In the above diagram, the words on the left represent the words we hear all the time in the world of foster care and adoption, to describe the children and youth we are charged with protecting. These show up on on treatment plans, school reports, in case files and most importantly in both professional and casual conversation. On the right, are the feelings and experiences that are coupled with these behaviors when we look at those words on the left with a Trauma-Informed Lens.
How can we expect greatness and resilience when we attach these types of descriptors to our children? How can we remember to tie the these words with the root cause and definition in times when we ourselves may being feeling overwhelmed and frustrated? This is not to excuse the behavior. Instead it is a reminder that when receiving professional advice or even when you yourself may want to divert to these types descriptive wording; that you remain focused with a Trauma-Informed lens in regards to your reactions and parenting.
Let’s talk about our frames in which we see the actions of Adoptees and Foster Youth. Do we use a frame of “normal expectation” or do we use a frame that enhances our trauma informed vision? When we put on our “trauma glasses” we are able to disconnect from taking the behaviors of a child personally, enhance our empathy and remain level with our reaction and responses.
Whether a child is adopted or enters foster care as an infant, as a child or as a youth; it is imperative to keep the trauma and loss experienced by the Adoptee or Foster Youth in the forefront of your mind. The early “primal” relationship that is severed between mother and infant when an infant adoption takes place, is no less traumatic than the child who is adopted at a later age. It can be easier to disconnect the behaviors from trauma and loss because they were “too young” to remember. However, our body and subconscious remembers. That is why a certain smell may evoke emotions of fear or a special song played in the car can make a person feel feelings of nostalgia without really understanding why. It is rooted during the time we were not consciously aware, but our subconscious was no doubt in motion.
Have you heard these words? What feelings and emotions do they evoke? If someone described you in these terms, how would that make though feel? Would you internalize it? Could you picture yourself playing out a “self-fulfilling prophecy” with these internalized feelings?
How can we reframe these words with our Trauma-Informed lens? How can we build resilience and strength instead of grounding a child or youth to the floor with negative expectations and descriptions? In what way can you make a shift in word choice when describing your child in your mind, to your family, friends or even to those that you seek professional advice from?
All children see their worth through their parents eyes. All children pick up on the unspoken cues and the subtle nuances that those around them exhibit. Children in foster care and who have been adopted can display this in a hyper-vigilant manner. Details are important because they shape the way their future unfolds. They have witnessed this, they have seen it and they have felt it. They are aware and they are paying attention. What can you do to make sure the details they see and hear are full unconditional love And empathy to build them up and not keep them tethered to the ground, on alert and full of self-doubt?