“Why are you hitting yourself?” I’ve found myself asking this question out loud and following it up with an empathetic look and a “It’s OK if you are having big feelings. Big hugs to help you feel better.” We have had the privilege/ sadness to see first hand what childhood trauma does to developing brains. It changes these kiddos in big ways that are hard to understand. I have found myself reading everything I can get my hands on to help me understand what is happening to this little man we have in our care. I was reading on the www.ntscm.org page and this quote explained things clearly:
“Children suffering from traumatic stress symptoms generally have difficulty regulating their behaviors and emotions. They may be clingy and fearful of new situations, easily frightened, difficult to console, and/or aggressive and impulsive. They may also have difficulty sleeping, loose recently acquired developmental skills, and show regression in functioning and behavior.”
This explains things so clearly. This is why our little guys hits himself in the face when he is upset (he saw his big brother hit himself many times throughout the day), why he is struggling with sleep and why he is hard to console when he is upset. Maybe we are not doing things horribly wrong. Maybe we need to dial in a little more to when our little guy is trying to tell us: I’m scared; I’m upset because I don’t know what is going on, and to not react in any way that isn’t calm and loving. Even if that means telling him that if he keeps trying to run off that we will have to leave what we are doing. We can set boundaries in a calm fashion. As long as we follow through on those words that come out. All the more reason to remain calm. We don’t want to spout out a consequence that we don’t want to enforce!
This link has a nice chart that shows some of the behaviors that kiddos that experience trauma may exhibit to varying degrees. These are the things we have come to expect on a daily basis.
This is all the more reason that positive reinforcement is so important. He needs to learn what it feels like to be rewarded for positivity. We introduced clapping, big smiles, and YEAHs when things go well. When he is able to get a toy to do something he was trying for- clapping, big smiles, and YEAHs. When hands us something instead of throwing it- clapping , big smiles, and YEAHs. Whenever he does something well. There can’t be enough positivity shared with our little guy!
I was talking to a new friend about well intentioned people. People that think, well, I’ve raised a few kids and I know what has worked for me- you must be doing something wrong. We talked about how important it is to thank those people for their feedback and if the moment is right, the kiddo is not with us, (and we have the strength for it) explain to them what trauma does to children. How the “tried and trues” of parenting just don’t cut it. That these kiddos need specialized support and the help of professionals to get them to a place where they can grow. Keeping in mind that it may be 1 small step forward and 5 giant steps back…. Forever. But it’s worth it. To be able to help these kiddos feel a sense of security, be able to play with other kiddos like their peers do, and grow a little bit- or by leaps and bounds- daily/weekly/monthly/yearly.
Now, as we have previously shared, our little M went to a treatment foster home (and he is doing GREAT there!!!) to get the help that he needed. We still have little V. Now that he is on his own, his personality is starting to shine through. He is more open in his feelings. Both happy and upset. Now that he is alone with us, he is starting to act out some of the behaviors that he saw his brother do on a daily basis. His nightmares are more than that. Sometimes they are outright terrors that leave him screaming for upward of 40 minutes, inconsolable. We are hopeful that with the help of others, we will be able to help little V to not feel the need to harm himself when upset, to be able to calm his mind and heart so that the mere thought of us leaving does not throw him into a crying spree that borderlines on tantrum, that we are able to help him navigate these confusing waters of living with two parents that love him dearly while he visits his birth parents that also love him deeply, to get him to a place that he understands that it is OK to love all four of us. This will all take time. LOTS of time. And patience.
So, what comes next? I’m not ashamed to admit that will be more classes, more books, therapy for both the little one and myself, trial and error, tears on everyone’s part, and trying again every day.