Mental Health Month – Part II
This is the second of a three part series on mental health and parenting children adopted from foster care. As part of the adoption journey for our families, Sierra Forever Families provides a number of education training sessions. One of the primary focus areas of these sessions is exploring parenting techniques for children who have experienced trauma. As all children who are adopted from foster care have experienced some level of trauma, their behavior will be affected. Common behaviors of exposed children are hyperactivity, impulsivity, being easily distracted, anxiety/depression, and poor organization.
Sierra recommends that parents try out various techniques as they come to understand their child. This can be a hard and uncomfortable task sometimes, as many parents may revert to parenting in the manner in which they were parented, even if they thought they wouldn’t. In our class we emphasize the need to focus on parenting the brain verses just parenting the behavior. Those parents who are adopting children from foster care are healing a brain and a heart, and are not just correcting behavior.
So what does this mean, practically? First traditional parenting can be seen as a form of “subtraction”. For example, using time out or putting a child in his/her room. Putting distance between you and your child can feel like rejection to them. Developmental parenting resembles “addition” rather than subtraction. For example, this form of parenting emphasizes teaching consequences, demonstrating empathy, and allowing for lots of re-dos.
Children live what they learn and once they come to live with their adopted parents they may be learning a lot for the first time. A child may believe he/she is bad based on the child’s world view. As the parent you need to rebuild their perspective and teach them that they are not bad and that a caregiver can provide safety and kindness.
When parenting traumatized children, parents need to focus on the relationship over focusing solely on compliance. You want to provide encouragement and praise, provide structure and consistency, and offer choices, such as asking whether they want to put their own shoes on or have you put them on. Finally as their parent you will need to model the right behavior and emotions.
At Sierra, in our Foster and Adoptive Parent training class, prospective parents learn more about the impact of trauma on children in foster care and ways to parent these children in a loving and successful way. Visit our website at Sierraff.org to learn more about the resources available to parents considering adopting children from foster care.