Through the Eyes of a Traumatized Child

If you’ve ever been in a car accident or other traumatic event, you know that for a while your blood pressure goes up every time you experience something that triggers those memories.  These reactions (and even memories) are largely subconscious.  How your body responds is a survival technique.

For better or worse, our brains are wired to survive.  Without much thought from us, they will produce automatic behaviors that are protective.

Kids who have not had a secure, safe place (emotionally or physically) in which to grow and learn, develop behaviors that are for one thing…survival.

The part of the brain that dictates survival is different than the part of the brain that thinks logically and rationally.

Are you connecting the dots?

This means that kids from hard places have little to no experience using the part of their brain that thinks rationally.  They are too busy trying to survive.

What does this look like?

In our house, it means every “No, you may not” and “Please wait a minute” is translated by our children as a threat to their survival.  Those negative responses from people prove to them that people are not to be trusted at any cost.  If they sense someone getting too close, they will behave in such a way to sabatoge the relationship.  They can’t rationalize that an activity may not be safe or emphathize that others may have a need ahead of them.

It means every raised voice (whether in play or anger) causes high anxiety and fear that their very life may be in jeopardy.  In the unlikely case their rational brain was engaged, they immediately switch to the part that will guarantee survival.  Some kids flee, some freeze, some fight.  None think.  In these moments, their behavior is as instinctual as blinking.  They have no control over it.

Logic-based, high-reasoning consequences? Completely out of the question.  Any consequence is viewed as an attack.  It is never connected to their behavior.

In some incidences, they truly do not remember the behavior (even if it happened just moments ago) since it happened in such a high state of stress.  It’s kind of how our brain blocks out pain.  I know I don’t rememer much about my experiences going through unmedicated labor and delivery.

As we’ve travelled through weeks of sinking or swimming (mostly sinking) through behavior, we’ve been clinging to Dr. Purvis’ observation that “angry kids are sad and kids that look crazy are scared.”  Putting into perspective what our kids have internalized and how it’s leaking out in behavior and examining how our reactions can either diffuse or escalate their behavior is keeping our heads barely above water.  We sink often.  We’re mentally and emotionally exhausted.

That reminds me..please excuse the unedited, haphazard rambling posts such as this one.

I know it may sound like we’re making excuses for our kids.  We’re not.  We’d be the first ones on the bandwagon if we knew traditional parenting techniques worked on kids from hard places.  We actually keep trying to jump on that bandwagon only to find ourselves banging our proverbial heads against a wall as our situation detioriates in front of our very eyes.  I won’t lie.  I want a much quicker fix for their behavior.  You know, the kind that includes lost privileges, timeouts, and extra chores.  This whole heal the root cause instead of slapping a bandaid on a gaping wound thing is not for the faint of heart.

If you’re in our shoes (or similar ones), don’t ever let anyone tell you that trust-based parenting is the easy way out or lets the kids off the hook.

If you’re on the outside looking in, don’t judge us based on our children’s behavior or how we handle it.  I’d ask you to try to see the world through their eyes, but I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

Posted in Adoption and Orphan Care, Uncategorized and tagged , .


  1. My daughter was 6 when we brought her home from Eastern Europe. She’s been home almost 21 months and I am just now beginning to embrace the fact that I am now a trauma momma. I signed up for adoptive momma. I signed up for CP momma. I didn’t realize I was also signing up for trauma momma. Thank you for posting this.

  2. It is very helpful to understand these realities, and to be reminded again of what is motivating some behaviors. I appreciated reading again about trauma. Thanks!

  3. Interesting that you claim you’re not making excuses for your child’s behaviour — because it totally sounds like you’re making excuses for your child’s behaviour. I’d also be willing to bet that your inner circle is now limited mostly to your self-proclaimed trauma mama friends… And your friends and family who’ve loved you for decades have taken great big steps away from you. Or you’ve banished them from your life for failing to follow your micromanaging borderline lunatic purvis inspired rules!

    Gotta love having super-duped low expectations of your traumatized little darling — who will probably live right on down to them.

    (Why yes, I spent most ofy childhood in foster care).

    • Stacee,
      Thanks for weighing in. As a child who experienced the foster care system, how do you wish you had been parented differently?

  4. The good news is that as you continue down this path, things will get better. We’ve been home with our daughter for 4.5yrs now… she was 6 at the time she came to us. The first two years were really hard… especially the first year. I was an emotional mess even though I was as prepared as I could be to handle our beautiful control freak spitfire! 😉 A great book is “Beyond Logic, Consequences & Control: A love based approach to parenting attachment challenged children with severe behaviors”

  5. This is what we have experienced through hosting. So sad that these kids have been in such situations that they can’t see love in action or love at all. So hard for us who have used traditional methods of parenting to even begin to break through. Praying for you, Melissa.

    • Doretta,
      Thanks for the prayers. We feel them everyday. And thank you for your faithfulness in orphan care.

  6. Melissa, This post brought back memories that trigger even a reaction in me. Whenever we took B. to functions in our former church I would be fearful of the reactions we would get about her behavior and our lack of the “appropriate” response. One such person said to me “If this was my child, I would have immediately spanked her on the spot.”
    I also see the same responses even though my daughter is in her 20s. It just manifests itself differently.

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