Summertime Fears Part 2

Part Two: Fears of Summer. In the first, we covered the fear of “What will I do with the time?” Now, we will answer the three additional fears that parents have relayed to us throughout the years. Summer offers many opportunities for healing relationships, activities, and personal growth. By proactively addressing these fears and incorporating the family’s answers, parents can enter summer more prepared and less anxious.

2. How can I keep everyone safe?

The fear of not being able to keep everyone safe is not an unreasonable fear. Many families have experienced dangerous and aggressive behaviors that frighten family members and put everyone at risk. We take these behaviors seriously and recommend extra effort be placed on safety. Parents may have to contact crisis and/or emergency personnel when these behaviors do happen. If the child is dangerous and parents abdicate their role in keeping everyone safe, the traumatized child and other family members will suffer. We must set and hold firm boundaries around safety and not allow our own fears (What with the neighbors think? or What will I say to the police? or What will I tell the case worker? Etc.) stop us from taking action. Additionally, our traumatized children will not be able to trust us if we can’t keep everyone safe nor can they learn new internal boundaries (I can’t hurt others to make my fears go away.).

As in the previous fear we discussed, we highly recommend using PACE (Hughes, 2007 ) to assist in the narration around the fear and the solutions being implemented. Additionally, it is necessary to have a working grasp of the Trauma Lens Paradigm Shift which allows for discussion of the situation while minimizing the shame to the child and emphasizing the opportunity to heal. (Hughes, D. (2007). Attachment Focused Family Therapy. New York:Norton)

Keeping everyone safe is often about developing plans to stop dangerous escalations from occurring and having a plan in place when they do. With that in mind, here are some ideas that we have used over the years to develop safety plans. Just having a co-developed and agreed upon plan in itself, sometimes serves to deter the escalation cycle.

What to put in your safety plan:

  1. Emergency contacts labeled in personal phones and available to everyone. If a landline would be used, the phone numbers must be easily accessed. These numbers should be checked often because the lists tend to “disappear.”
    1. Police, fire, ambulance, crisis, (911)
    2. Respite-professional, private (traumatized child and or siblings)
    3. Service, agency, and program providers
    4. Back-up-person who can come when needed, whose presence can inhibit the escalation cycle.
    5. Clear written, fully shared descriptions of what will occur without exception in the event of problematic behaviors. This needs to be reviewed and understood by the traumatized child and all supporting adults (babysitters, coaches, grandparents, case workers, etc.) Parents have even taken children to the police department prior to future problematic behaviors to proactively inform the force of the plan and the circumstances.
      1. Clear boundaries around danger to self or others
      2. Clear boundaries around property damage
      3. Clear boundaries around invasion of personal space (private property)
      4. Clear definition of safe and isolation zones (which rooms or locations the child may be in)
      5. Clear acceptable de-escalation opportunities (alone time, time-in with parent, reading, video game, etc.)
  2. Arrange for respite for both the traumatized child and other children in the home. Summer time increases emotional closeness that can result in “push away” behaviors. Respite providers can be both by professionals and in-formal supports. While in foster care, many agencies offer respite for the children in care. Family, friends, and local programs (library, church, camp, etc.) can be utilized as respite opportunities depending on the severity of the behaviors and levels of support available.
  3. Make home safe (cleaning products) Many children have exhibited clear preferences their limbic brain uses to transfer their fear to the caregiver. For instance: A dysregulating child may repeatedly go to mom’s favorite houseplant and pull off a leaf. Other intentionally triggering actions can be more hazardous; like going to the garage and getting into the tools, using a saw, finding scissors to play with, getting into the cleaning products, finding the matches to “light a candle,” etc. Efforts should be made to secure dangerous implements.
  4. Establish separate plans when outside the home. Mini and highly focused emergency plans can be developed for traveling or specific environments.
    1. When traveling-make it fun-snacks, breaks, electronics, games, audiobooks, physical activity, etc.
    2. Time in/out at the library or the pool, etc.
  5. What do I do about my other children?

Unless, the traumatized child is the only child in the home, additional accommodations need to be considered for the other children. Family’s environments are disrupted when the traumatized child is dysregulated, often negatively impacting the plans of others. As we approach summer, parents can be proactive to acquire supports for those times.

  1. The first thing we recommend to every family is to obtain the Trauma Lens Paradigm Shift. Then, the family will understand what they are experiencing and will know how to discuss it properly with others (narration). All of our children’s experience need to be narrated. When narrating (causes, difficulties, goals, strategies, behaviors, etc.) of the healing home to our children, it is essential to have a solid grasp of the trauma lens paradigm shift. Then, we can define and describe the entire effort in a way that will not increase the traumatized child’s shame. By knowing the impact of negative working models and understanding how other competencies were disrupted, we can explain every problematic behavior. Otherwise, the traumatized child and the siblings will develop their own explanations for what they are experiencing. These immaturely developed explanations will typically involve blame and shame on the traumatized child and the parents who initiated the effort.

Trauma lens paradigm shift:

  • Trauma lens shift is the ability to see all problematic behaviors as a symptom of early trauma and the limbic brain’s attempt to distance itself from the fear trigger.

Another thing we frequently forget to narrate is the value of foster and adoptive work. Siblings need to understand that what is being done as a family is incredibly valuable to society and to traumatized children. Healing from early trauma is only accomplished in relationships. The losses, inconveniences, and stressors of this effort are not “for nothing.”  Lives would be lost without these sacrifices.

2. Establish alternate resources to accomplish planned activities—such as transportation to events when the dysregulated child prevents parent transportation, additional child care when a dysregulating child requires more support, and a parent needs to attend a sibling activity, or a task needing completed for the family good (grocery shopping, church attendance, award’s ceremony, etc.)  

3. Families with traumatized children frequently must change plans, endure chaotic behaviors, and frequently experience overwhelming invasion of personal space and property. To compensate, some parents offer battle pay to siblings. This “pay” can be monetary, special activities, or privileges designed to highlight the endurance of these difficult circumstances, and to reward the sibling’s efforts to provide a healing home.

4. Over the years, we have witnessed countless parents extremely concerned about the stress this effort brings into the lives of their birth children. We would never minimize this stress. However, there seems to be an idea present in our society that, “It’s a parent’s job to eliminate stressors from our children’s lives.” This is simply not true. Humans grow through and by stressful circumstances. While the stress of trying to provide a healing environment for a traumatized child can be very intense, it is still an opportunity for parents to model and teach how to manage that stress. That skill (how to handle stress) is in short supply in our culture today. No one likes to see their children distressed, but everyone wants their children to learn how to handle it properly. What we have found, is the children who grow through these experiences with the Trauma Lens Paradigm Shift grow into strong adults, capable of managing the stresses in which our modern world abounds. Please note: We are not advocating the maintenance of dangerous circumstances. Safety must be maintained, but that is not the same thing as saying stress must be eliminated.

4. How do I do self-care with all the kids at home?

Many parents envision and expect that their self-care will be restricted for these summer months. They mistakenly believe that their children will be better off they sacrifice their own happiness (self-regulating strategies). This is not true. Parents who do not model parenting as a happy activity (or joyful) will inevitably send “you suck messages” to their children. Traumatized children, in particular, lack the concept of self-care. Their limbic brains respond to stress by trying to distance themselves from the triggers. Our job, as parents, is to demonstrate how to move, at will, between fear states and calm states. We accomplish this via a long, varied, and ever-changing list of self-care strategies. We cannot expect our traumatized children to take responsibility for their emotional states if we cannot show them how it’s done. Here’s a short list of summertime adjustments utilized by other parents to maintain self-care.

  1. Effectively use the hours before and after the children go to bed.
  2. Reduce/eliminate the mindless use of electronics, social media, games, etc. They do not meet our physical and relational needs, and are often fraught with negative messages. These inadequacies are all to easily masked by the addictive impact (triggering pleasure centers) on our brain.
  3. Remember the importance of three sizes (short, medium, long opportunities). Summertime strategy lists may incorporate more short-term strategies than other times of the year.
  4. Model self-care as a priority in scheduling. Plan it in!
  5. Explore novel (new, single use) and repeatable strategies. Summertime can be the perfect time to explore new activities. Sometimes, the novel nature of the activity makes it worthwhile participating in even if it’s not something you plan to repeat.
  6. Narrate the effects of self-care on you and the family and how the lack of self-care effects you and the family. The general rule…if it’s worth doing, it’s worth narrating.
  7. Consider tag-teaming or respite to accomplish self-care activities without the children’s involvement.
  8. Summertime provides increased opportunities for parents to incorporate children into what may have been private or more isolated strategies. Many factors must be considered to determine whether the activity can still be counted as self-care (self-regulative): Will the children enjoy it or at least tolerate participating? Does it match my child’s development? Will I still find it relaxing with the child present?, etc. Our personal strategies need to be shared with our children as “good parenting.” However, parenting is not the same thing as self-care. Here’s a short list of examples.
    1. Walking, hiking, or taking the children to the gym
    2. Enjoying sports/activities together (swimming, boating, exploring, museums, historic sites, etc.)
    3. Sharing hobbies and interests with the children (baking, cooking, sewing, building, gardening, etc)
    4. Setting aside time each day for family reading time in which each family member has time to read independently

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