Naming Your Child’s Trauma
If you’ve fostered or adopted, it’s likely that you’ve parented or are parenting a child that has experienced trauma in their past. Trauma can be so challenging to navigate as it is different and manifests differently for all children.
Foster and adopted children may come into your family at infancy or much older like 10+. Even children adopted at infancy have experienced trauma that they will need to process throughout their life. Older children are likely to remember more of their experiences and have more awareness of what trauma they have been through.
You may not know what all your child has experienced in the past, but it can be helpful to name the trauma that you do know your child has been through. Even if it’s vague.
My husband and I recently adopted our 11-year-old daughter. Sadly, she has been through many hard experiences in her short time on earth. I can’t even begin to relate. For the sake of protecting her story, I won’t elaborate on her specific experiences.
Parenting children with trauma is hard. We don’t always know what a trigger for our child may be, and often times our children don’t know themselves. My daughter wouldn’t be able to articulate to me in the midst of her frustration that something triggered her or why she’s so upset. And what triggers a reaction one day, may not on another day.
I’m sure you can think of a time where your child’s reaction to something seemed completely out of hand and more exaggerated than it should be. Just recently that happened to us when my husband played an April Fool’s joke on our daughter.
In his mind, his joke was harmless… and obviously a joke… but when it resulted in a full-on melt-down we began to question why it was so upsetting. It quickly clicked for us that it may have reminded her of something from her past.
My husband approached her, explaining that her reaction seemed really intense for the situation, considering she had played a joke on him earlier in the day. He then asked her if his joke reminded her of anything she had experienced in the past that was hard for her.
She quickly quieted and eventually shared how his joke did remind her of negative experiences from her past.
That was a situation that, when prompted, our daughter was able to identify the root to her reaction. But that isn’t always the case, which is why naming your child’s trauma can be important.
Saying things to your child like “I’m sorry your parents died, “I’m sorry you’ve had to live with multiple different families, I’m sorry your trust has been broken, I’m sorry you’ve been abused, I’m sorry you were neglected, I’m sorry you haven’t always been treated fairly” is a powerful way to help you child gain a deeper self-awareness.
It can be extremely frustrating for children to feel so upset and not know why. By naming their trauma, you can help them start to better understand and process their emotions. We’ve found this to be helpful in the midst of melt-downs as well as on good days.
I don’t want my daughter to feel sorry for herself or use the pain from her past as a crutch, but I do want her to feel freedom to be sad, feel hurt, express anger, and grieve the experiences she’s had.
If she doesn’t feel freedom to express those things, I don’t believe she will ever find healing. Quite frankly most of her life has sucked and as her mom it’s heartbreaking. I wish I could change her past, but I can’t.
I can only impact her future and it is so important to equip her to confront and work through her trauma. It’s ok to tell your child that what they’ve been through sucks and isn’t fair. It’s true.
I’m sure there are times you’d love to be able to sugar coat your child’s past hoping it will make them remember it in a less hurtful way. What parent wouldn’t want to ease the amount of pain and suffering in their child’s life.
Naming your child’s trauma and being honest about the difficulty of it is a powerful way to support your child. They’re already feeling it but may not know how to put words to it. Helping them put words to it will allow them to better process it which is so important for healing to eventually occur.