Is My Child Normal?
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In spite of the possible abuse, deprivation, neglect, and lack of stimulation in the lives of many children who are available for international adoption, most children from orphanages and from the foster care system can and do adjust well to their new lives. Motivated, aware parents are a wonderful source of information, security, support, and love for a new child. Parents are the one most important educational tool for a child who is being adopted internationally or nationally. (Kincaid, 1997).
What this means is that, in spite of all the possible negative outcomes that might occur due to institutionalization, there are also positive outcomes to placement and adoption that are within a parents power to influence. A childs ability to recover from trauma is heavily based in innate or learned emotional resilience an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.
Creating the Whole Child Teaching Resiliency
Parents can help a child successfully combat the effects of his or her pre-adoptive life by using a team approach. Seeking prompt professional help for the specific medical or psychological issues a child exhibits is extremely important, however, parents can also help to create a whole child at home. A resilient child with coping skills is equipped to overcome many of the effects of trauma, PTSD and institutionalization. Resiliency is an invisible protective shield; the good news is, it is a trait of internal strength that can be taught by parents, and intrinsically developed.
What are Four Traits of a Resilient Child?
A resilient child is socially competent and exhibits empathy, flexibility, and caring. These children understand interpersonal give-and-take and have a sense of humor and a cooperative nature. A resilient child has problem-solving skills and can seek help, plan and look for alternative solutions. They use abstract thinking, can look ahead to the future and are able to delay gratification. Autonomy (ability to act and think independently) and self-esteem empower a resilient child with the ability to bounce back with confidence and faith in personal ability to prevail. Resilient children have a sense of purpose and future. They are hopeful, and own a positive view of reality. Their lives have meaning and a spiritual context, and they have a celebratory nature.
Awareness of the traits that emotionally strengthen a child allows the parent to design daily living activities to teach and reinforce the tasks and skills that build resiliency. To help a child learn problem-solving skills and autonomy, and to develop social competence and a sense of purpose and future, a parent can deliberately include the following into family life:
Assign the child small tasks; break larger tasks down into manageable segments.
Establish simple rules that the child can understand easily; do not make them abstract or complex.
Identify any interests/skills the child has and use them for positive reinforcement. Help the child become open to new experiences.
Notice when the child responds by laughter or makes a joke, then compliment his abilities and responses; agreeableness is a desirable trait in a child. Try to encourage it.
Give the child choices among two or three items, situations, or activities that are
no loss choices (all choices are positive). Then commend the child for choosing, whatever his choice.
When the child has appropriate language skills, ask the child to identify and name the possible choices, and then choose one.
Use play to reinforce problem-solving skills.
Affirm the childs perception of reality.
Introduce new activities consistently, again in small doses.
Help the child find an outside interest or hobby and pursue it.
Celebrate the child and his or her life in any way possible!
Children who gain coping skills and mastery over their environment are building resiliency. It is a trait that empowers a child to deal with childhood trauma, and is key to the healing, therapeutic process. It may take a team of parent, child and professional(s), including a multi-disciplinary approach to bring a post-institutionalized child a positive outcome. Trauma, attachment, sensory, and speech and language work benefit by being addressed simultaneously as part of one whole: the child. The parent is integral to a childs positive outcome, and can support the work of professionals by reinforcing the healing process at home.
Helping Children Heal
Parents can make the home, and the parent-child relationship, an emotionally safe place for recovery and re-growth. They can provide comfort and reassurance for their child, set clear boundaries and maintain routines. In addition, a parent can:
Respect the childs fears (avoid giving the fears too much credit).
Avoid new and challenging tasks; use consistency and repetition.
Monitor and limit exposure to fearful situations.
Increase childs physical outlets.
Give child opportunities to talk about feelings (in limits); listen to and accept the strong feelings of the child.
Expect regression to a degree.
Listen for distortions and misunderstandings, and take the opportunity to offer facts.
Keep anniversary reactions in mind (a child can be affected by abandonment or
adoption dates, birthdays, etc).
Help children focus on images of strength and survival.
A parent who can teach active action-based coping skills, foster resilience, and maintain a healing environment at home can heavily stack the child toward a healthy new beginning. Combating the effects of an international orphanage takes patience and hard work and may also need specialized professional intervention. Strong parental love, commitment, and determination help children who have the ability to attach and love develop positive relationships.
Mary Beth Williams, PhD, LCSW, CTS specializes in the treatment of trauma-based disorders, including those related to disorganized attachment. Dr. Williams was a school social worker for many years and is familiar with special education related issues, as well. She is the author of many trauma-based workbooks and texts, including Life After Trauma (1999) with D. Rosenbloom and The PTSD Workbook (2002) with S. Poijula. She is the parent of seven children. Four of her children were adopted, two of them domestically, and two from Kazakhstan. She has a forthcoming book on Trauma in Adoption from Rutledge Press.
Reprinted from permission of EMK Press, this article appears in the must-read book: Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections.
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