Thursday, April 19, 2018

When Siblings Develop Learned Behaviors

A child who lives in a trauma family will develop learned behavior as coping mechanism in order to survive in a chaotic situation.

We know that a traumatized child exhibits negative behavior due to his experiences, and as a result, we are more prone to show them grace. Grace becomes a little harder to dish out when previously healthy siblings begin using their siblings trauma behavior to cope with the daily rages, destruction, and verbal/physical abuse dished out by these children.

It is uncanny how younger siblings will take on the same body language and voice inflections, as well as using the same wording that their older siblings use when they are melting down or raging.

Things get complicated when you don't discipline your older child for acting in such a way, because you know he is acting in such a manner due to the pain/trauma he experienced; while the the other child is acting out because he see's his siblings doing so and in his eyes, getting away with it. This of course, seems very unfair to the younger child.

To complicate things, the older child will naturally egg the younger child on until he acts out, then step back and watch the fall out, which is typical trauma behavior. The younger child feels as if he is being treated unfairly because he gets consequences for an action when his sibling doesn't.

This phenomenon was causing no end of friction in our family. Sibling relationships were falling apart, child/parent relationships were suffering, and I hated going away because others could easily see what was happening, but since they weren't aware of the dynamics behind it all, opinions were being formed and things were getting sticky. 

I did what I usually do when I get in over my head, I emailed my friend and said, "HELP, what do we do? How do we handle this situation so that the trauma child cannot continue to manipulate relationships, and our other children do not feel as though they being are picked on when they receive consequences for the same actions their sibling, "gets away with?" As usual she had excellent advice, "First our children have to realize that their traumatized sibling has a much smaller world, meaning fewer privileges." For safety reasons some children need to be in line of sight all the time, some need to ask permission before participating in certain activities, some may not use a scissors....there are a multitude of things where a trauma child needs supervision whereas a healthy child has the ability to make choices for himself.  She continued, "Remind your children that while _______________ may not get a consequence for certain behaviors, while you do, they live in a small world. Which would you rather have?" This was brilliant because I knew all our children would agree that following the rules and having freedom is much more appealing than "getting away with" acting out and having a small world!

This can be hard to remember in the heat of the moment when your child throws a fit in public, using the same words and actions as his traumatized sibling or stomps off in a huff, slamming the door and destroying things as he goes. As a parent, I get so weary of dealing with this sort of thing. Sometimes I want to lash out at my trauma child, other times I am angry with the child who is using all the learned behaviors in his arsenal. I want to cry, "God it is hard enough dealing with these behaviors in my severely traumatized child, now I also have to deal with this learned behavior, which is even more frustrating!!!!"

So if learned behavior is pushing you to the edge of your sanity, know one thing, you aren't the only one!

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Friday, April 13, 2018

When Oppositional Defiant Disorder Is Really FASD

Our son was 5 years old when he first received a diagnosis of ODD (Oppositional Defiant, Disorder). For all intents and purposes, he appeared very defiant. I remember telling the psychiatrist, "He does whatever he wants, whenever he wants. He has no respect for authority, and consequence's make no difference in his behavior." It wasn't until Braden was diagnosed with FASD, and I started researching it, that I grew increasingly suspicious that Joseph had it as well. The boys are 11 months apart in age, and their birth moms living situation/stressor's hadn't changed in that period of time, making it highly probable that Joseph was affected as well.

In the past 5 years we have learned that short term memory deficit's, auditory processing disorder, world perception and lack of cause and effect, among other things, are the main issue's behind his struggle to follow direction's and obey command's. These are all symptoms of FASD, all symptoms of brain damage, not necessarily ODD.

When we give Joseph a command, it takes him several seconds to process the command and follow through with it. We have learned we need to be patient, because if we jump on him for not listening, he forgets what we originally told him to do and melts down because, "You are mad at me!"

We have also learned that what he hears, isn't necessarily what was spoken. If I tell him to put the milk on the table, he is just as likely to get the juice. Many children with attachment disorder will intentionally fail to follow direction's as means of controlling their circumstances. This is something we dealt with on a daily basis, and we used to think Joseph was doing the same thing, until we learned that processing disorders are common among people with FASD.

Joseph doesn't respond well to consequences which caused him and us no end of grief. If he was supposed to stay on the driveway to ride his bike, without fail he drove through the yard. Warnings, consequences, nothing helped. After having his bike "impounded," he would promptly drive it through the grass again, then have a spectacular tantrum when we insisted he park his bike again. He didn't associate having to park his bike with driving through the yard, no matter how many times we explained. 

Joseph's meltdowns can be something to behold! We used to get very frustrated when he would lay on the floor kicking and screaming at the top of his lungs. His face turned red, as tears and sweat poured down his face. In our opinion, it was total overkill. Then we learned about over stimulation and sensory overload. We learned that trying to reason with him or distract him only made matters worse. Threatening sent him into an uncontrollable rage and he would literally scream for hours. 

Looking back, it is easy to see the many mistakes we made in parenting our son. So many times we only made matters worse because we didn't know what we were dealing with. 

Here are some posts I wrote about our journey thus far:

When Your Child Has Been Diagnosed With FASD 

Parenting Accordingly - Life With FASD

Dysmaturity Extending The Toddler Years

No Boundaries - Living With FASD

10 Tips For Caring For Someone With FASD

What Is It Like To Parent A Child With FASD

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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

How A Traumatized Child Can Create A Trauma Family

Most people never dreamed how insidious trauma could be, until they took on the responsibility of parenting little people who had experienced extreme amounts of pain, both physically and emotionally in their short life time. You may have considered yourself a strong, emotionally stable parent, until one day you woke up and discovered your reaction to your child's trauma behavior's, showed that you too, had become a victim of trauma. You wonder how did this happen? I only wanted to help my child heal, now I fear I am adding to the problem.


A child born into a loving, emotionally secure family will view the world, and the people who inhabit his world as safe. He knows that everyone loves him and wants what is best for him. During the first year of his life, he has had his needs consistently met which further cements the foundation of trust. 

The child who does not have his needs consistently met becomes fearful, and quickly gets the message that crying will not ensure that he is fed, nurtured or changed into warm, dry clothing. He learns that people in charge cannot be trusted. If he cries mom may slap him, shake him, or ignore him, so he stops crying.

These children learn that no one else can be trusted to meet their needs. They feel alone. They also realize there are some things they cannot do for themselves, so they seek to get those needs met via those with whom they have no ongoing emotional connection. They use many technique's including:
- Manipulation
- Triangulation
- Rage
- Being extra sweet

 These children learn at an early age to read people, and as a result, are nearly always successful when choosing whom to target next, while the adult whom they are  "using" is totally unaware anything has happened. The more opportunities a child has to use his chosen technique's, the "sicker" he will become. A good trauma parent know's this so will do his best to prevent these interactions from taking place. The child, because his brain is conditioned to continually read people, will automatically know that his parent is actively blocking his attempts at manipulating others, thus becoming even sneakier. Mom, in her desire to see her child healed of his attachment issue's and successfully bond with her, become's more vigilant. A battle of wits ensue's which leaves everyone exhausted.

Many children lash out verbally. While trauma parents know these words are coming from their child due to the pain he has inside, it is still very hard to remain objective when your child screams, "I hate you! You are the worst mom/dad ever!" Or, "Why did you adopt me, you ruined my life!" As a parent who's desire is to see your child happy, this can be devastating to hear, eventually you can begin to subconsciously believe the words your child is hurling at you. In a moment of weakness, you open your mouth and say things you never dreamed would come from your lips. If you aren't very careful, the verbal attacks between you and your child can seriously escalate. Before you know it, you sound just like your traumatized child, and in reality you are very similar because you are both responding from the hurt deep within.

Self sabotage was a big one in our home for many years. Deep down many of our children feel like there must be something wrong with them because they are adopted. They are too young to understand things like addiction, abuse, and neglect. They cannot understand how those things affect a persons ability to consistently care for their child. Instead, they think they must be bad people, or as one child recently said, "I shouldn't have cried so much, then my mom would still have me!" When our children experience something fun, or receive praise, it goes against this inner belief so they often act out. If, say, one of our children earns a treat, there is a very good chance he will act dreadfully prior to receiving his treat because he is so uncomfortable with the good feeling inside. Other times, they feel that since they are bad, they don't deserve anything good and will act out to prove their point. Parents can quickly fall into the trap of having the same mindset as their child and treating him accordingly.

Then there is learned behavior, something I despise! When you have a child who is acting out, especially if he is one of the older children in your family, the younger children will quickly take on his coping technique's. Be it raging, whining, manipulating or stealing, younger sibling's will have it down to a science. In our home they even have the same voice inflections and mannerism's. When this happen's it is easy for the parent to become frustrated and dish out consequence's to all involved. Which, by the way, doesn't work.

These are just a few of the behavior's children with trauma employ. If I am honest, they are among the milder one's, as the more severe behavior's are not one's to share on a public blog! A family can quickly take on his child's coping technique's in order to cope with the behaviors being hurled their way. This of course snowball's as it makes the trauma child more fearful, so he ups his ante. The parent panic's and become's even more vigilant, and round it goes. Even if you are conscious of this phenomenon, it is amazing how subtly your child's trauma can engulf you when you are in the trenches day after day.

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Monday, April 9, 2018

The Benefits Of Homeschooling Brain Challenged Children

We are nearing the end of our first year of home school! This week we will have completed the required 40 weeks, which feels like a huge accomplishment. However, we can't hang up our school hats just yet because the children need to finish all their books in addition to getting in the 40 weeks. 

Parenting children with brain challenges means we didn't always get in a full days work. We chose to try home school because of the various brain challenges along with social and emotional challenges our children face. Getting up for school at a certain time, after they had slept poorly, meant a battle every step of the way. Ever try to get a brain challenged child to eat when he is feeling ornery and out of sorts with the world? You can't explain that he will be hungry in another hour because he lives in the here and now. He cannot think about even 5 minutes into the future. All he knows is that right now he isn't hungry and if mom insists that he eat breakfast, he will melt down. Nor can you insist he wear a coat, get dressed, take his back pack, or a host of other things. Children with FASD do not learn from their mistake's which means you can continually fight the same battle's. Children with brain inflammation simply cannot think or rationalize. They are in fight, flight, or freeze, All.The.Time.

Sometimes I could get my children out the door with relative ease, only to get a call from school. They were melting down, or worse, or something had happened and the teacher needed advice on how to handle the situation, and on it went. Toward the end of the year, I got call's nearly daily, sometimes I went to school more than once a day to intervene when a child was raging and couldn't be calmed.

Then they came home from school and everything fell apart. They had tried so hard to keep it together at school, because what child wants to fall apart in front of his peers? Nor did they feel safe at school because the teacher had a whole group of children to teach, not just our traumatized children, which meant things couldn't always remain the same. Children with trauma thrive on routine and structure. Changing the seating arrangement threw them over the edge without fail. A birthday party, program, special activity, or even extra recess was enough to send them into a panic. After doing their best to keep on top of their emotion's, they attacked the one person with whom they felt safe, mom

Our evening's were spent ironing out school trouble's, calming over stimulated children, and trying to get them relaxed enough so they could get a good nights rest, which would make getting them out the door the next morning a wee bit easier.

I was getting run down, my children didn't feel safe, and my poor husband was getting weary of phone calls from his panicked wife asking how to deal with the latest round of school problems. 

When home school came up, I originally said, "Absolutely not!" After one particularly bad day, I decided that perhaps home school wouldn't be so bad after all. God worked out several kinks that we thought were insurmountable and here we are nearly a year later, with our first school term nearly behind us.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. Did I enjoy it? That is a bit harder to answer because home schooling traumatized, brain challenged children is NOT a walk in the park, but the rewards are huge.

Joseph is better emotionally than he has ever been. If he is over stimulated or emotionally unstable, I cut his lessons short or give him the day off. This gives his brain a chance to regroup and refocus rather than forcing him to try to do work and pushing him into further dysregulation.

On the days when brain inflammation is over the top, we don't do school either. My daughter loses what she has learned when she get's PANS flairs and no amount of explaining helps. You have to wait until the inflammation subsides and go from there.

Another big asset was that we could tailor each subject for each child. In some subjects such as math and English, our children were behind their grade level, while in other subjects they were ahead. In the typical classroom setting it isn't always feasible to tailor subject's for each child, especially when your children attend a private school.

So all in all, I would say home school is exactly what our children need. We can adjust the schedule to their daily ability to focus which means they are at least a tiny bit more agreeable. I keep our days low key, or boring as some of my children call it, which enable's them to use their brain power for studies versus using it to cope with other stressors. They are doing lesson's that challenge them but do not overwhelm them and we go over each new concept until they have mastered it.

Dean and Lia playing Go Fish with the alphabet cards.

Dean explaining a math lesson to Joseph.

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Friday, March 30, 2018

Grief Is Love With No Place To Go - Living With Trauma

Someone shared this with our support group and I fell in love with it. I thought it perfectly sums up what it is like to parent children who cannot or doesn't want to be parented. 

When you adopt a child, you don't do so thinking, "Someday my child may be hurting so badly due to past trauma, that he will do his best to destroy our family."

You fully intend to love and care for him. To meet all his needs as well as supply some of his wants, just to see him smile.

You wanted to hug him close, tuck him in at night and hear him whisper, "Good night."

You dreamed of spending one on one time with him. Of building your relationship, and teaching him about Jesus.

You looked forward to passing on the treasure's you saved from your childhood. Watching him play with your old toys would be such a joy.

You wanted to shower him with love and affection, because that is what being a parent is all about.

You never dreamed that your child might not be able to handle a close relationship with you. That he might not trust you, even after he has been in your home for 10 years and always had his needs met. You didn't know some children have been hurt so badly in their short lifetime that they may not be able to function in a family setting. Who knew that some children feel safest when they are inflicting pain on others because it gives them a sense of control?

Because you love your child, you refrain from hugs, knowing that he fears physical touch.

You watch from afar as a stranger meets your child's needs because you couldn't keep him safe in your home. 

You listen as your child tells a stranger his deepest wishes because in his mind a stranger is safer than his own parents.

You watch your child make poor choices and long to help him get on the right path, but he wants nothing to do with you. 

You cry as he gets into trouble yet again, knowing the hard road he has ahead of him.

And you feel grief. Heart wrenching grief. Grief hurts. It rips deep into your heart until it feels like physical pain. As you analyze your hurt, you come to realize that what you are really feeling is loss...the loss of an opportunity to love your child in the way you always dreamed.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

When You Are A People Pleaser -Living With Trauma

I am a chronic people pleaser. I despise it and am doing my best to overcome this aspect of my personality, but deep habit's rooted in trauma are not easily over come.

I wasn't aware how ingrained my people pleasing was, until I became the parent of children with attachment disorder's of varying degree's. Suddenly I had a little person, or people as is the current case, doing their very best to show the world that their mom has some serious deficit's. Worst of all, they have super sweet charm on their side, while I play into their plan with my fumbling answer's and explanation's.

As everyone who is parenting a child with an attachment disorder is well aware of, you sometime's have rules that seem totally irrational to those outside the family. Explaining why you implement those rules doesn't help because, as one wise mom told me, "Our brain's doesn't work like that of a traumatized child so don't even try to figure out it out!" In other word's, an emotionally healthy child wouldn't need such extreme, well spelled out boundaries because their brain isn't constantly trying to come up with ways to build a barrier that will effectively keep their family from getting close and loving them. They fear love. They view love, which is the first step towards building a relationship, as serious as a death threat.

So what does this have to do with my people pleasing problem? Simply this: I want to appear competent. I want people to like me (cringe, but it's the truth) and my children's lack of attachment sets me up to fall on my nose time and time again. 

One child has well defined boundaries, and he can overstep them and still appear well behaved. He knows full well that he isn't following the rules, and as a result, he quickly becomes overstimuled if we don't step in and reinforce the boundaries. Guess what this looks like to others? Mom is picking on him, poor boy, so we will try extra hard to give him some special attention. That is where the attachment disorder pops up and hypervigilance comes into play. No one need's to say a word, the attention giver may not even be aware that they are playing this "game," but my child knows! He soaks it up and when we are once more on our own, we get to clean up the mess. Worst of all, my child has this person marked and he will always put his best foot forward in their presence and up the charm.

Another child has people charming down to a science. He would never dream of showing his true side in public. It is all smile's and grown up action's....when anyone is watching, but behind the scene's he is egging on his sibling's, then stepping back and watching them get in trouble. When mom steps in to rebuke the charmer and let's the "problem maker" off the hook, guess what it looks like? Yup, mom is being unfair and picking on one child while letting the other get away with a bad attitude. My people pleasing get's a sharp whack on the head from that one. Not that it hurt's me, but oh, how I despise it! This child is knows full well that when he does this, it makes other's think he is someone he isn't while making mom and his sibling's look bad. This is called dividing a conquering. He knows what his actions and moms response look like to others and uses that to add another layer of concrete to the wall around his heart. Most people aren't even aware that anything has happened, but my children know!

Knowing all this, one would assume that as the mom, I would do my best not to get into situations that give my children an opportunity to add to the wall around their heart. Two things come into play here: one is my people pleasing. I don't want anyone to think badly of us so I go against my better judgement and allow my children to do things that I know will probably cause problems down the road. My mentor told me I need to be more assertive, and I know she is right. I know I am not helping my children heal by allowing them to do things that I know will provide an opportunity to hone their manipulation skills.

The other problem is this, my children can, and will, use any interaction with other's to their advantage. It can be as simple as the mailman dropping off a package. My child will give him a big smile and cheery, "Hi!" The mailman will return the greeting, perhaps commenting on my child's good manner's and the damage is done. He drives off, and my child goes into his room and destroy's something. 

This happens with people who aren't strangers even more frequently because the stakes are higher. My children know if they can make mom look bad in the presence of family and friends, they will have succeeded in driving the wedge between them deeper.

I hate these interactions with a passion, so I put on my happy face (now who isn't showing true feelings????) and hunker down to weather the storm I know is coming. 

My dear friend and mentor told me I must learn to be assertive. Stand up for what my children need and bury my people pleasing tendencies. With God's help, I will do so.

Anyone else out there with this struggle? Anyone who has overcome it? If so, I would love to hear from you!

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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

When Trauma Invades Your Home

How many of you have in a moment of deep pain cried out to God and said, "I wanted to adopt. I knew that it wouldn't be easy, but I didn't know it would be this hard!!!!" 

You wanted to fill a need, not become part of the deep vacuum  trauma so often creates in a family! Especially when a family is unprepared for the depth of trauma. 

We, like so many other's, thought our children with trauma would cross the bridge to us and welcome our love and the sense of safety and protection we could provide. What happened instead was, we crossed over to the trauma side and became victims along with our child(ren).

Your home, once a place of safety and stability, becomes a war zone. Your trauma child learned to be hyper vigilant to protect himself in his previous home, and now you and your family have somehow taken up this same skill. This means that there is always a feeling of tension in the air. Everyone knows how fragile the sense of peace can be. In fact, you almost dread that feeling of calmness because when it is present, you know things are going to fall apart spectacularly.

Children with a trauma history learn to manipulate other's at a very young age. When they come into your home and are treated with love and respect, they don't soak up that affection, then pour it out on others like an emotionally healthy person would. No, they rely on the life lesson's the stood them in good stead up until this time. Lesson's that have been so painful that they have learned them well the first time.

These lesson's include: 
-Hurt other's before they can hurt you
-No one care's about me
-I am no good
-No one will ever love me

A child with this kind of mind set is a challenge to reach. They will push you away at every turn. They will do their best to hurt you because they just know you are going to hurt them. If you aren't careful your relationship with your child quickly becomes one of toxic pain and stress, nowhere near what you desire for him.

When your child has brain challenges in addition to trauma, progress can quickly begin to feel nonexistent. He cannot understand why he feels the things he does. He doesn't trust you and his brain damage prevents him from implementing the therapeutic technique's that would possibly help another child. 

There are day's when I fear our child will become a teen with a preschoolers understanding of socially appropriate behavior and moral standards. You may already be walking this road, instead of only glimpsing it in the future, and you know how very hard it is.

Sometimes when I am at the end of myself, and know my child needs me to intervene to prevent further damage to his fragile psych, I find myself uttering the wordless plea of trauma parents everywhere, "God, I can't. You must somehow step in and help us because I don't know what to do." He doesn't always provide an immediate answer, but he does always provide the grace to make it through one more day. 

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Thursday, March 15, 2018

Why Trauma Parents Burn Out

Why do trauma parents burn out? Is it because our children have a history of trauma and tend to Save Their Worst Behavior For Their Parents? Is it because the parents haven't Resolved Their Own TraumaWhile both of those things certainly affect us, I think the real reason many parent's burn out is because we are trying so hard.

Due to their past trauma, many of our children lie, cheat, steal and manipulate to protect themselves. We know that these method's of dealing with conflict and stress will become less and less acceptable as they grow older. 

So what do we do? We pour our whole heart and mind into helping our children heal. After all, we want them to have the privileges that go along with being responsible adults and we can clearly see the path they are on, is not conducive to such an end. 

Another therapy? Sure, even if insurance doesn't cover the cost. Even if it means the parent loses out on his one evening of quiet time a week. After all, we are doing this for our child and no price is too high to pay.

Another medication? Of course, even if it means you have to research and learn all the side affects your child may experience because of his particular needs. You dare not forget you are your child's advocate.

Keep your child by your side? You are willing to do so if might lead to a better relationship with your child. Never mind that if your child has an attachment disorder he will be angry and manipulate situation's to make it appear as though you are being unfair and unreasonable for requiring him to stay with you. If it helps him, you willingly keep him with you, no matter the price you have to pay.

Special Diet? Sure, even if it means spending hours researching and then still more hours in the kitchen cooking foods your child can eat.

Home School? If it means your child is more stable and secure, of course! Even if doing so means you never get a break, you are up for the challenge if it will help your child.

Another Psych Evaluation? If it will give answer's into why our child behave's negatively, we are willing to hand over several hundred dollar's. You cling to the thought that maybe this will provide the missing piece your child needs to continue healing.

Residential Treatment Center? If that is what my child need's to begin healing, absolutely! Even if it means traveling long hours for visits which cut back on family time or personal down time.

Guess who is supplying all the mental and emotional energy to provide all these things? The parents! What happens when these things aren't enough? They go back to the drawing board and arrange numbers, schedule's and research other options trying to find something, anything that will help their child. 

This scenario is repeated a multitude of time's, even this wouldn't be so difficult if the parents had support.

But they face doctor's who either don't believe it is as bad as the parents makes it sound, have no idea how to help, or are unable or unwilling to take the time and energy needed to figure out what is at the root of the child's issue's.

The therapist says, "Love him more, love cures all ill's."

People say, "Try this, it worked for a friend of mine." Or, "I told you this would happen if you don't give your child consequences."

And since you really, really want your child to succeed, you try things, even when you know they are futile. Because if/when your child get's into really hot water, you want to know you did your best no matter what the cost.

...and this is why trauma parents burn out. We are trying to do everything we can so our child has the best chance at healing and thriving, without ensuring we have the necessary support's in place to catch us when we become weary.

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Monday, March 12, 2018

You Are Not Required To Set Yourself On Fire To Keep Other People Warm - Trauma Parenting

Parenting is hard work. Looking after all the little details can make even the staunchest brain fizzle and sputter. When you add mental health issue's, trauma and brain challenges into the mix, things become even more complicated.

It is hard to feel as though you are a good parent when:

 - Due to developmental disabilities your child cannot associate with his peer's and as a result, spends his days feeling crushed and inferior. 

- Your child chronically lies to cope with the complexities of his world.

-  When because of past trauma, your child react's negatively to the love and nurture you long to pour upon him. To complicate matters, your child cannot, and will not, heal until he can accept nurture.

- When trauma has wired your child's brain to lash out at anyone who attempts to get close to him. As a result he is terrified to acknowledge that he cannot take care of himself. This means he spends his life feeling miserable and making his family miserable, because he is too scared to accept the help he needs.

- When screaming, raging, and destroying things are your child's primary language when he is faced with difficulties. He may scream because he can't find the milk, because his sock's "feel funny," because he doesn't know what he wants to eat for snack, or because life is simply overwhelming at the moment. When you have multiple children who react in this manner, remaining cheerful and upbeat can be a daunting task!

- When you don't know if your child truly doesn't understand your question or if he is "playing dumb" because he is feeling ornery and doesn't want to cooperate with you. "Parenting a child with attachment disorder feels like driving in the dark."

- When your child presents as a cheerful, well adjusted child outside the home, but is anything but behind closed doors.

- When your child feels the need to manipulate every interaction with you in order to control the relationship.

These things are just a sampling of what a trauma family may face in a day's time. Trying to meet our children's needs without taking on their trauma is tough. Don't ask me how one accomplishes this because I struggle in this area daily. 

This quote has helped me put things into perspective: "You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep other people warm." 

To often I feel like I have to do everything in my power, even if it means I am depleting my own resources, to ensure that my child has the chance to succeed. While this is necessary to a certain extent, I need to continually remind myself that if I burn out I will be unable to help my child. "You cannot pour from an empty vessel, neither can you nurture your hurting child when you aren't practicing self care."

So if you are parenting brain challenged children and feel like you never quite reach around; like you never quite reach your child's heart, remember to take care of yourself. This feels counter intuitive, but I am slowly learning that when I take care of myself I find it easier to meet my child's needs without joining in their trauma.

In conclusion:
"Occasionally, weep deeply, over the life you hoped would be. Grieve the losses. Then wash your face. trust God. And embrace the life you have." - John Piper

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Tuesday, March 6, 2018

9 Thing's Trauma Parents Need

We need people to listen. I sometimes fear I sound like a broken record when I share details of parenting brain challenged children. My children have various levels of trauma and brain damage so our lives are spent preventing behavior's. Sadly, we are finding that while our children grow physically, in a lot of ways their past trauma still has a huge impact on them.

We need empathy, not sympathy. A smile, encouraging word, or hug means so much. Don't feel sorry for us. We realize what a privilege it is to parent our precious children, but we sometime's lose sight of that. When we begin to feel that meeting their needs is more of a burden than a privilege, your kind words may be just what we need to help us get our thinking back on track.

We need friends who aren't in the trenches of trauma and brain abnormalities. It is healing to be able to unload your latest "poop fiasco," to a friend who can share her own horror stories in that arena, but we need friends with whom we can talk about everyday things like flowers, coffee and the latest book that just came out.

We need people who will encourage us to step out of our trauma life from time to time. It is so easy to get caught up in the chaos of day to day life that we forget to maintain relationships. Constantly having to think ahead to avert a melt downs drains my brain so that the thought of planning, going and doing seem's overwhelming. Then I just stay home. This isn't healthy.

We need people who won't give up on our friendship. I shudder to think of how many times I have forgotten to return a phone call, forgotten a birthday, forgotten an anniversary.... caring for brain challenged children is a full time job, but we still long to be connected with people. Sadly sometimes a full brain means we simply forget. A special thanks to all my wonderful friends out there who continue to include us, even though we are forgetful.

We need people to pray for us. I cannot count how many times I was sharing a particular struggle and a friend said, "I will be praying for you!" That means so much. I have two people who often assure me of their prayers. It makes me feel so unworthy! They have their own family's to care for, but they take the time to pray for us! What a gift!

We need people to acknowledge our pain.  When someone comes alongside you during a dark moment and says, "I see you doing hard things, and I just want you to know that I care," it somehow makes you feel as though you can climb mountains.``

We need people to remind us that God has a purpose and plan for both us and our children. It is easy to lose sight of the fact that there is a reason for the struggle's we face. We need to be reminded that even though it feels as though we are losing ground, God is in control.

We need a break. Getting a babysitter can be tough, but there are times when you need some time away from the chaos to regroup and refresh your brain.

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Thursday, March 1, 2018

An Answer For Those Who Offer Unhelpful Parenting Advice - Trauma Parenting

Recently Oregon Behavior Consultation asked parents with special needs children to share the advice people have given them regarding their child's behavior. They took those comments and made a video entitled, What Not To Say To Parents Of Kids With Challenging Behaviors. It is awesome! I have heard most of the comments in one form or another over the years. Sometimes I can let it roll off my back, other times not so much. 

A comment from this video clarified some things for me. Nate mentions that the reason these comments hurt so badly is because we parents are already trying so hard to do the right thing for our child. I agree with that 100%. The parent of a child with special need's faces huge challenges every day. We constantly second guess ourselves and hope we are doing what is best for our child. We don't always know what is the best response to an action, or even if what we have seen warrants a consequence or grace. Professional's will tell you that there is no cut and dried method of parenting a child with special needs because so many things play into the situation. Things such as trauma, living situation and family relationships to name only a few.

To complicate things, every child is so different, especially when you add in brain challenges, that many days we feel as though we are whirling in circle's, but fear we are never quite meeting anyone's needs. We are doing our best to stay on top of all the pressing demands, but slowly, ever so slowly losing ground. To have someone come in and tell a parent who is nearly sinking that they should just try ___________, is akin to adding a sack of bricks to the already heavy burden they carry.

Thankfully Oregon Behavioral Consultation added a video you can send to family and friends to help them better understand why you appear to be such a strict or easy going parent, depending upon the situation. Here it is: Why DO Kids And Teens Have Challenging Behaviors?

One comment from this video, portrayed what I have a difficult time finding the words to describe: People seem to think their experience with my child is my child's baseline. Exactly! What a brilliant explanation. That, in a nutshell explains what I struggle so hard to help people understand. The child you see is very different from the child I know. The child you see is either on high alert, melting down, oozing with sweetness or ________ to name a few, none of which show my child's true baseline.

The child you see misbehaving, is acting that way for reasons that may not be readily apparent. When in the presence of our immediate family, he presents very differently. This means you are not seeing my child true self. The same goes for the child who presents as super sweet and kind. That isn't my child's true self either, he is putting on a front and manipulating you. This is why our parenting looks inconsistent. We appear to be to lenient with some children, while being too strict with others. The fact is, the behavior you see is not the my child's true behavior. You will only see my child's true self if you live with us and become a permanent member of our family.

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts; Close Encounters With Addiction - Book Review

I have long been fascinated by psychology. Learning why we as humans do the things we do or respond in a given way intrigue's me. I recently bought the book, In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction, by Gabor Mate'. 

The author takes a close look at the roots of addiction and how they play out in the lives of people in various situations. If illicit drugs and/or alcohol are what comes to mind when you think of addiction, this book will show you how most everyone, you and I included, struggle with addiction in one form or another.

Gabor begins the book by sharing the stories of those who struggle with addiction. He explain's how poor prenatal health, childhood trauma and our way of coping with stress all impact our propensity towards addiction. The stories touched me because they sounded oh, so familiar.

- Vulnerability is our susceptibility to be wounded. This fragility is part of our nature and cannot be avoided or escaped. 

-Imprinted in the developing brain circuitry of the child subject to abuse or neglect is fear and distrust of powerful people, especially of caregivers. In time this ingrained wariness is reinforced by negative experiences with authority figures such as teachers, foster parents, and members of the legal system or the medical profession. Whenever I adapt a sharp tone with one of my clients, display indifference, or attempt some well meant coercion for her benefit, I unwittingly take on the features of the powerful ones who first wounded and frightened her decades ago. Whatever my intentions, I end up invoking fear and pain. 

- ... patients need for tranquilizers says much about their infancy and early childhood.  

- People who have difficulty forming intimate relationships are at risk for addiction; they may turn to drugs as social lubricants.

- People are susceptible to the addiction process if they have a constant need to fill their minds or bodies with external sources of  comfort, whether physical or emotional. That need expresses a failure of self regulation - an inability to maintain a reasonably stable internal emotional atmosphere.

- People who cannot find or receive love need to find substitutes - and that's where addictions come in.

- The person with poor self-regulation is more likely to look outside herself for emotional soothing, which is why lack of attunement in infancy increases addiction risk.

- The void (in a child's heart) is not in the parents love or commitment , but in the child's perception of being seen, understood, empathized with, and "gotten" on the emotional level. 

- As a rule whatever we don't deal with in our lives we pass on to our children. Our unfinished emotional business becomes theirs.

- When I am sharply judgmental of  of any other person, it's because I sense or see reflected in them some aspect of myself that I don't want to acknowledge. 

- We avert our eyes from the hard core drug addict not only to avoid ourselves; we do so to avoid facing our share of the responsibility as well.

- As we have seen, injection drug use more often than not arises in people who were abused and neglected as young children. The addict, in other words, is not born but made. His addiction is the result of a situation that he had no influence in creating.

The words in italics are direct quote's from the book. It is not my intention to take away from the authors writing, or misrepresent it in any way. Since this is a book review, I only shared quotes and not my thoughts. Look for upcoming blog posts on many of the quotes shared here.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

How To Begin Bonding With A Traumatized Toddler

The first months and years of a child's life are critical for building the foundations on which they which they will construct relationships for the remainder of their lives.

When you bring a toddler into your home he may have experienced Prenatal Trauma and will have almost certainly experienced trauma in one form or another during the first months and years of his life. If he hasn't, being removed from the people whom he loves, can easily cause trauma. Trauma is an experience so overwhelming that the brain cannot process what is happening, leaving the individual to suffer from triggers until such a time as he can process the experience. 

Many people erroneously assume that a child who is neglected, abused or has experienced a chaotic home life, will be thankful to be removed from the people who caused, or failed to prevent his suffering. A child depends on those who have neglected/abused him to provide for his basic needs. On one hand he loves/needs these people, on the other hand they hurt him. Imagine how confusing this must be!

If you have adopted or are thinking of adopting a toddler, I highly recommend the book, Toddler Adoption, The Weaver's Craft. In the meantime, here are some things you can do:

- Parent your toddler as you would an infant. You cannot spoil a traumatized toddler by going the extra mile to make sure his need's are met. At this time it is better to err on the side of too much nurture, something that is nearly impossible to do at this stage, rather than thinking, "But what if I spoil him?"

Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs, show's that as humans, we have a basic level of need's. For various reason's many foster/adopted children have missed several of these steps. In order for a child to mature into a an emotionally, stable individual, he will have to experience each level, in order. This means that when a toddler comes into your home it is vital that you start at the base of the pyramid, then move onto the next level's. I want to note that the second level, that of safety, must include Felt Safety.

- Many toddler's are independent beyond their years due to their need to care for themselves. Sometimes as in our son's case, they also cared for younger siblings. Our son was incredibly independent. He became very upset when we tried to help him with something, so we parented him as one would a well attached toddler; we left him take care of himself. In hindsight that was the not at all what he needed.

- Toddler's who are placed in care or adopted often experience intense rages and meltdowns as the attempt to navigate their new world while trying to make sense of what has happened. Per our caseworker's advice, we put our son in time out. One minute for each year of age. Unknown to us we were only exacerbating his Alarm Of Separation. After we learned about TBRI we began practicing Time In versus time out, with much better result's.

In simple word's NURTURE that child. 
DO: love and nurture him, let him be a baby. Let him have things to soothe him be it a blanket, toy or Nuk.

DON'T: Try to make him act his age. He may be a toddler physically, but deep inside he is still just a baby.

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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

4 Ways A Child Adopted At Birth May Have Experienced Trauma And What You Can Do To Help

As an adoptive mom I have often been asked how old our children were when they came to us. When people hear that most of them were 6 months or younger, the inquirer usually says something like, "At least they were too young to remember their previous circumstances," or, "That's, good! Then you won't have the problems some people have."

I know most of those comments come from the thought that an infant is a like a blank slate. The thought is, if he is too little to remember previous trauma, surely he won't be affected by it.

Let me assure you that even if you bring a child into your home straight from the hospital, he will have trauma. An infants brain is being formed while in the womb and his mother's experiences, diet, prenatal care or lack thereof, all have a direct impact on her unborn child. 

Think about it this way, there is always a reason a child is placed in care or is available for adoption. That reasons may vary, but regardless what they are, the mother will have undoubtedly experienced some stress. Infants who are exposed to high levels of cortisol - a stress hormone - while in utero will have a higher chance for both physical and mental health challenges later in life.

Alcohol is a terratogen, meaning it crosses the placenta and directly impacts the baby. Whatever is being formed at the time mom consumes alcohol, can easily be damaged or destroyed. Sadly many doctors still tell patients that the occasional drink is okay. As the parent of a child with FASD, let me assure you that it is not worth it!

Substance abuse is often a factor when a child needs to be removed from his parents at birth. The impact of  drugs on a child's brain and nervous system is tremendous. This damage may not be visible until the child is about school age, then things seem to fall apart, while for others it is noticeable from day one.

If the mother lived in an abusive situation her unborn child will be directly impacted by her anxiety/stress. One of our children flinches at raised voices, we assume this is directly related to the conflict our child's mother was subject to while pregnant.

If none of these situations affect your child, the mere fact that he was removed from the one person who kept him safe and nurtured him prior to birth can cause for trauma. Of course an infant in this situation will likely be able to build a bond with another caregiver with relative ease since he already has had a firm foundation. However don't be surprised if you see sign's of trauma and don't take them any less seriously than you would any other traumatized child as these things can snowball.

So what can you do if you bring an infant into your home?

- Hold him. I recently told one mom that holding her child now may save her many sleepless nights down the road. An infant has an undeveloped nervous system and he regulates off his parents. Your heart beat "teaches" his heart how fast to beat. Your calm voice, smile and eye contact show him that he is safe. The feel of your skin helps him regulate his body temperature and assure's him you are near. You cannot spoil an infant, especially one who has been traumatized.

- Only mom or dad should feed baby if at all possible. Baby needs to learn that nourishment comes from you.

- Keep visitors to a minimum as Baby needs plenty of time to adjust to his surroundings.

- Do not pass him around for other's to hold. Baby needs to know you are near, he is hyper vigilent and it won't take much for him to enter a state of panic or he may shut down, neither is desirable.

- Keep him wrapped tightly if that calm's him -some baby's exposed to illegal substances are highly sensitive and being swaddled may provide too much sensory input.

- Some infant's like a noise maker, especially if they spent any length of time in the hospital where there was constant noise.

Find what works for your baby and do what it takes to provide those things. By the way, your baby will most likely retain the need for many of  these comfort measure's until way passed what is deemed socially acceptable. My advice is to let them have their comfort's as long as they need them.

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Saturday, February 17, 2018

You Just Need To Discipline That Child! -Trauma Parenting

If you are a trauma parent, chances are you have been called out for inconsistent parenting.

When this happens, I get tongue tied and only later can I think of a logical response. Maybe it is good I can't formulate an immediate reply because I would only get my mouth in trouble

Trauma parenting is not consistent from child to child except in one area; love. All parenting must be done in love, other than that, parenting has to be tailored for each child.

Sadly hindsight is 20/20 so it is only through experience and trial and error that you learn what your child needs.

When we first began parenting traumatized children we quickly learned that you cannot discipline a child until you have his heart. To the outside world, we had our children's hearts and we were doing them a terrible disservice by letting them run over us. At the same time another group of people said, "You are so strict with them, they are children, give them a break!"

Both sides were partly right and both sides were partly wrong. A child who has been through trauma needs to know that his parents have his back. This is something we are still striving for, ten years after our children have come into our home. My children have some behaviors that make people give me that look. The one that says, "He is how old and he still does what?!?" One of my children wets himself for at least a week after he experiences certain stressor's. Is he old enough to know better? Absolutely! Do I punish him? Absolutely not! I know he wets himself because of trauma and trauma cannot be punished out of a child, nor should it be. Trauma is fear, trauma needs reassurance. Instead of reacting as I once would have, I pack extra clothing when we go away and leave it at that.

For those who say we are too strict, I agree that we require our children to toe the line, some more than others. The reason for this is once again, trauma. A traumatized child has a chaotic brain and he needs stability and routine to thrive. He will buck against it, but he needs it. As one mom said, "People say I am a helicopter parent, but I know that is what my child needs."  

Some children with trauma do well in social settings, others do not. I have some of both. One of my children reacts to his trauma the same whether he is at home or away. For this reason he appears ill behaved and we have been encouraged to be firmer with him. What people don't realize is that he falls apart when his siblings aren't melting down. His siblings all suffer from attachment disorder, guess when they put their best foot forward? When we are away, of course! And of course, that is when my other child melts down and gets demanding. We could show this child, "Who is boss," but we know that he is only letting down his guard because the sibling(s) who had spent the day raging and manipulating are finally quiet. You cannot/may not punish a child for that.

Many of our children suffer from brain damage due to the trauma they suffered in utero. This means that any and all discipline or lack there of needs to be taken under the magnifying glass of, why. Why is my child acting like this, what is the driving force behind his behavior. We are all driven by our emotions/experiences but children with trauma are especially prone to view everything through trauma glasses. Parenting children with trauma isn't about making them obey, make good choice's etc. Of course, we as parents desire those things but before any of that can be  accomplished on a daily basis, the child must feel safe, he must feel loved. 

Due to their trauma and/or brain damage, our children mature at a slower rate. This means that the behaviors that make us look like incompetent parents, will continue long past what is deemed socially appropriate. 

Another thing trauma parents come up against is, "You never ask us for advice." That is a legitimate complaint. We trauma parents tend not to ask "traditional parents" for parenting advice. Why? Because of trauma. Until you have lived with trauma, you cannot understand how intertwined your actions and your child's emotional healing become. Our children scrutinize our every movement (watch one of these children sometime) and they weigh those actions against how loved and safe they are feeling at the moment. This means the parents will have their seemingly calm child remain in line of vision while the child who looks like he needs some supervision runs and plays. That looks like inconsistency, but there are things playing into the decisions a trauma parent makes that are not readily apparent to those looking on.

I have been falling into the trap of trying to make my children conform to a certain standard, that of being socially appropriate because I fear what people will think. I know, I know, that is NOT therapeutic parenting! Anyway, Dean pulled me aside and said, "Sandra remember this is trauma, stop worrying about how others view the children. This is about trauma not good parenting or otherwise." I thank God daily for my husband!

*I use the words punish/discipline in this post because while we do not use typically use these forms of correction in the world of trauma parenting, this terminology is what is often used by those trying to understand trauma parents. Instead we use a mode of parenting called TBRI, which is based on trust and Felt Safety.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

The Real Reason, "Adopted Children Don't Turn Out"

If you are an adoptive parent, chances are you have either been told to your face or had it not so subtly implied that, "Adopted children don't turn out." 

As a human being that comment makes my blood boil, as an adoptive parent it hurts deep inside. I long to correct the speaker and explain why adopted children may be more prone to making poor choices. I want to change their condescending attitude to one of empathy.

I am sure you have already heard a story and onto the end it was tacked the comment, "Well, he/she is adopted." As if that explains everything. 

I think, and I am open to correction on this, that people who feel adoption is what makes a child "not turn out," have a sense of security in that mindset. See, if adoption is the cause of an individual's poor choices, then their children who are not adopted somehow have a better chance of avoiding similar pitfalls.

I agree that children who are adopted may tend to make more poor choices than their peers who grew up in stable, secure homes. BUT
I also think those same peers would be making very similar choices if circumstances were switched.

See, adoption isn't what makes children "not turn out well," it is TRAUMA. It is not the child's fault he was born to a mother who was buried in her own traumatic past. It isn't his fault those early childhood experiences affected his brain, leaving him in a panicked state of mind. It isn't his fault that he was born to parents who were addicted to substances and as a result were unable to provide the care he needs. And before you blame the parents, remember: Trauma is the root of addiction.

So the next time you hear a story that ends with a whispered, "Well, he is adopted," take a moment to enlighten the speaker about the effects of trauma. 

Remember the quote, "There, but for the grace of God, go I." Show some empathy for the person who has made a poor choice. Come alongside him and hold him up when he feels weak. Encourage him and offer your support. You will help him more than you will ever know.

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Thursday, February 8, 2018

Processing Trauma Memories

Last night we went to get our passports, something we have talked about doing for a long time but kept pushing off.

As Dean and I sat side by side filling out paperwork a growing sense of unease filled my gut, my brain refused to cooperate and the tension grew. We were frantically filling out the forms an hour before we had to leave for our appointment, so I blamed my reaction on having to rush about.

When we got to the library and began going over the forms together. I had a flashback of the last time we sat around a table answering questions and signing paperwork. That time we were in an attorney's office signing away our parental rights, something I never dreamed we would do! 

Turns out I wasn't the only one feeling a bit traumatized. Kiana had a rough evening. Over the top giggling can signal dysregulation every bit as much as does meltdowns and raging. She went from giggling hysterically to sobbing hysterically, a sure sign that something was going on.

I finally sat her down and asked her what was wrong. Of course she gave the answer I expected, "Nothing!" I tried rephrasing my question but she wasn't ready to talk. I told her to sit and tap, which gets the two sides of the brain to communicate. My children don't like tapping when something is bugging them because their mode of coping is to bury and stuff their anxiety. They know tapping will get their brain to thinking, something they want to avoid at all costs. Of course Kiana responded to my request to tap with defiance and rage, anything to avoid complying with me.

I left her sit and rage for awhile and when I noticed she was calming down I called her over and said, "Something is bothering you, I have a good idea what it is but I want you to try to figure it out." When helping someone work through a trigger/memory it is best if they can figure out what is behind the emotion because this means they are processing the information. If you just tell them, they don't work through the steps on their own. You may need to coach the person along which is what often happens with our children, but we try to get them to do as much thinking on their own as possible.

She denied that she had any idea what was bothering her, but we have learned to know our children well enough that we usually know when they do not know the answer to a question, when they are being stubborn or when the answer is just to hard to say. Kiana's issue was obviously the latter.

I told her that I think going to sign those papers scared her. I asked why she thinks she felt so scared, and she shrugged her shoulders. "What were you thinking about when you had that scared feeling?" I asked. She mumbled, "My mom." Ahh, so I was was on the right track!

"What did your mom have to do with signing those papers?" I asked. "Maybe you were telling her how I act....." she replied. "Hmmm, and why would that make you afraid?" Her lip was trembling so I waited until she whispered, "You might give me back to her."

I had figured that was her problem all along but I didn't want to give her any idea's, plus as I said before, it is best if the person works through their problems themselves. We went over the how's and why's of adoption again and Kiana burst out, "It is just like buying and selling animals! You buy an animal and then you sell it again, adoption is the same way!"

I left her talk for awhile then said, "Since you are comparing adoption to selling animals, let's think about it. If a cow has a calf and won't let her drink milk, is it better to give the calf to a cow who will take care of her or should the farmer leave the calf die?" She didn't hesitate, "You should give her to a cow who will take care of her!"

"Right, because a little calf will die without milk to drink. How about when the calf is half grown and can take care of herself some of the time. Should the calf go back to her birth mom or stay with the mama who has been taking care of her all along?" Kiana started to say, "She should stay with the mom who is taking care of her," but suddenly realized where the conversation was heading and back pedaled. "She should go to her birth mom!!!" Let me add here that Kiana, like many adopted children, has an attachment with her birth mom and would like to live with her but at the same time fears having to go back. It is a complicated emotion for a child to work through.

"What if the calf's birth mom still has a hard time caring for her?" I asked next. Kiana said quietly, "I guess she should stay with the mom who has been taking good care of her."

I agreed then said, "Did we ever get rid of a child?" Kiana's eye's welled with tears and she nodded, "Braden left." 

"Yes he did," I agreed, "But do you remember why he left?" Kiana said, "Because he had a big hurt in his heart." 

"Who else has a big hurt in their heart?" I asked. "Me," Kiana whispered. "That must be a scary feeling," I acknowledged. "Did you know that when Braden left he didn't even cry? He was so happy to be moving to a new family." 

"He is mean!" Kiana cried. "No Kiana, he was hurting," I  said and went on to explain attachment in as simple words as I could.

"It is really hard for mom to explain, but someday when you are older you will be able to understand," I finished. "For now you have a choice, trust mom when she says that you will never go to a new home, but it was the best thing for Braden; or don't trust mom and let your worry and fear grow bigger."

"I will try to trust you, but it is really hard!" Kiana said. 

We ended our conversation with our usual hugs and she seemed to feel better but I know this will be an ongoing conversation. 

Sometimes I can't help but wonder why must life be so difficult for the children God has entrusted into our care. So often I feel as though I am bumbling along making things worse instead of better, but then I remember that God can take my feeble efforts and bring healing to hurting hearts.

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