Did your child experience trauma or loss before they came to you? Do you want to help them heal? Join our conversation with Dr. Amanda Baden, a Professor and the Doctoral Program Director at Montclair State University in the graduate counseling program and a licensed psychologist in private practice in Manhattan. She is an adult adoptee from Hong Kong and an adoptive parent of a daughter from China.
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Welcome, everyone to creating a family talk about adoption and foster care. I'm Dawn Davenport, the host of this show, as well as the director of the nonprofit creating a family.org. Today we're going to be talking about helping our kids our adopted kids heal from past trauma and loss. We will be talking with Dr. Amanda Baden. She is a professor and the doctoral program director at Montclair State University, and the graduate counseling program. She is also a licensed psychologist in private practice in Manhattan. She is an adult adoptee from Hong Kong and the adoptive parent of a daughter from China. Welcome Dr. Baden to creating a family.
Hi, Don, thank you so much for having me. It's my pleasure to be here.
Well, are the as you know, we're speaking to primarily adoptive parents, and many of our kids do come to us from past trauma and loss. It feels like that in our field right now. And it has been for like perhaps the last 510 years. Every other word is trauma, we are so focused on trauma. So I think that it helps. What do we mean by trauma? And what type of events are things create
trauma? That's a great question. And I think trauma is probably used in so many ways, some of which are technically accurate. Some which might stretch the definition a little bit. But when I refer to trauma, yes, so small things can be traumatic and major life events, of course, can be traumatic. So something small, like could be traumatic can be even just an interaction in a store on the street, or what have you, you can feel a little traumatic because it's takes you out of your normal comfort, normal place of of consciousness and awareness, so that you have to kind of pay attention to your feelings, your responses, Your reactions in a different way. But I think when we're talking about trauma in terms of psychological impacts of an event or an experience, we're really referring to some kind of experience or event that is one that raises certain kinds of feelings that trigger the fight or flight kind of response in people where they feel like they have to respond to something that feels threatening in some way. So when the fight or flight response is triggered, we instinctually feel like we have to have some kind of response, we either have to fight for our protection, we may want to run away, sometimes a lot of people freeze and these experiences and and the thing about trauma that is particularly relevant for the adoption field is that those kinds of experiences, things that might lead us to feel threatened, can come and be re experienced over and over again. And so when we see and hear about things like post traumatic stress disorder, PTSD, we're often talking about the re experiencing of the event that caused us to feel threatened, uncertain, fearful, unsafe. And so trauma can be something very cognizant that we have a very clear memory of or can be something that our bodies experienced, but we may not have a very active memory of, if you will.
So I mean, we experience adults can experience trauma. But why is trauma or abuse and neglect, which can cause trauma? Why are they so harmful to children? What is there about children that make them particularly vulnerable to traumatic events?
Well, I think everyone's pretty vulnerable. But children have few powers and resources to handle these things. So one of the things that makes trauma difficult is our ability to cope with it. Someone who is a police officer or fire person, they are dealing with things that many of us would consider traumatic all the time. But they've had a lot of training to prepare for it. They know that they're going into it, they know what, to some degree, what to expect. And they also have some tools to control those experiences. And they have practiced and, and trained responses to those things. Whereas a child or adolescent first of all, they have little to no real power in controlling the events that happen to them. And they may have few of any coping skills to deal with that. And in some for a lot of adoptees, a lot of the trauma is pre verbal, so they can't speak about it because they don't have the word. They didn't have words for it. It's more feeling or other sensory related kinds of traumas.
They also can't pinpoint the trauma. Exactly. They experienced it but they it had happened before their cognition was such that they can identify. So it's more of a floating trauma and so to speak.
Yes, it's, it's much more diffuse. And when it's diffuse like that, it's harder to say, Oh, this exact event happened. And this is why I'm experiencing trauma, when it was more of something that was pre verbal, pre consciousness in some ways, because, you know, as, as we get older, we lose the conscious memory of, of those early days a pre, before like three or four years old. Most folks can't remember specific incidents. When it's more nebulous like that, or more diffuse, it is harder to say, well, this is what happened. And this is why I experienced trauma. And in fact, I'd say within adoption, one of the reasons why folks often doubted I mean, there's many reasons but one of the reasons why folks would sometimes question whether infant adoptees would experience trauma is because they tried to prevent any days between their birth and their placement in their adoptive homes and prefer some kids. But we all know now I think there's much more recognition and acceptance that there's the womb environment, there's that trauma of moving from one kind of environment of the birth parent, that womb, shifts completely and does create some some knowledge of loss, whether it's verbal or nonverbal.
Did you know that creating a family.org has 12, free online courses available to you? These are available through the support of the jockey being Family Foundation, you can find them at Bitly slash JPS support, that's bi T dot L y slash JBf. Support, check it out. So what factors influence how a trauma will impact a child later in life? We've mentioned one, and that's the pre verbal native when trauma happens before a child has the cognition of understanding and words to express it. But does pre verbal trauma look different? And how is it expressed or the impact it has on a child later in life?
You know, these, these are pretty hard. It's hard to identify exactly which traumas might be impacting an individual. But it can look different because there isn't a story, a specific story other than the knowledge of the history. Now, when we when we look at adoptees, for example, and we know that they were placed at birth, or even if they replaced at two years old, after a time in an institution, the memories of that time prior to placement prior to three or four years old are often something that they can't express. So we can't always say what what part of those early experiences caused the trauma. But we do know that those changes in caregivers, changes in the way the environment of the early experiences do lead to different traumatic reactions, even just the different sounds and smells and tastes, that an infant might experience going from one caregiver to another can be traumatic. But I guess the challenge we might experience in talking about this is that because we do talk about trauma so much some folks may minimize the idea of of how trauma looks or that trauma and adoption, has the same impact as as some of us no, it does.
No, absolutely. So one of the factors is the age at the child age when the child experienced the traumatic event. That is one factor that can influence and it sounds like it cuts both ways. And of course, we also have inherent temperament and as well as a biology as well as many other things that that impacted. What about the traumatic events that are a one time traumatic event versus a traumatic event? That is happens frequently or is ongoing. But I would assume that the one time event, generally speaking, you would think it would have less impact long term than that which those traumatic events that happened over and over?
You know, I think that it's a it's a challenge for us to be able to answer some of these questions, empirically, because of you know, and that and so
there's so many factors that play because we humans are so complex.
Absolutely. Yeah, absolutely. And I'm really glad to hear you mentioned temperament. Just hardiness and resilience are factors that individuals we can't really measure them so much, at least empirically and we know that those are big factors that two individuals can have what looks to be the exact same traumatic experience and respond to them quite differently, right. So there's those protective factors that that some people have that are inherent that they may be born with some which can be developed. And then there's things that the chronic nature of a stressor, or the you know, single event kind of stressors, we know that when it comes to like, just stress in general, a major traumatic event, like an earthquake, for example, or a fire may not ultimately be as as harmful psychologically, sometimes as ongoing every day, intense stress. So, sometimes it's easier when you can identify a single event. And you know, this happened, and here's how I can respond to that, versus something that you may not be able to just cut out of your life. And I think a lot of folks, when they try and deal with the trauma that they've experienced, they want to be able to isolate it completely and to end make it no longer a factor. And it's really not so possible to do that. So I often try and suggest to people that more what we're looking to do is help them develop healthy coping skills, to manage these experiences and understand them, so they don't feel controlled by the trauma.
You know, there was a Dr. Charles Nelson, out of Harvard did, he was one of the principal investigators for the Bucharest project, the brute the Bucharest study, which looked at I know I'm preaching to the choir, because you're well familiar with it. But for our audience, looked at children adopted out of Romania back in the early Well, it's it's ongoing, but it started back in the early 1990s. And the conditions in the orphanages there were just horrific worse than than almost anything you could ever, ever imagine. And we interviewed him and he said, You know, it's the conditions were so horrible, he said, But for us, they gave such a interesting ability to study because we would never be able to create some type and Dr. Woody, of course. And he calls it and I'm just recalling off the top of my head, but there was X percentage of children who were just very badly damaged. And really, it was a, I wish I had looked up these data I could look about to tell you the exact but a smaller percentage of kiddos that were just so badly damaged, that they really struggled to function as adults. This was a longitudinal study. So they follow them over the years. And it may still be ongoing. But they definitely follow them into their 20s. And then they there was the largest percentage of the kids who showed some long term impacts. But for the most part, were doing okay, they these all these, I think all the kids in the initial study had been adopted. I'm pretty sure they were all that he may have gone back now. And I think he is studying kids who remained. But a large percentage of the Met, the majority of the kids showed some impact. But were they were functioning they were doing, okay. And then about the same percentage of kids as the kids who were badly damaged. Were a group of kids, who he called them the resilient rascals, and they just, these kids just seem to thrive. And they, they made it and they weren't able to go back. And of course, there are things that they don't know about the orphanage experience. So they can't really go back and say, where the experience is equal, they can't because they're looking at children after they've already here. But it's an interesting thing to help. What are genetics? And also, you know, there's the other thing that we know is the power of it called the power of one. And that is, you know, some of these a traumatic event, but a child who is well supported, and and parents who are there for them, and that's the then they can just put that behind them. Some kids can many kids can, but children who don't have that one don't have a person in their lives that they can that can be there for them. Those kids are are just more impacted. Sadly,
yeah. So and you know, not knowing prenatal exposure issues not knowing necessarily predispositions or like your heart also inform what those outcomes might look like. Absolutely. And I guess I would say that those children who were who were thriving, you know, they may find that there's areas where they are really robust in their performance in areas where they continue to struggle. And I think we see that a lot in adoptees and in people in general, of course, but we will see that maybe a child might be academically gifted, and that serves them well in many ways, but they may struggle in social skills or deeper relationships. So sometimes, sometimes trauma plays out in, in various ways. And we can see that in, in developmental areas that might have not been developed as, as they could have been had they had the supports and the resources. And I think from those early studies in the Bucharest studies to questions of the caregivers who were there from the very early parts, and their questions of what kind of caregiving nurturance was provided to those children can be a really important factor too.
Yeah, and that the going back to the power of one, there was some studies that were looking at where children in the orphanage were actually placed a child near the door, had more people coming and going, you know, and also children who just by personality are more gregarious, are more charming are more extroverted adults, regardless, this is not this necessarily in orphanages, but adults tend to gravitate towards. And so those children may be less impacted, because by some quirk of nature, they are they are more charming, you know, and then so adults just react to them, and are more likely to reach out to help them. So yeah, absolutely.
They figured out a way to attach to somebody, and to get that back, whereas not every child, maybe has those skills. For, as you said, so many different reasons. Human nature.
Yeah, yeah. Let's talk a little about neglect as a form of trauma. So often, and part of this is because we want to believe that our kids are not going to be the ones who were significantly impacted. But we say in our heads, they were just neglected, they were never abused. What do we see from that is, neglect as a form of is neglect a form of trauma?
Oh, I definitely think neglect can be a form of trauma. And again, we have this word that's, that's covers so many different problems, drama. But neglect can be something where, of course, we were just talking about attachment issues where they might not get the sort of developmental supports and nurturance that a child might need to thrive. So neglect can be, in my opinion, it's a form of abuse where a child feels, then they don't get the interaction, they don't develop the language, they don't develop even the skills to do things like talk about their feelings,
or they have to rely on themselves, to feed themselves rely on, they don't have that they're never sure that so they have to be they can depend on no one, they have to depend only on themselves. Yes,
yes. And neglect can look in a lot of ways children who look like they have all of their basic needs met in terms of housing and clothing, and food can still be neglected emotionally. And that's something that we have to really be mindful of, because those those children may be less likely to be seen as, as having these challenges, because it looks like all those environmental supports are there. But the emotional ones may leave them being very bereft of, of some of those skills that are needed to form human attachments and adult relationships, ways to work through their own feelings and, and problems and reactions to all these traumas.
And we know that trauma can be expressed in throughout childhood in many different ways. And, and one way that trauma can be expressed, is through behavior. And that's not an uncommon way at all it can be at externalize behavior where a child is acting out, but it could also be an internalized behavior where a child is not acting out on the outside, but is becoming anxious depressed are other internal forms of acting out. How do we as parents tell the difference between typical developmental behavior because all kids, I often say all kids are weird. All humans are weird. And so, you know, we can see our kids do something and we go, wow, that's weird. I don't know why they're doing that. But versus behaviors, that we that should be a red flag for us to understand that that behavior is coming from trauma or loss.
That's a really good question. And people often ask that you know, about not just little kid behaviors, but adolescent behaviors and I my usual response, which leads to interesting responses from parents, for example, is that is what they what would they do differently if they knew that it was about adoption or last net way versus typical team behavior, typical, you know, acting out and oftentimes the their response is generally that they would be more understanding and empathetic if it was about adoption and,
or trauma. Yeah, or just
more annoying if it if it wasn't?
Yeah, exactly. But is that uh, yeah, that would be my response. Okay. So yes, yes, that's exactly my response. If I know that a child of mine is responding from past trauma, or current trauma, I would I would respond in one way, if I think that they it's a typical developmental, I would respond in a I would either assume it's going to pass on its own. I would go through my parenting checkbook and say, well, this, is this child having too much freedom, too little freedom. Is there a little less too little communication? Have they been spending too much time online? Whatever, I would go through my, you know, my parenting checklist. But if I suspect it from a trauma response, then I'm going to want to make certain that they're in therapy, I'm going to want to, as much as they will talk with me talk with them about what could be behind this. So yeah, I do I I don't think that's the right answer. But that is how I, that is how I would respond. So tell me why I'm wrong? No,
that's not at all my my goal with that question. I say, sometimes we just aren't going to know that point. Sometimes we really can't tell. And so maybe empathy is going to help either way. And I often recommend empathy, because it does help facilitate communication. But if we say they're acting out, because they want to manipulate us, well, that's probably not the only reason, there's probably some other things going on there. So I typically recommend that one communication is so key, of course, and, and that means that the parents need to work on their communication, because we can't assume that the children are the only ones who don't know how to communicate well.
Amen. On that one,
I see that a lot. So I really encourage parents to realize there's many parents out there who don't know how to talk about their feelings. So they're certainly not going to talk to their children about them either. But when I see a child acting out, for example, you might, if there's, there's some kinds of acting out behavior that you might recognize is quite related to trauma, because it might, it might mirror some of the things that they experienced, for example, kids who run away a lot, or they hoard food or something like that, that might be reflective of some of the ways that they learned to cope in the past. So I would, in those cases, work on trying to help them figure and learn new ways of coping, and explore that, you know, they're sort of they were in that fight or flight response, a lot of times probably, when they engage in some of those behaviors. If they aren't, they're certainly we know, some of the team behaviors that we see as responses to the How have to say, I guess, being a teen can be traumatic, I think there's parts of it that are not just, you know, the body developing, but that does have a toll on people, it's not the same kind of trauma as of course, like, being abandoned or relinquished it. Or, of course, it's just another one of those things that may feel they don't have tools to use to respond to it. So to me in some ways, either way, some of those behaviors that are, may look like typical teen behaviors, they may always still have a sort of flavor of trauma to as well. So maybe looks a little different. It also helps to check in with other parents of similar age kids and see where you're where your team may be on a similar pattern and path as well as forging their own path in a way that might be more problematic. But empathy, I think is key.
It should be our first line of defense regardless, it seems. Would it be true that that trauma based responses or behaviors, regardless of the age of the child, tend to be bigger, more frequent, more intense, bigger, more intense that they seem to be when you look at the event versus a response, whatever is happening in the child's life, that we could see that and we think, Okay, that seems bigger than what I would have expected right here. Is that a good rule of thumb for helping us understand? You know, yes, all three year olds tend to be bossy and argumentative and throw tantrums. But this tantrum is bigger, it lasts longer and much harder for this child to calm down and my regular things aren't working. So is that a sign?
I think it can be a sign I I'm not great with being able to say for certain, but I do think it can be one of those signals. where you might say, okay, and it may not be like having a tantrum is not unusual, but maybe the way they respond to the tantrum or their ability to self soothe. That's where you can start to see some of the effects of trauma to where a child who is really upset may come to their parent who's, if they're attached them, if they're feeling comforted and have a connection, they may come and seek soothing from that parent. Whereas a child who's had a more, more experiences of trauma may not be able to see themselves and just exhaust themselves through their tantrum. So that might be one of those signs. And I think that one of the things I've seen in my practice is that some adoptive parents that they really, the very keenly aware of that, but they may struggle sometimes to manage their own responses to the trauma. So they have their own histories that they bring into this. And so their child's trauma response may trigger their own reactions, and then it it sort of snowballs in a way that creates more challenges.
I am so glad you brought that up. I think that we as parents have to recognize that we own our eyesight, we own our triggers, that we're bringing, what do we bring to the table when we're working with kids? who have experienced trauma? Because we aren't a blank slate either?
Absolutely, absolutely. And so, you know, there's a lot of times when parents do humans in general, that adults are generally trying to be different than the parents they had or parent differently in some way. And so you may see that interaction occurring with the behavior or acting out behavior of the child, and then you can sort of see where were things hit a wall and don't and don't worry, aren't sort of resolving well. And sometimes when I find is, you know, there's, there's a lot of ways that we can provide consistency, we can manage our own behavior and our own response to these things. And if we can do that, we can help that child figure out ways to to manage their emotions, start to recognize when they're feeling that way, intervene in their own reactions. But when the parents don't have the resources, it's going to be very hard for the kids to have them. And so for example, I would ask them to start some simple behavioral charting, that would help and some ways of responding to the acting out, so that the pattern wasn't just snowballing. And sometimes the parents would have a lot of trouble with that, too.
Mm. Right, because they're, they're responding to the behavior based on their own life experience. And yeah, it's funny, because we've talked about the big reason of that sometimes trauma, one way you can tell us a response based on trauma behavior, based on trauma is the intensity and the length. We could also look at our own reactions and say, I'm really responding to this particular situation very strongly, and approach it with some curiosity and wonder why this particular thing is bugging there of 11 out of me, and more so than others other behaviors, and that's what we're bringing to the table. Yeah,
exactly, exactly. And if if you find that you yourself are triggered so much, that you're behaving in a way that you would not be happy with or proud of typically, then perhaps it means that we need to, you need to explore inside to not just look at where the problems with the child are. But what's being triggered because the parents bring their own trauma.
Mm hmm. On trauma owned attachment styles, own everything, our own stresses in our lives. Hi, guys, have you subscribe or follow the creating a family.org podcast. If you do, you will gain access to our extensive archives of shows we have been doing this show for 16 years now. But started in 2007. So you added up. So that's how long it's been going on. We have a huge archive, and you would have access to that. Leading Experts. Many of the topics in the interviews are directly relevant today as they were way back when we did them. And the other beautiful thing is that we've got some of the wonderful experts from the past who are no longer with us. And you can hear Dr. Karen Purvis and others who have been on our show in the past, so subscribe or follow the creating a family.org podcast. I want to talk about one particular behavior. That is it all children do this to a certain extent, but sometimes our kids is particularly those who come into our well who come from a traumatic background or come to us at an older age. And that is What we call triangulation? Can you explain what triangulation means? And why it isn't a good thing?
Sure, well, typically triangulation refers to when maybe there's an issue between two people, one of them can triangulate a third person bring a third person into that relationship into that conflict. Because instead of dealing directly to the person that they originally had the conflict with, they go through a person, see the third person, and then all the problem then gets spread around, if you will. So a parent and a child having a conflict brings in the other parent. And then the dysfunctional kind of triangle then can happen among the three of them,
or bringing grandma or bring in the caseworker. And it's the, you know, the classic one, which is not necessary, but and do we have trauma response? But can I go over to Susie's for sleepover? Mom says, No, then I go to dad and say, Dad, I really want to go and dad says, Yes, you know, that's the, that's the more typical one. But it can get a lot more complex and a lot more subtle and a lot more confusing, I think, for parents and children to, to play out. One way that we see triangulation play out is a preference for one parent over the other. Is that a form of triangulation? And how do we break that?
I guess it can be a form of triangulation. But it's not the classic way that it looks in Leicester doing a similar example is what you shared before dawn, for example, I have had many clients who feel like they don't have much of a relationship with perhaps their adoptive father. And they never felt for, for a range of reasons, maybe connected to that person maybe didn't have as easy a time having a conversation. That's what they'll Express. Now, you might watch them, and you can see them talk, you know, seem like they're interacting, but emotionally, not feel so connected to that to that person, or may not feel the safety or feel the nurturance from that person.
And hence, the preference is actually more just, it's less preference, and it's that you just have more of an affinity for one. So for families that are struggling with their child who, and the let's say it's the parents or it's a parent, grandparent, child, or parent, parent, child or parent caseworker child, how do we get out of it? How do we, first of all, I guess, is recognizing that we're in a try. But all three parties need to recognize and use oftentimes there's one party who is I like being the good parent? Or I like being the one whose ex gets to say needed? Yeah, yes. So how do we break the triangle, because I'm assuming that it is not a healthy situation for anyone.
It's not a healthy way of responding to conflict. And it because it tends to make the conflict bigger and create other than other dynamics that are unhealthy that really messes up the clear communication in the family. I would say, if it's something where it's the family of two parents and a child, it's a different maybe a slightly different solution than if it's caseworker for example.
Yeah, good point, because caseworkers, ultimately, are the legal authority there. So of the child. So yeah, it's more complicated. Let's start with some more simple example, which is parent child.
Yeah. So I mean, I think that there's a few functions there be the if one of the parents, so I always hope that the parents are both truly on board, in their decision to parent. And sometimes you see, this kind of dynamics play out when one of the parents feels not only less confident or less, less prepared to parent, but also maybe it wasn't, they did it as they agreed to it, but they didn't necessarily want it. And so you'll see that play out sometimes, or sometimes it's just parenting skills. So I think one of the things that has to happen is to make sure that they're on the same page. Parents also sometimes don't agree on how to parent. And so that's how they can be split. So triangulation can also be a form of splitting, which is where you one person becomes a good guy once a bad guy, and
those are usually fixed roles in the family. Whereas one parent feels like they're always the bad guy. And the other parent gets to be the one who says yes, all the time. Yes,
exactly. And so if the parents aren't on the same page and disagree fundamentally about how to parent and what what are the best options for the child? Then you been at the ability to triangulate and split is given free rein. So until they kind of get a little bit more on the same page and show similar respect to each other, so they encourage, like, it's okay, if I'm not the one that the child chooses every night, right when, when they call for help from the bed, if it's always mommy versus daddy, or vice versa, which happens as well, then maybe we need to look at how they're parenting together. We know that there's things like sometimes to just personalities that are different mental health issues, and the parents may be different. I see sometimes, you know, who say, Well, I get along fine with my my dad, but my mom and I just are like, we get into fights all the time. So if that dynamic is happening, it's much easier to triangulate. So learning to work on that communication, the ability to and to work out your own issues as a parent are huge. And a lot of times parents feel overwhelmed. So they may not put the time in figuring out their own issues in there. Because figuring out your issues as a parent also sometimes means understanding how you were parented. And how you respond to that parent. And it's work, it's a lot of work,
just recognizing that you're in a triangle, if both parents will recognize without blaming the other one, just recognize it, this is an unhealthy, we have allowed this as a family to develop, we are in a triangle. And this is not healthy for our child, it's not healthy for our marriage. It's not healthy for our either one, any of our developments. So just recognizing that sometimes. And being willing to if you're the one who feels like you're in the favorite position, in this triangle, being able to to let go is very helpful. You know, one of the things that whether or not this is trauma, but this is certainly connected with loss, and that is our kids have an IT can be traumatic have lost their birth family, if they're Foster, it may not be a permanent loss of their kinship, it may not be a permanent loss, if they're adopted, it probably is, although there may still be some form of a relationship. But as our children age, they are at the at the process of having to incorporate that loss. At the same time they're working on developing who they are and who their identity is. So what can we do as parents to help our kids form a healthy complete identity in the face of the loss that they have experienced? And and and for many of these kids for the trauma they have experienced? It's a really big question,
Don, I think that, you know, the ways we can try and help support their identity is by helping them integrate all of these different family members and cultures into their lives. So one of the things that I work on a lot is transracial, and international adoption. And so one way that families who've adopted translationally, or foster trans racially can make differences is by really, truly trying to have a family that is experienced, it's more diverse, where they truly have people in their lives that reflect their child's ethnic group and their racial experience. So kind of what I'm essentially saying is going outside their comfort zone sometimes to bring in experiences and to seek experiences that can be reinforcing that can be supportive for the child. And so that might mean that they would have to go out and make friends and family friends, not just other kids, not just other adoptive families. But you know, family friends that might look different than they do, who might be different than they are. And so that's one way other ways of helping form identities is trying to, you know, if there's religious differences or other kinds of experiences, those cultural pieces are really important. I also think that kids especially and as we, we know, identity is a lifelong process. And adoptees have a tendency to sort of have this ability to adapt to all environments. I call it like the chameleon process, right? So they can fit into a lot of different places, which makes it a little harder to know who they are. So I think encouraging them to, to have experience, you know, if they're able to have them have therapy to have a place to talk about and explore, have experiences with other adopted people who have similar experiences, and to keep the communication really open so that they can talk about who they are what they want to be, you know, sometimes adoptees struggle because they think about who their birth families were identified. They're different identities, how they then should influence who the adoptee is themselves then. So for example, if they know that their birth parent was an athlete, and you know, really great in school that may have may make them feel like that's those are some identities that may be possible for them. But on the other hand, if they find or learn that they're adept that their birth parents had other legal issues or drug issues or something like that, then they may feel that they're doomed or destined to have those problems as well. And then likewise, lots of adoptees have no information on their birth family. So they feel like they don't know who they're supposed to be. So we, you know, want to try and give them as many opportunities to, to build their own sense of self and feel comfort in their own skin.
Adoption from the heart has been a longtime partner with and supporter of creating a family.org. They believe in our mission of supporting along the entire continuum of journey for adoptive Foster and kin parents. Over the past 35 years adoption from the heart has helped create over 7000 families through domestic infant adoption, they can also provide homestudy only services. They work with people all across the US and are licensed in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Virginia, and Connecticut. So let's now we'll enter the practical part, some practical tips for helping our kids heal from their past trauma or loss. And you've already mentioned a couple of them. One, providing our kids with a community of other adoptive people is other people who have experienced to normalize what they are experiencing. If nothing else, therapy, which probably should have been I should have mentioned first but therapy with an adoption competent therapist, doing our best it seems like to communicate with our kids and do so in a way where it's not about us that if our kids say something that we are not we as parents are not internalizing it as they don't love me, they don't appreciate me they are whatever, accepting that our kids have experienced trauma loss. And then it isn't about us, which is always and something I wanted to, you said that you mentioned and thought was so important. And that is how we talk about their birth parents. Because sometimes our kids come from environments where birth parents have struggled. I mean, children are not placed for adoption, when everything is rosy, and things, something has gone wrong in the lives of those birth parents, for these children to be placed, it may be external to them, but there's still something that went wrong. And I love what you said that if if, if a child here's my dad was a great runner, that and he loved basketball. Well, those things then are positive. And that would influence whether if a child had any talent in that area, they still, they would perceive a positive attribute to their parent, that same parent might be struggling with substance abuse disorder, or might be in jail. And both informations both pieces of information are true. But they deserve both of them. They deserve to know the child deserves to know both, it seems to me. So how else do we talk? It perhaps or maybe just an example of how we could talk about birth parents in a way that allows our kids to see the whole of that person because there is the whole of that person, not just the thing that stands out that got them in jail, or that ultimately ended up with them becoming addicted?
It's a great question, Don. And it's it goes to something that I think is vitally important for all of us anyway. And that is developing the ability to tolerate mixed messages and ambiguity. So someone can you can love someone and be angry with them or disappointed in them. It doesn't have to be black or white. And in our society, we have a tendency to go into a very all or nothing kind of way of thinking you're either great or You're terrible. And there's a lot in between. And so we can see that people are imperfect, but we can still care about them and love them.
And they have good attributes and bad attributes. You can have both. Yeah,
yes. And it's not just about the birth parents, but adoptive parents do this. You can be frustrated, they may not handle things the way you want them to. But teaching not only the parents but the children to learn that we can have these competing emotions and that's still all okay. And it doesn't mean we have to make a choice of blowing up everything to respond to it. So we can say you know, Dad was awesome at this. I wish he could have done this better. It doesn't mean and help help kids see that they aren't, you know, the facts of someone's life and they're some of their skills is not what does not mean that that's the sort of vision for the future for that adopted child or for that, that foster child that, that they can have traits that it's a nature nurture question often, right. So they may hold lots of traits and from their from nature, through their birth parents. But other things are nurtured as well. And we know plenty of non adopted people who are not at all like their biological parents. So we all have choices along the way. And I think that it helps to help kids not only learn to think in this more cognitively complex way, but to also give them lots of experiences where they can have success and feel that they have good, good self esteem, confidence. Those things always help in forming identity as well.
In this identity formation in specific, it's we're talking about birth parents, it seems like it would help to put the birth parents actions assuming that these are actions, sometimes if there are no actions that are negative with which to have to compensate. But if there are to put the actions in context, and I think the parents struggle, because they say I don't want to be making excuses, I don't want to say that. This is okay. Can you talk some about the contextualization is that a word of birth parent actions, to help our kids understand that they, in essence, you don't have to, you may be very like your birth parents if they are. But that doesn't mean that you will follow the same path.
The actions are not the person, you have to separate them, I'd say so. And I think that's true for all of us, we don't all want to be judged by our worst days, or worst behaviors, right for the rest of our lives. And that be our the way we are perceived forever. And I think that's what sometimes happens in these situations. I think by and large, you know, we want to valorize birth parents or nowadays, that's the role that they're given to valorize them, but yet, we struggle. When we have competing information, how can they be the self sacrificing angels when they've done something that was illegal or did something that I don't agree with in some way, people are complex, so we can accept the person and not necessarily the behavior. And that doesn't mean that they're, that's not one of the same. So I think, again, it goes back to parents being able to have that complexity, that cognitive complexity to recognize that it's not making excuses. And it's not saying that what they did was okay, but that doesn't mean, you know, people are complex. Sometimes we have facts we know about our birth parents that are disappointing, that are frustrating and make us angry. And that's a valid response. And you can't take that away from an adopted person, they are allowed to have those reactions to it. And I think a lot of times, adoptive parents try and sanitize it all so that they don't have to have those feelings. And that's when communication breaks down between adoptees and their parents and other problems. And so
when we're talking about tips for helping children heal, something that we'll hear from parents is I don't really know the trauma, my child experience. When the child came to me there was very little in the in the record that would let me know what they experienced. And they can't tell me because for whatever reason, they may not remember our it was there was pre verbal, our they choose not to tell us they're not they don't feel comfortable. For whatever reason, we don't know. So how do we help someone heal? When we don't know what happened to them?
Well, we may never know. And even if you didn't know that doesn't mean you would know what to do. There's not like a manual then that says, oh, okay, this happened and
you were beaten by your father 15 times. This is how you're going to respond and how we as a parent, Yeah, too bad. You don't have that manual, but we don't,
unfortunately know. So we still have to develop the same skills, whether they whether we know exactly what it was or not. That ability to manage emotions to cope with sadness cope with loss. If there's one thing we know about the trauma, it's that loss has an impact. And so we can assume at the very least, that many of the traumatic experiences can be this loss that could have been pre verbal, or it could have been in full memory, full verbal memory. Either way, that loss has an impact you ambiguous loss, disenfranchised grief, those things are real. And so when a child is grieving, and no one's everyone's questioning, why would they be upset, look at all the things they've been given look at all the opportunities they've been given, that can be more harmful than a pre verbal traumatic event, or it compounds it even. So they have the loss, the trauma from that loss, and then they're also getting their, their feelings of grief and loss are minimized. That's where we can really make an impact. Because while we can't go back and fix what happened, we can deal with now, recognizing that loss chose it's comes out in lots of different ways, some of which can feel very confusing. So when it when a kids acting out in a certain way, they don't always they can't put words to a lot of their feelings. And that is, it makes it harder, because we want to be able to think there's a formula. If they're angry about this, then this is what I can say to make them feel better. But sometimes it's not just about reassuring them that everything's okay. It's about letting them feel the feelings.
And that's hard for parents because our it we want to believe that our role is to, nobody wants No parent wants their child to hurt. So we want to believe it's our role to protect them from hurt, but sometimes we can't, we can't. Always we can't we can't go back and undo what happened. That's something we can drag on. We cannot.
But we unfortunately, but we can be there while they're grieving, which is, which is something that they didn't have before. And so I think it's, you know, parents, their instinct is to protect their children. You know, we have all these people trying to censor information from children. I don't think that's the solution, either. I think what we need to do is allow them to have the information. And then through that open communication and support you can help them deal with the information. Because it is we're making choices all the time. We're making choices all the time and how we cope with these things.
Yeah. And our role as parents is to be there, walking alongside them, and seeking therapy when we can when we see the need, which is often the case. Thank you so much, Dr. Amanda Baden, for being with us today to talk about helping our kids heal from past trauma and loss.
Thank you for having me on.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai