to use the services. Do not count on the often-empty promises agencies may allude to.  
  • Can you maintain safety!? Even inpatient units evaluate the severity of acting out behaviors before accepting a placement. When they determine the behaviors are too much for their unit, they will decline the client. Make sure there is full and adequate disclosure as well as a plan to address all problematic behaviors with an eye towards maintaining the family’s safety. PARENTING traumatized children cannot be accomplished when safety is not assured.

In closing; it is heartbreaking when placements disrupt or adoptions dissolve because the above areas were not considered before multiple placements were accepted. We have encountered many circumstances in which the care and healing of one child was derailed by the addition of two or more traumatized children. Children heal best in a safe, emotionally regulated home environment. We have seen homes that have so many traumatized children that they essentially function as a small group facility. The current state system does not provide enough financial or logistical support for these families. Often, the result is lack of safety and more trauma in the members of these family systems. They tend to limp through the years, warehousing the children until their eighteenth birthday. Such systems forfeit years of healing opportunity while desperately striving to honor the commitment they made. Our purpose is not to say yeah or nay to such a decision, but urge you to exercise “due diligence” when making the decision. If the decision has already been made, and you find yourself struggling, look to the list above for areas in your life that may need

© 2022, Jeff and Faye. All rights reserved.

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