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And I’m not gonna talk about all the technical terminology—the amygdala, the hippocampus, the prefrontal cortices, and all the fancy terminology here—I really just need you to pay attention to certain regions and their functions within the brain itself. And so you’ll see the three areas that I’ve highlighted in the slide: we have the primitive brain, and we have a mid-brain section, we also have the frontal lobes, or the frontal cortices, which essentially are the reasoning, rational, problem solving, intellectual functioning part of the brain. And I know it’s much more complicated than that, but for now that at least allows us a simple understanding of some of the areas of the brain that I want to address.
So first of all, let me talk a little bit about the primitive brain. The primitive brain, often called the reptilian brain, in some circumstances—is essentially part of the brain that is shared by all animals, and most of us recognize that what it’s responsible for is survival, and it’s very reactionary to the environment, so based on that understanding, we see that any time I’m faced with a threat, real or perceived, I activate that primitive brain response in order to figure out a quick and very efficient way to survive. So most of you have likely gone through a circumstance where somebody’s jumped out from behind their door or a closet and scared you to death, and that’s likely an experience shared by most people.
Now, of course, the question I would ask—and I understand you can’t respond—but the question I would ask is how did you react when somebody jumped out from behind a door and scared you? Now most of you have heard of the fight or flight response—the F’s, if you will—we’re actually gonna have a couple more today— two more F’s, if you will—we have fight, flight, freeze, or faint, so we have a number of potential responses that we engage in in order to protect ourselves, in a sense. So when somebody jumps out from behind a door, your automatic response you don’t take the time to think about it, it just happens, that is you jump, you jump back, you scream, some of you actually start running, some of you may start flailing or striking back at the person in a physical sort of way; all of those responses are very adaptive to the threat, that is I don’t have time to think about the threat, I just need to respond to that threat in such a way that it will protect me. And so what happens is your body is designed by nature to protect itself.
Now all of you are smart enough to figure out that when I have gone through traumatic experience you’re likely—well, I shouldn’t use the word likely—you’re activating discriminative response every time, and the assumption is often that a child has to go through a very active physical event in order to activate that process; however, what research tells us now is that even the withholding of important nurturing loving care will activate the same response, the same primitive response for survival and be just as equally impairing, if you will, as an event—a physical, assaultive attack or event—on the person. So why, when somebody that you are familiar with, why after they jumped out from behind the closet, if you had a startled response, you screamed, you started flailing, you started running, why didn’t you keep doing that? Well the answer should be because very quickly—and this is within nanoseconds, and this is the magnificent nature of the brain—one of the things that happens is your primitive brain will try to integrate up some of the other circuits of the brain, will communicate with the other part, particularly the midbrain where a lot of our past experiences, our templates are stored from the things that we’ve been through, our life experiences, our memories, and it will very quickly go through, I would say like a Rolodex system of all of those experiences and memories and so forth, and you’ll have some recognition, “Oh that’s just my husband or my wife or my partner or a friend, so it’s not a real threat,” and so that part of the brain then goes back to the primitive part of the brain and says, “Not a real threat,” and your body then goes through a period of regulation, and you can generally restore quite rapidly back to a state of regulation, even though your heart will pound for a while, and you’ll have some shallow breathing for a few minutes, but typically your response is one of regulation.
Now, I guess the extension of that is later, when at a full state regulation, you will be able to access now your frontal lobes and your problem solving, rationing, reasoning part of the brain, and then you begin to plot your revenge on that person, so what that means is once you’re restored to a state of regulation, you can think about “Oh, how am I going to get that person back?” in a way, and that’s kind of a secondary component to what we’re talking about.
So I think the critical component of what I’m describing here is when trauma occurs—and this is, I think, perhaps what is often amiss is— and we’re activating, repeatedly activating, this brain because studies tell us that single events versus prolonged and repeated events have different impact on the structure of the brain and the development of the neural connections within the brain itself. So if you look at repeated, prolonged, traumatic experience and events, you’re essentially activating repeatedly the primitive brain so that it starts to become a more dominant part of the brain, it becomes hypersensitive to threat, if you will, and essentially begins to respond to the world as though everything around the child or in a person is a threat.
Now as I prepared for this presentation, one of the most useful handouts that I’ve ever seen, or I guess articles that I’ve ever seen, is coming from the American Academy of Pediatrics, and so those of you out there who would like to access that can go to their website, American Academy of Pediatrics, and access this information, it’s called “Helping foster and adoptive families cope with trauma,” an amazing article. Because what’s happening now is we’ve gone beyond just conjecturing or theorizing about what’s going on when a child has been traumatized. What we now know, and there’s been enough research, and the science backs it up to help us recognize that the brain is being actively modified during periods of trauma so that what has often been turned as a psychopathological response in children—in other words, we often label the behaviors in a psychopathological way—so how many of you, for example, recognize and are working with kids with conduct disorder, with oppositional defiance disorder, ADHD, with bipolar, and the list goes on and on. So in other words, the tendency has been to psychopathologize the behaviors, and what the research is now saying is we have somewhat of a pathophysiological response now. In other words, the disease isn’t of the mental state, if you will, it is of the physiological state, and that means something entirely different than what we’ve known in the past, that is I have a faulty, if you will, physiological system, and part of that is, of course, the function of the brain.
And so that, I think, has ramifications beyond just trying to provide therapy and treatment, your average, typical, therapeutic response, and I’m not suggesting under any circumstances that those are not useful because they are; what I’m suggesting is that we have to help children—and I think caregivers—recognize that, in order to help them, we have to calm them down, in a sense. We have to help their internal system regulate because no amount of therapy, necessarily, will do that. They have to feel a part of a loving, nurturing, caring relationship that helps them feel safe so that they can learn to regulate that internal response; that’s important, particularly when we only get stuck on behaviors, and we label them in all the sorts of ways I described earlier, we get stuck on the behavior and ignore what’s happening internally, and as we become aggressive in terms to help them understand or manage those behaviors, then in many ways what we end up doing is threatening the child even more, and that’s where we have to have a paradigm shift because in our brains—as adults, guess what? We have brains, too, and part of that response is—some of us more active than others—but the truth is that our brains are functioning and have responses to their environment as well.
And so one of the things that can happen is when we say, “I have a ten-year-old boy placed in my home,” one of the things that our brain will naturally do with part of that midbrain experience is to go through a serious of templates because we’ve all likely encountered dozens or hundreds of ten-year-old boys in our lifetime and therefore have created in our brain a template of what a ten-year-old boy looks like, how they should behave, what their characteristics are, and so we automatically have that template built into our brain. So a child who has been traumatized comes into our home, and automatically we want to match that child to the template in our own brain, and our reaction to that is “Oh, ten-year-old boy, therefore why don’t you act your age?” and that’s not necessarily a conscious process; that’s what happens automatically in our brain, that as we match our experiences with the things around us, and so we make assumptions that because this boy is ten, he should therefore appear in every way, with all the characteristics of any other ten year old boy, and when they don’t, then our brain goes into a state of incongruence.
So having said that part, now we need to move a little bit into, you know, some of the other discussions that we need to have about the brain because here’s something that we often overlook. When the primitive brain is activated, we generally limit and, in some cases, even cut off access to the rest of the brain in a way; that is, I can’t recall from past memory or experience, and I can’t reason or rationalize very well under periods of stress. Now all of you know that when we’re stressed out, we don’t think right, in a sense, we don’t think clearly. For example, how many of you—again, I can’t hear a response, but for those of you at home, you can raise your hand—but the truth is, how many of you have said or done something really stupid under stress? So a couple of the people here are raising their hands, and the other two are ready to do so.
So in other words, even rational people under stress don’t think very clearly, and that’s a common thing; I mean, it’s commonly understood. So for the child now who has a hyperactive—or, I should say, exaggerated fear response to almost everything in their environment, their ability to recall from memory or even to problem solve during periods of stress is significantly diminished. So think about that. How many of us as parents have looked at a child who’s highly dysregulated and say, “Why did you hit your sister?” and the child will look at you and say “I don’t know.” The truth is, based on this model, they don’t know because they cannot access that part of the brain that’s somewhat related to conscience and being able to recall from past experience the outcomes of those behaviors. So we have to recognize that there’s a deficit in the way their brain functions that is critical to the production of behaviors.
I’m going to read a small excerpt from the article I referenced earlier, and I think it’s important because this will help, I think, better than anything I should say understand what I’m talking about: “Children often reenact or recreate old relationships with new people. They do this to get the same reactions in caretakers that they have experienced with other adults because these lead to familiar reactions. These patterns helped the child survive in the past, prove negative beliefs, help the child vent frustration, and give the child some sense of mastery.”
Now I want you to think about what I just said, of what is implicated in that statement. The very behaviors that we find troublesome and very difficult to manage—and I’m not gonna argue, that’s a given—the reality is, those give them power over their world because they’re familiar, they elicit very common or familiar responses from the caregivers around them and other people, and therefore helps me feel safe. Think about that. And yet what we do, sometimes, is get stuck only on the behavior and label the behavior as a negative response to the world; the truth is these are very adaptive responses that help children survive, help them feel in control of what’s going on around them, and I think that, again, I can’t state enough how important that is to remember.
All right, so…Oh boy, I just want so say that if there’s a slight delay its because I’m struggling here to move the slides accordingly, so we’re gonna figure this out and hopefully get better at it as time goes on. So one of the nice things about providing this as a side note, one of the nice things to suggest about the webinars is as we begin to do these on a more regular basis, not only are we gonna get better at it, but we’re gonna also rely on US participants, particularly through our question facilitators, the opportunity to give us suggestions on some of the topics that you would like to hear. I think that’s the exciting part is we’re gonna actually solicit more involvement from our families that have direct access now through some of the learning opportunities that we want to be able to present. So that’s some of the exciting stuff, I think, is ahead of us in relationship to our webinar series. And so it looks like—and, again, I know this is a little bit off topic—but it looks like we’re gonna be doing these every month, and you’d be, number one, allowing for more opportunities and for topics to be specialized to your needs, but also recognize that you’re also gonna become more interactive and hopefully allow for more time; instead of just one hour blocks, we may be able to work up to two and three hour blocks, I don’t know, we’ll see.
So anyway… All right, so back to the information. So most of you are likely seeing the slide, it’s a quote from Dr. Bruce Perry. I hate to say this out loud, but I think I’m a Dr. Perry groupie; I know there’s others among us who are. And I only reference Dr. Perry as part of a larger coalition of individuals who work very clearly with kids who’ve been through trauma and have done such significant research around the brain to help us learn how to integrate more trauma informed practice, and I think that’s where we’re at in terms of a child’s welfare is we are now, I think, just barely figuring out—probably over even the last five years—that what we need to do is be more trauma informed in our interventions with kids, and what that means is get a better understanding of how the brain is structured and the response the child has based on that structure and the brain itself. So all of you have likely read that statement, but again, I’m going to read it out loud just to reiterate the significance of what I’m describing here. “To facilitate recovery, the loss of control and powerlessness felt by a child during a traumatic experience must be counteracted.” I think this is the important part “Recovery requires that the patient,” in this case the child, “be in charge of key aspects of the therapeutic interaction.” So in order for a child to recover, we cannot control the child and the behavior, and that’s somewhat counterintuitive in many ways. I think what we wanna do is apply a consequence to behavior; that’s built in. We all want to do that. Why? Because we believe that when a behavior happens there must be a consequence in order to teach them something about that behavior that’s important.
What I’m suggesting now is we have to look at the behavior differently, and I’ll use a quote from Heather Forbes—and many of you may be familiar with her work and Beyond Consequence Institute—where she suggests, and we’ll give her some validity, that we ignore the behavior but not the child, and that is very consistent with some of the things that Dr. Perry and other, Dan Siegel, have said, that we have to help the child feel like they have some control over what’s happening to them; if we exert to much control essentially we reinforce the fear and can’t actually exacerbate, if you will, their response to the stressors around them.
All right, so having said that, here’s some of the suggestions. Now I will point out that most of you can likely go to websites—that’s a stupid statement—but I know all of you are familiar with having to go to a various website. I received this information from a website known as Child Trauma Academy or childtrauma.org, for those of you who want to write that down or are interested, it’s Dr. Perry’s—well, it’s part of a website where Dr. Perry posts some of his work in relationship to some of the things I’m talking about.
Now the first one on this list—and again, if you look down at the bottom it says this is adapted from Bonding and Attachment in Maltreated Children and how we can help by Dr. Perry—and so I’ve just come up with a bulleted list, but I’ll hopefully try to do it justice and expand on some of the things that I’m hoping will help for children. So the first thing talks about to be able to nurture these children, and that seems almost too obvious. Of course we wanna nurture our children; it’s instinctual in all of us. We’re all caregivers, we wanna nurture our children, we’re driven to nurture our children. So I want you to think about the last time you were at a grocery store, you’re standing in line, and there in front of you is a cart with a toddler or infant in it. I know because I—at least I’m speaking from my own experience—but it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to avoid engaging that infant in front of you, that is, how many of you can recall—and I know that most of you will agree—that you reach out to that child and some of you make faces, you try to get them to laugh, you play peek-a-boo. Don’t you? That’s generally what most of us do, and that is we feel compelled in many ways to nurture the child, and that’s an automatic response because we are instinctually built to be caregivers.
So having said that, how does Dr. Perry and others talk about how to nurture kids who’ve been traumatized? I’m going to use two words that he’s used, and he uses a lot more, but I’m gonna use two that are very simple and easy to understand and that’s called present and parallel. Essentially, to be able to nurture the traumatized child, I have to first of all consider that they probably do not feel safe with me in their world, and even the presence of an adult in their world—or anyone for that matter—is a significant enough threat to cause them to have an adverse response to their environment, and so as a result, we end up, again, engaging the child in more of a power for control—or a struggle for control—than in any kind of a nurturing response, and this is where, again, the attunement portion of parenting comes in play, meaning I have to be attuned enough to recognize the difference between what would be considered a normal response to a stimuli around them versus weather or not this is a traumatic response or a response based on their traumatic experience.
So when I use the word parallel and present, essentially what this means is you can remain near the child in their world without engaging the child, so just helping them, first of all, feel comfortable with an adult in their world; that by itself will begin the process of recognizing that they can feel safe with an adult in their world. Sometimes if we overly engage the child, that is threating enough where they began to push away and resist the relationship. However, I don’t want you to overlook that if the child is open to interaction that you engage the child frequently and as often as possible in those interactions. When the child is insecure or feels threatened by the relationship, then you have to go back to being parallel, being in their world without necessarily engaging the child verbally or physically in an interaction. Do not walk away from the child; remain close—or at least within proximity to the child—in order to help them continue to feel safe. When the child then reaches out, I want you to welcome them back into the relationship; that gives them a sense—or it can give them a sense—that they are in control of the relationship and that you are not forcing them in any way to take part. So the more present and parallel you are with the child and are attuned to the child’s response, the more likely you can help them feel part of a nurturing, loving, caring, relationship, but be attuned; you have to recognize when the child needs you and when they need to essentially leave them be. And welcome them into that relationship, open arms when they engage; be present and willing to have them be part of your world. And so that’s some of the suggestions that would be included.
But also, there are other things that can be done to help a child feel comfortable with you in their world. First of all, you can engage in some very non-threatening incidental activities with the child, so for younger children in particular, things like patty cake or other children’s songs that require you to engage the child in some form of play. So you can do here’s the church, here’s the steeple, and you have to help the child figure out how mold their hands as you sing the song; the tea cup song, the itsy bitsy spider, and the list goes on and on and on. Interestingly enough, I have probably 17 pages of mostly familiar nursery songs that you can use to help children engage in these very smilingly non-threating interactions. And so again, it requires proximity to the child, it requires some incidental physical contact, and that, again, helps the child feel safe within the relationship itself or can help them; it doesn’t mean they will, but it certainly has the potential to do that.
For older kids—and I get this question a lot when I make the suggestion, “Well, it’s tough to do that with older kids, with teenagers, with adolescents because how are you going to play patty cake with a teenage child?” and the truth is that if you’re very observant and pay attention to some of the things that our kids are doing when they’re teenagers, you’ll notice that they have fist bumps, elbow bumps, they have rhythmic hand gestures and games, even, that they engage in with one another, and so you can actually have the child teach you some of those activities with the same outcome, potentially, for some of the younger kids, that is it’s a very non-threating physical contact that requires proximity, and it’s helping the child feel comfortable and safe in the relationship. So those are some of the things that can fall into that category.
So the second one is trying to understand the behavior before punishment or consequences. Now, as I said earlier, our inclination, it’s almost built in to us as responsible parents to say “Here’s the behavior; I need to apply a consequence. That’s the only way I can teach you a lesson.” Now I have to step back and say I don’t want the word punishment to be a part of your vocabulary anymore. Punishment is essentially designed only for one thing, and that is to stop undesirable behavior, and it doesn’t work. So what I want you to get used to saying is “I need to discipline a child.” Now, again, you may say, “Well we’re talking semantics here,” but I think discipline is an entirely different thing than punishment all together because the root of discipline is to teach; in other words, my goal is not to simply stop an undesirable behavior, my goal in every case should be how to teach the child to do it differently, and if you can do that in a way that says “You’re not in trouble for something. My job as a parent is to help you learn how you can do that differently,” then the outcomes typically are much better, so don’t confuse punishment and discipline.
It’s okay to come up with consequences for various behaviors, it’s okay to communicate your expectations with children whether or not they’ve been traumatized or not; that’s not what I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is being able to recognize and be attuned enough with the child, particularly those who’ve been traumatized, to say “You know, I don’t need to necessarily jump right in to apply some kind of consequence for this behavior. Maybe my role should be to help the child feel safe, to be able to understand and help them recognize their emotional response in the moment because they have never been given opportunities,” usually never, and I shouldn’t say the words absolute and never.
So one of the things that I want to help us understand is they rarely have been given those opportunities to engage in emotional identification and communication I’m feeling happy, I’m frustrated, I’m sad, I’m angry, I’m upset; all of those things have generally been met with harsh responses, so their emotion response to the world around them has been maladapted and again can become somewhat problematic. So I need to move. Okay, so I wanted to go back to the previous slide so… All right, so having said that, I want you to, again, go back to something I said earlier about—I wanted to go back to something I said that Heather Forbes said to ignore the behavior, but be present with the child, help them feel safe, help them know that you’re not going anywhere, that you’re going to be there with them and recognize as they rage, as they tantrum, as they do other things, then you are present with them and available for them.
Also, again, based on what I suggested earlier about what’s happening in the brain—in our brains—is I’m matching my template to the child’s age, and I want and anticipate them to respond accordingly, and when I talk to parents in other settings about how to recognize that children that have been traumatized are not going to be always capable of all the things that a child their age are capable of, I want you to get used to training your thought process to say “This child is ten, but what age are they really?” So in other words, you can ask that question How old is this child? They’re ten chronologically, but really how old are they? And if they’re six, then I should adapt my interactions and interventions based on the younger characteristics of the child, and that’s not always easy to do because again we want so badly—it’s built into us—for them to do all the things that children their age are doing.
All right, be consistent; I think one of the thigs that all of us can do better at is be consistent. With children who’ve been traumatized, they need to know what to expect, so build in routines: bedtime, bath time, meal time, study time, and so on so that they have a clear understanding that their world is not going to be chaotic, they know what to expect, they can anticipate that a pattern of familiarity will begin to emerge so that they don’t feel fearful and, I guess, less secure than what we would want them to be. As a matter of fact, I think the cornerstone of that, the emergence really of those feelings of security come from knowing what to expect the more I know what to expect, then the more I can respond myself in a more consistent way, and I think even for children who even help these children that if they don’t know what to expect, they’re very scared. Children can be very frightened by that, so a child who’s already operating from a fear-based response will find that if I don’t know what to expect, then it’s simply reinforcing the fear that has been established in my neuroconnection to begin with. So be consistent.
Part of that can again, as I said earlier, the patterns of expectation, but also—and this is something that Dr. Perry, if any of you went to see his, couple of years ago, went to the symposium were able to hear him talk about the importance of rhythmic movement and dance, for example, and that is helping them learn ways to cause their neurons to fire in a very pattern succinct way because that’s what’s building neural pathways that lead healthier neural pathways. So it not it’s not always easy to run all your kids in fifteen million directions, but guess what? You can get them in dance, you can get them in karate, you can get them in things that require that repetitive movement; those by themselves can be useful, but I would argue that if you are going to engage the child in those activities that you do it in a family setting, as well, and perhaps more often than you would find time sending them to a dance class or a karate class, so find opportunities as a family to engage in and dance or move together to create not only the movement but hopefully enhance the relationship that you have with the child, as well. So those are some important things to consider as you think about helping a child who’s had those experiences. Now the other part of that is just going for walks occasionally, and not only is that good just in general, it keeps us healthy, but again it has some significant benefits for the child, as well.
One of the things that’s most often overlooked is what my behaviors look like for the child; that is, the child generally will mirror what they see me do, and as a result, we’ll respond to their world around them accordingly. So if I react with anger, with raised voices, and so forth, why am I anticipating that the child could then do it differently? And that’s probably one of the most significant, I guess, parenting awareness components that I can think of, is that I think more than anything we do they have to not only see you do the behaviors or engage in behaviors you want them to perform, and it’s related not just to the tone of voice, but your body language, your voice inflection, all the small subtle things that we do as parents, so you have to pay attention to you.
As a matter of fact, if this were a class on learning how to be good parents, one of the first things I tell participants is “You’re not here to learn how to manage children’s behavior,” and most of them say to me “Well that’s what I need to know; I need strategies to help my kids behave.” I talk about it in the context that parenting is about managing your behaviors, and by doing so you help children learn to manage theirs. If you respond with aggression, don’t be surprised if your children respond with aggression. When you’re driving down the road and use hand gestures to display your displeasure at a motorist who cut you off in traffic, don’t be surprised that your children will respond the same way. If you become aggressive and violent towards others, don’t be surprised when the schoolteacher calls you and says that your child at school is responding with aggression and violence in their social interactions at school. So we have to pay attention to our responses.
I also have to caution all of us to recognize there’s no such thing as a perfect parent; in other words, we’re gonna mess this up once in a while, and I’m gonna tell you, that’s okay. Now, of course, I’m not the one who gives you permission how to behave, but I wanna tell you that’s okay; that is, we all make mistakes, and when you do—which we all will—it’s okay to say “You know what? I’m gonna try to do that differently.” So it’s okay to talk to your children, to approach them and say “You know what? I didn’t handle that the way I normally would have, and therefore I wanna make sure that I do it correctly the next time.” So again, going back to modeling, you’re helping children understand that even though we don’t always do things right, there’s a way to manage it in ways that are more productive. So model and teach, particularly as it relates to relationships. Children need to grow up in a home where they can see what a nurturing, loving, appropriate relationship looks like; for husbands and wives that means appropriate public displays of affection where you can hold hands or give hugs, and help them understand that healthy relationships are designed to look this way. So again, that’s important for all of us, I think, just in general to understand.
One of the activities that I have used to help married couples, for example, is an activity that I call—that I’ve used; I don’t call it anything—I just call it a listening activity where I assign each of the partners an opportunity to listen and talk to each other for a ten-minute period versed at time. So one participant—one partner—is asked to only ask very general questions to the other person, and then stop and only listen to the response without asking follow up questions or anything else. So the partner then asks a question like “Well tell me, what was your favorite vacation that you took as a family member?” The partner then would look and listen to the response—no follow up questions, but just listen. And then after ten minutes of doing that, they shift, and the other partner has the opportunity. They found that for those couples who actually do that and take it seriously, that they have reported some very significant and important improvements in their ability to make connections.
Listening is a skill. Listening is the ability to stop letting your stuff get in the way of communication. What that means is you stop, you truly engage the person, and you hear what they have to say, and you can reflect that back to them in a way that’s meaningful. So when a child engages you, you should remove from your importance anything else that’s going on around you; I would suggest that even if you’re on the phone or watching your favorite TV program that you can step aside the importance or significance of those moments, those events, and give your full attention to the child, and simply listen to what they’re telling you. Don’t interrupt, don’t glance over at the TV program or look at the clock; again, your body language must communicate that I’m attending to you, and those moments are very few and far between. As a matter of fact, we often don’t have as many opportunities we would like to engage our children in just listening to what they have to say, so seek out and use to your advantage those opportunities. Listen to kids; you’ll find that that dramatically will improve your relationship. Don’t interrupt the child; listen to what they have to say. That’s very nurturing; emotional intimacy is occurring in those moments.
Again, the realistic expectations with the child, something I already mentioned; base things on their developmental age and not their chronological age, and that’ll just help you because in the end our frustrations begin to show when we have expectations that don’t match where the child’s at. So pay attention to that, but be patient; we certainly would like every child to make progress and catch up as quickly as possible. The truth is that every child’s different. The truth is that every child will progress at different rates. We may have had a child in our home who did fantastic, that responded very quickly to some of the things that you’ve done to help them; don’t anticipate that the second one or third one or forth one that comes along is going to do the same thing. Each child will need different things at different times, so recognize and be flexible enough to adapt accordingly. And I’ll tell you something in going back to the article that I referenced earlier from the American Pediatric Association entitled “Helping Foster and Adoptive Families Go Through Trauma,” one of the things that’s repeated throughout the article—and I thought this was interesting because I know that the trainers at the Utah Foster Care Foundation have said this repeatedly over the years—and that is you cannot personalize the behaviors of the child, and so it’s interesting that here we have with the most current research in front of the suggestions that they made in terms of helping us cope with the trauma these kids are going through that it’s a good reminder to recognize it’s not about you, it’s about the child’s own traumatic experience, so it’s a good thing to remind yourself of that all the time, and be realistic, patience.
But I think what is often overlooked is that we don’t do enough to take care of ourselves under periods of stress; that is, we work so hard to make sure we’re meeting the needs of the child that we’re not doing enough to take care of ourselves, and I know we don’t have a lot of time, and I know that we could probably go on forever about all these various attached characteristics and considerations that go along with what I’m describing today, but the truth is that we often begin to get worn out and stressed out ourselves to the point where we will begin to take on the characteristics of the trauma of the child. And many of you are familiar with the terminology secondary trauma—and again we don’t have time to explore that—but it’s certainly attached to what I’m talking about, and that is if we’re not taking care of ourselves, it becomes very easy for us to begin to exhibit the same traumatic characteristics of the child that’s in our home, so pay attention to that, and you know how to take care of yourself. So we all have strategies and ideas on how to do that. My strategy is to maybe go mountain biking or running or snowboarding; I work hard, but I also play hard for that reason, and I’m not doing that by a way of arrogance or boasting, I’m saying I have to do that otherwise I’m not healthy, and I know of too many people—foster and adoptive parents included—who are turning to too many times artificial mechanisms to cope with some of the stressors of parenting, so pay attention to that. Don’t underestimate how critical it is for each of you to take care of yourselves, and find ways to figure that out for yourselves.
Okay, so I’m gonna start wrapping this up with a final statement by Dr. Perry that I would like to leave you with is the one that you see on your screen. “The most important property of humankind is the capacity to form and maintain relationships. These relationships are absolutely necessary for any of us to survive, learn, work, love and procreate.” And I know that in the end some of us have often said “Well, it’s the amount of nourishment that really makes me healthier; what I eat or my social interactions,” but in the end I think that all of us thrive and survive based on the quality and significance of our relationships. The more you learn to engage the child in a healthy, nurturing relationship that I attempted to describe, the more likely they survive as well.
Okay, so I wanted to mention the name of the article—which was the one I referenced earlier—again is “Helping Foster and Adoptive Families Cope with Trauma,” and again the website; you can go directly to the American Academy of Pediatrics website, and that’s where I attained it, and many of you can do the same as well. So make sure you go there; it’s a very fascinating article, has a number of good strategies, and essentially what you’ll find is some of the things that you read there really mirror what Dr. Perry, Daniel Siegel, others have talked about in relationship to how to help repair the traumas to the brain, so that’s gonna be very important as a reference in follow up to this discussion, as well.
So I wanna thank you for your time. It’s been an opportunity, I guess, to at least get you introduced to some of the concepts that are important when we try to help children who’ve gone through a traumatic experience, and we will be available staff to hopefully continue this process so that you may continue to get some of the information that will help you help the kids, and that’s what this is all about. In the end we wanna make sure that those of you out there who are working with the most difficult children have the tools necessary to help them because in the end our hope—and I know the hope is shared by a number of other professionals, including Dr. Siegel and Dr. Perry and others—that our hope is that these children recover because we know they do, but it’s not miraculous, it’s because you’re working hard to make it happen. So thank you, and hopefully we can respond to some of your questions at a later date.