What I want you to know


Photo courtesy of stoonn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

You need to know that kids from hard places frequently find themselves in fight, flight, or freeze mode. You need to know some always go to fight.

You need to know that these children create hell on earth for some families. You need to know that these children, when triggered, hit, kick, bite, throw things, lie, steal, defecate, vomit, destroy property, and more (sometimes on a daily or hourly basis). You need to know that in their dysregulation, these children say the most venomous things to the people who are the kindest to them.

You need to know that the trauma that causes such violent and malevolent behaviors also, often, allows them to put on a good show in public.

You need to know that just because these behaviors may only happen within family limits, that does not mean the family needs a new strategy or is doing anything wrong.

You need to know that comments such as “I can never imagine sweet S0-and-So doing such things,” “I’d take him home in a heartbeat,” or “She must be going through so much right now” may be true but make families feel isolated, hopeless, crazy, insecure, and often drive them into a deeper depression. In the same vein, you need to know that phrases like “Teens are just like that,” or “All kids go through this stage” do not apply to these families. These kids have all the typical developmental drama on steroids plus trauma drama and then some. You need to know that parents of fighters need validation not minimization.

You need to know that while families are desperate for respite, it’s not that simple. Respite comes at a high cost of even more intense behavior. So goes the bizarre nature of attachment disorder. You need to know that these families are not masochists…if it was as easy as just getting some extra help, they would have done it months or, even, years ago.

You need to know about emotional whiplash. This happens when a child is happy one minute, beating you bloody another, and asking for a hug the next. You need to know that the switch from the logic brain to the survival brain is so complete and so quick that sometimes children don’t even remember the evil minute. You need to know that the caregiver who witnesses this is left emotionally drained and had to figure out how to be emotionally available and cuddly to a child who seconds before was a danger to be around. You need to know that your sympathy or even kindness to these children is like rubbing salt in an open wound unless you balance it with double amounts empathy and kindness directed specifically at the parent.

You need to know that families largely knew what they were signing up for and they know why their kids behave they way they do. You need to know that they are fully committed to healing them, but healing takes a LOOOOOONG time of weathering the horrendous and unfathomable while still remaining compassionate. Sticking it out is the point so please don’t try to suggest quick fixes or even that we should throw in the towel.

You need to know that even though families are committed for the long haul, they need safe places to vent. Venting does not mean families are any less committed or that they think poorly of their child. They’re only human, and they’re exhausted. They’re battered…literally. You need to know that families feel trapped because to tell the truth about what these kids do would make it seem like their badmouthing their kid…plus they can be so sweet when regulated. You need to know that families are trying to figure out how to protect their child’s story and privacy while still not lie when someone asks how it’s really going.

You need to know that the world has not been a safe place for venting. You need to know a safe place just offers a hug, a shoulder to cry on, and someone to assure us that we’re not crazy. An extra meal here or there can’t hurt either.

Speaking of food. You need to know that any dietary or other restrictions families communicate are not because they are anal retentive control freaks…it’s desperation for survival.

You need to know that it’s devastating when you insinuate to hurt kids that their parents are too strict or even show a slight deviation in opinion. You need to know that families need EVERYONE in their child’s world to back them up…whether you agree or not. If you have a genuine concern, you need to know to address it completely out of earshot of any children. You need to know it’s imperative to the child that it seems all adults are on the parents’ side. You need to know that the best thing you can say to a hurt child is, “We should ask your parents,” or “You should do whatever your parents say.”

You need to know that these children are approximately half (sometimes less) their biological age emotionally so the structure implemented in their lives is not nearly as inappropriate as you may think.

You need to know that if you’re one of the professionals or volunteers that has to care for a child from hard place, you need to stick it out too. You need to know that families need allies and people who will go along with their plan as counterintuitive as it may seem to you. You need to know that clucking your tongue and shaking your head at how a child could end up this way is also not helpful. You need to know that the people that hurt these children are also people from hard places, and they need resources for healing just like the kids…not judgment.

Thanks for taking the time to know.

This post was reprinted with permission from Parenting with Connection: The Blog

Posted in Adoption and Orphan Care, Uncategorized and tagged .


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  3. Thank you for sharing this! I hope to share your wisdom wisely, and maybe as a result, will be less isolated. I still try to hold onto the belief that if people really knew, there would be better support for our families and our children.

    • Alex,
      Thank you for your intentional support over the last couple weeks. I appreciate everything you are doing through your blog, as well, to make a difference. Press on!

  4. I hear you and have been in the trenches for years with a child (now adult) who displayed and continues to display behavior that still baffles me. We never had the kind of information that you have now. Our counsel after going from therapist to therapist was basically “Do you want to relinquish this child?” While this particular child has made it to adulthood w/o committing suicide or violence, the threats are still there. Whether they are just threats of frustration or simmering potential actions, it’s still very hard to acknowledge that these moments of “disregulation” still exist.

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