I once took a class where the presenters joked that one of the worst predictors of a person becoming an effective foster parent was their prior experience raising biological children. Obviously, this is an overstatement (and a potentially hurtful one at that), but the truth is, raising children who experienced secure attachment from infancy is just different from raising children who experienced early trauma and disrupted attachment. Many of the parenting strategies that work for securely attached children don’t work as effectively with children who have experienced troublesome circumstances.
Parenting children who joined your family through foster care or adoption can be hard. To other parents, your choices may seem too harsh or not harsh enough, too controlling, or not controlling enough, and even some of them may question you about it. The truth is that your parenting choices are your business, and you don’t owe anyone an explanation as long as you are doing it with child’s best interest in mind. However, you may have friends or family members who are genuinely curious about your parenting choices and are open to learning more about the effects of early trauma on children. In these cases, here are four ways that you can help your friends understand child trauma:
Allow your friends to know that your parenting choices are purposeful and loving. Explain to them that your child’s attachment has been disrupted, or that your child has experienced early trauma, and this changes the way that you parent.
Protect the Details of Your Child’s Story
While you want to be honest in your conversation, also keep in mind that the specific details of your child’s life and adoption story are theirs to share, not yours. Unless your child is old enough to be part of the conversation, and gives permission for you to share details, or chooses to share them, give your child the gift of privacy.
Resources explaining the effects of childhood trauma on brain development and behavior abound. If your friends seem interested, point them to videos like this one. There are also many helpful resources at empoweredtoconnect.org. The Whole Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson, also has a wealth of great information.
Give Space for Learning
If your friends are genuinely interested in learning more about the effects of early trauma, give them a little space to learn. Provide resources, honestly answer their questions (while being mindful of your child’s privacy) and be patient as they seek to understand more about your family and your parenting choices. A friend who wants to learn more about child trauma is likely a friend who will eventually be a great ally to your child and your family.
Foster and adoptive parents, what would you add? How have you helped your friends understand the impacts of childhood trauma? What resources have I missed? Sound off in the comments!