When I first brought my children home, they were perfect; so perfect I tried to loosen them up. I encouraged them to be independent, take risks, go on and do things without me. After the first three months, they cut loose alright. They flipped their lids and there was no getting them back. I had no idea those perfect little children arrived with flipped lids–they were scared into perfection so I would keep them. Within my extended family I am known for saying, These kids are hanging from the chandeliers, and I need to put the fear of God into them, because they don’t care at all about what I say.
At that time, I had absolutely no understanding of traumatized brains in children or the way trauma impacts a child’s worldview. No idea whatsoever.
Now I know. The research is clear. Our traumatized, attachment challenged children behave the way they do because they have to; they are neurobiologically wired this way to survive the maltreatment and abandonment of caregivers that came before adoption. Our children do not have the cognitive ability to override the hardwiring. That is tough for even the most mindful adult. Think about some repetitive habit you cannot seem to break (emotional eating, nail biting, emotional reactivity, yelling, withdrawing, pursuing, drinking, impulse shopping, gossiping, lying, chronic resentment)–that’s neurobiological hardwiring at work.
That idea of putting the fear of God into them was painfully misguided and I didn’t know any better despite being a therapist for 15 years at the time. It is almost twenty years ago now, but sometimes research doesn’t trickle down fast enough. I want you to benefit from the data even if all the people around you are focused on getting compliance by authoritarian means–power, control, and punishment. That is not the way of healing.
Being a safe parent is the way to getting positive behavior in your child. Safety and high structure have to come first. Compliance is a product of relationship. Relationship is a product of safety. Without safety, there is no healing–no neurobiological re-wiring.
How safe are you being every day of your child’s life? That is the prerequisite for everything else.
Our monthly Adoptive Parent Support Group is every 2nd Wednesday of every month from 6pm to 8pm at 3336 Bradshaw Road, Ste 175, Sacramento, CA 95827. Child care provided at no cost. Sign up at www.attachplace.com.
Our next 9a-5pm Trust-based Therapeutic Parent Training will be on January 7th, 2017. 2017!!!