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Thursday, December 28, 2017

A.C.E.'s, Toxic Stress And Adoption

How do you help a 10 year old make good choices when she see's no need to do so? Everything that happens is because she was adopted. Adoption can leave a huge hole in a child's heart, one we as parents are powerless to fix as long as the child refuses to acknowledge that there is a problem. To keep from thinking of the pain she turns her brain off. She has become quite adept at this and I find it scary because I know where such actions can lead. Is learned dissociation less serious then when someone does it in order to survive a situation that is unbearable? Or are they one and the same? 

Another tactic is to stuff the hurt and pretend everything is okay. She stuffs her feelings until they erupt. I told her that stuffing her feelings is like stuffing trash into the garbage can. If you don't empty the garbage, it turns stinky and overflows making everything smell bad. If you empty the garbage can, the bad smell goes away and you can go on with life. "The big feelings that you don't want to deal with are beginning to smell and overflow into your actions. This overflow is causing you to make poor choices and do things that you know are wrong."

It is so hard to see your child heading down a path you know they will someday regret. I know she is hurting and I wish I could help her win the war that is going on in her heart. 

Earlier this week I was watching a documentary called Paper Tigers. It is about a school that uses a trauma informed approach to teaching/education. They teach their students about the A.C.E.'s - adverse childhood effects and how they play a huge role in the decisions the students make. Children with high A.C.E.'s live with something called toxic stress.

Harvard's Center On The Developing Child explains toxic stress like this: Extensive research on the biology of stress now shows that healthy development can be derailed by excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in the body and brain. Such toxic stress can have damaging effects on learning, behavior and health across a lifespan."

Our brains are designed to react to danger by becoming hyper vigilant. We are on high alert, ready for whatever our brain perceives as a threat. This is well and good because this rapid response is what can protect us from harm. After the danger has passed our brain sends out signals that calm our bodies and we return to a relaxed state. When a child is constantly in high stress situations his brain is always turned on and eventually he begins to view everything as a threat to his safety. This is detrimental to a child's emotional and physical well being and creates a situation referred to as toxic stress.

Knowing this and knowing that the stress level in our home is typically in the red zone, makes me despair for our children's future, especially for those who already have high A.C.E.'s. There are many days when it feels like a we go in a circle. A child creates chaos, the other children react and till we get them calmed the first child is back to acting out! The good news is that the one thing that can help children with toxic stress is something that we can provide. The presence of a stable, caring adult in the child's life can provide the security a child needs to begin the healing process. 

I have been clinging to this because so often in the face of our children's emotional pain, Dean and I feel helpless. We don't know what to say, we can't relate, we can't promise that everything will be okay. But we can promise that we will stand by our children through the tough times. And pray, how we pray for our children!

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