Helping Families Thrive

                        RESEARCH: Adopting a Traumatized Child

Is it Trauma or Challenging Behaviors?

When I refer to adopted children as having been traumatized by virtue of having lost their birth mothers, their families (and often culture and language), or when I refer to the adoption itself as a traumatic event, parents often say, "No. No trauma here, just bad behavior."  So, this is where we shall begin. Behavior.

Parenting children with challenging behaviors can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Parent are often left feeling depleted, helpless, frustrated, and guilty because they don't how how to fix the problem. Hence, the initial focus is often on the behavior itself. To make matters worse, society often links a child's bad behavior to bad parenting, which can leave parents feeling socially isolated from teachers. friends, and family who do not yet understand that challenging, or extreme, behaviors such as rage, aggression, chronic defiance, and lying are a function of missed development, not a function of parenting. You are very likely not a bad parent. You are more likely a warrior parent who will stop at nothing to find help for your child.

Dr. Brigitte Wilburg provides the education and training necessary to understanding the root causes of a child's extreme behaviors. Seminars, support groups, and individual sessions at The Wilburg Institute are information and resource rich. Role plays are often included to allow parents to demonstrate typical interactions with their child. Role plays allow parents to experience the instructor's response, as parent or child, which often leads to a paradigm shift in how parents respond and communicate with their child. Valuable lessons can be gained from experience, instruction, and the objective perspective and resonant learning that comes from being witnessed or witnessing another family's situation.

Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control

Consequences, logic, and control are popular, old-school, and highly ineffective parenting techniques for children who experienced early childhood trauma, yet they are often the very strategies we fall back on when under stress. Time-outs are implemented, threats and yelling ensues. And at the end of the day, nothing changes. In fact, the child's responses and behaviors usually get worse.

Over time, many of these children begin to engaged in dangerous and illegal activities and a significant percentage enter the juvenile justice system.  Heather Forbes' Beyond Consequences model is offered as a beginning step to teach parents to deescalate emotionally charged situations, to focus on bonding and attachment, and to reverse the damaging patterns that have enveloped the family system.

The Good News About 'Bad' Behavior

What could be good about bad behavior. Well, quite a lot!  So-called bad behaviors, such as rages, tantrums, lying, and defiance are communications from that hold the key to understanding when and how deeply a child was hurt and is now entrenched in defensive tactics that, at one point, served her well. Bad behavior is quite literally a gift. It is a clue, an opening, a vulnerable door through which we can emotionally access our child. However, before approaching a vulnerable child, we must become acquainting with, and nurture that hurt part of ourselves, which is also often manifest as apparent bad behavior. Our emotional reactivity, which serves us well in terms of self-protection and stress relief, is a product of our own tolerance for stress, rejection, and boundary betrayal.

We are products of the emotional tolerance that was modeled for us as children, and, herein lies the problem. Our internalized permissions about how much noise we can make in the world, how much space we can take up, and the precise point upon which our boundaries have been crossed, are entrenched and, for the most part, unconscious. So, too, is the behavior of a child. It is a dance between parent and child, simple, yet complicated, a viscous cycle of over-reacting that can lead to PTSD for an entire family.

Learn how to end the viscous cycle of emotionally-charged reactions that keep you and your child stuck in turmoil and that prevent you from falling into a safe, loving relationship.                                      

                         Connect               Learn               Heal               Thrive

Brigitte Wilburg, Ph.D.

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