Let’s face it, trauma is difficult. It’s difficult knowing our kiddos have a trauma history they had no control over. It’s difficult knowing that you cannot take away the trauma they’ve experienced, and you cannot wish it away. It can be difficult deciphering when to address these difficult pieces of your child’s history with them. You may have wondered what to share and when to share your child’s history with them. You may have even found yourself contemplating whether it’s necessary to share all of the details of their trauma history with them.
These worries and concerns that you may struggle with are valid. Parents, you may find yourself wanting to protect your child. You may want to guard them and worry if bringing up their history may re-traumatize them. This fear comes from the deep love you have for your child. It’s no fault to you for wanting the absolute best for your child. The truth is, your child needs to know their trauma history. Talking with your child about the truths of their trauma history allows your child to grow in their identity of who they are. When determining when and how to have these conversations, consider the age and developmental stage of your child, ensure you’re familiar with your child’s trauma story, and plan what you are going to say.
It’s important to consider your child’s age and where they are developmentally and their readiness when deciding when to talk about their trauma history. Natural instinct may be to talk with your child when they are a teen. However, it may be more beneficial to share the difficult points of your child’s trauma history when they are younger, and here’s why. Teens are trying to figure out what their identity is, which is based on what they know up to this point. Teens are trying to decipher who they are in relation to what they know of their world up to this point and how they fit in. Adding their trauma history at a point where there is already so much questioning and deciphering, which can be seen in adolescent years, can become problematic and adds an entirely new layer to sort through. Because of the large amount of change that does happen during adolescent years, it may be beneficial to tell your child their history prior to adolescence. You may have conversations throughout the early childhood years, which is great. It’s never too early to share this information, as long as the information is developmentally appropriate. Holly van Gulden, author of Real Parents, Real Children and an adoption counselor, has encouraged parents to share a child’s full trauma history between the ages of 9 – 12 years of age, so children can address issues, feelings, and concerns before the changes that occur during adolescence. Children in this age group may be more open to receive support from their parents, as opposed to children in their adolescent years. There is also more time to mull through this history with parents, instead of trying to make sense before transitioning to the next chapter of their life. Evaluating your child’s readiness is necessary to also consider. Decipher where your child’s sense of self image is and their ability to process information cognitively and emotionally. Determining where your child may be and how they’re able to process information may help navigate what pieces you’re able to share, as well as the language you’re able to use while sharing their trauma history with your child.
Become familiar with your child’s trauma history and the language that surrounds it. Read through the documents that were provided to you during the adoption process. If you have any questions regarding what you’ve read, reach out to the adoption agency you worked through for more clarification. Understand that you might not be able to gather all the pieces from your child’s history.
Plan what you’re going to share with your child and plan to use words and concepts that are developmentally appropriate. Be open and honest, sharing information you know to be true. Reverting to an earlier point, you may not know all pieces of information regarding their history. It’s better for your child to hear that you do not know the entirety of their history instead of filling in gaps that you’re unsure of. Your child may have questions right away, or need time to process and may come with questions at a later time. Explain they can ask questions at any time, even if it’s long into the future. If you need assistance in planning what or how to share, reach out to your Post Adopt Coordinator – we are here to support you through this process!
Navigating through this tough subject can be difficult and filled with emotion. Finding the best time, the best approach, and the right words to say can be difficult. It’s ok for you as a parent and for your child to process through this with a therapist with specialized training in working through these tough situations. Reach out to your Post Adopt Coordinator for assistance for this as well. We are always happy and ready to help!
Resources that may be valuable in this subject matter include:
This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator, Darcy Solem, LBSW