A large majority of children who come into foster care have experienced trauma. Being a foster carer for children who have experienced early life trauma – such as emotional and physical violence – can be challenging, complex and confusing. For children, experiencing severe early trauma can manifest in difficult behaviours, resulting in unsuccessful foster care placements.
What Is Trauma?
Trauma is an emotional response to an intense event that threatens or causes harm. The harm can be physical or emotional, real or perceived, and it can threaten the child or someone close to him or her. Trauma can be the result of a single event, or it can result from exposure to multiple events over time.
When children have experienced trauma, particularly multiple traumatic events over an extended period, their bodies, brains, and nervous systems adapt in an effort to protect them. This might result in behaviors such as increased aggression, distrusting or disobeying adults, or even dissociation (feeling disconnected from reality). When children are in danger, these behaviors may be important for their survival. However, once children are moved to a safer environment, their brains and bodies may not recognize that the danger has passed.
How to help?
At Ascent Fostering, we believe in a therapeutic approach in everything that we do. Which is why all foster carers, members of staff, support staff and mentors all have been trained to have a therapeutic understanding.
Ensuring that we understand the root of trauma and the effects that it can have on a child, allows us to build trust to create strong and meaningful relationships.
Seeing the world from the child’s perspective informs how we engage and go on the journey with them. By being a supportive and caring adult, children can and do recover from trauma.
Here are a few helpful tips that you can do to help your child on their journey:
- Respond, don’t react: Sometimes your reactions may trigger your child and if it does, remember to stay calm and reassuring. Acknowledge their feelings and be sure to talk them through their emotions until they feel relaxed.
- Don’t take it personally: Allow your child to feel their feelings without judgment. Help them to find acceptable ways to express their feelings and give them praise when they do so.
- Listen: Don’t avoid difficult topics or uncomfortable conversations. (But don’t force children to talk before they are ready.) Let children know that it’s normal to have many feelings after a traumatic experience. Take their reactions seriously and reassure them that what happened was not their fault.
- Be consistent and predictable: Develop a regular routine for meals, play time, and bedtime. Prepare your child in advance for changes or new experiences.
Parenting a child or youth who has experienced trauma can be difficult. Families can sometimes feel isolated, as if no one else understands what they are going through. This can put a strain not only on your relationship with your child, but with other family members, as well (including your spouse or partner).
Learning about what your child experienced may even act as a trigger for you, if you have your own trauma history that is not fully healed. In order to take good care of your child, you must take good care of yourself as a foster parent.
It’s important to be honest about your expectations, having realistic expectations about parenting a child with trauma improves the chances of a healthy relationship.
Learn not to take things personally and understand that your child’s struggles are a result of their trauma and does not reflect on your parenting or you as an individual.
Lastly, be sure to seek support when needed. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the resources that you have available to you.
Understanding trauma is a huge part of overcoming it. And by walking through it with your child every step of the way, they know that they are not alone.