Helping Our Children Grieve Their Losses

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Youth being comforted on couch

Grief and Loss are two of the Seven Core Issues in Adoption that we discuss in Permanency and Adoption Competency training. A lot of our children’s behaviors can be a result of unresolved grief and loss. We find it hard to address grief and loss because it will result in our children experiencing painful feelings all over again. By not addressing it, are we really stopping the pain? NO, we are just avoiding it. Our children feel grief and loss, and they are unable to describe how they feel, and may act out instead.

As stated in the Seven Core Issues in Adoption and Permanency by Sharon Kaplain Roszia and Allison Davis Maxon, “Loss begins the journey. It is crisis and/or trauma that creates the circumstances that lead to the necessity of adoption and permanency. Adoption and permanency losses are too often left un-named, un-acknowledged, and un-grieved.” These struggles with loss and grief can come out in forms of poor behavior or choices from our children. So how do can we help?

Jae Ran Kim gives some suggestions on how to help our children grieve these losses in an article “Ambiguous Loss Haunts Foster and Adopted Children”. The suggestions are:

• Help your child identify what they have lost. Some examples include birthparents, extended family members, old friends, an old neighborhood, their home, people who share their name, their home country, their native language, etc.
• Give voice to the ambiguity. Acknowledge and validate your child if they express feelings of loss. Show that you understand and sympathize.
• Redefine the parameters of what constitutes family. Family has some ambiguous boundaries, and can include a close family friend.
• Give your child permission to grieve the loss of birth parents without guilt. Express times, places and ways your child can express their grief. Some examples can be talking, journaling, drawing or venting feelings through exercise.
• Create a “loss box.” Debbie Riley, a therapist and author who works with adopted teens, guides clients as they decorate a box into which they can put items that represent things they have lost. By creating the box, youth participate in a ritual that acknowledges their loss, and construct a controlled vehicle for revisiting their losses in the future.
• Include birth parents and other birth family members in pictorial representations of the adoptive family tree. One option would be to depict an orchard where trees grow side by side. The birth family, former foster families, or other significant people in their life can be other trees in the same family orchard.
• Be conscious of how certain events, such as birthdays, holidays, adoption day, etc –may trigger intense feelings of loss. Add or alter family rituals to respect the child’s feelings. An example may be on birthdays add an extra candle to the cake in memory of the birth family or say something like “I bet your birth mom and dad are thinking about you today.”
• Keep your expectations reasonable. Let your child know feelings related to these losses will come and go at different times in his/her life. Be a safe person to whom they can express those feelings.
• Model normal, healthy responses to loss. If you or your parenting partner suffers a loss, share your feelings openly. Let your children see you mourn, so they can learn how you express sadness and anger about loss.

Behaviors when struggling with loss can become more apparent when children approach adolescence. Missing pieces of their history make developing a healthy identity a challenge. We can assist them by helping them to understand they are their own person with their own set of strengths and gifts. Working through and grieving their losses give them a better chance at creating a healthy relationship with you and with everyone they meet.

Challenge yourself today to help your child grieve their losses. The feelings are there anyway so help them learn how to handle and grieve their losses in a healthy way.

 

This blog post was written by Post Adopt Coordinator and adoptive mom superstar, Sherie Madewell-Buesgens, LBSW.

A Thousand Yes’s

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One of the best ways to help our children who come from hard places learn to trust and bond with us is through connected parenting.  The Empowered to Connect Conference brings to light many techniques and suggestions to do just that.  One of those ideas is a thousand “yes’s.”  When you have a biological child you spend a lot of time that first year or two: holding, feeding, snuggling and looking into the eyes of that baby telling them how much you love them and how precious they are to you.  The infant we had since birth was told yes over and over.  Every time they cried, we changed them, fed them, cuddled, rocked or snuggled them.  A child from hard places may not have had that precious time.

Yes.  Vector Illustration

So how do we build that trust with a child who did not have a thousand yes’s?  A child who did not know we would move heaven and earth to meet their every need — say “yes” as often as you can.  Be intentional.  Every time you think about saying “no”, ask yourself, “can I give my child a yes instead?” Many times we say “no” out of convenience, selfishness or we did not even really think about or consider saying “yes.”  The more “yes’s” I can give my child, the better my child will respond, and the more able we are to connect.  We cannot always give “yes’s” but the more often we do the easier it seems they can accept the “no.”  An example of saying “yes” when you would typically say “no” might be when your child reaches for a snack 10 minutes before dinner, instead of saying “no”, try saying, “let’s put that next to your plate and you can have it once you have finished your supper.” That “yes” meets her need as well as yours.  She gets her need met and you get one more deposit in your trust account.

 

By Sherie Madewell-Buesgens, LBSW

Self-Care

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Woman is having the morning coffee at home

How important is self-care?  When you are a parent, self-care is a requirement.

Did you catch that? A REQUIREMENT! 🙂

Now that the kids are back in school hopefully you have a little more time in your schedule, if not you may just have to carve out the time.  If you struggle to find the time, wake up 15 minutes earlier or stay up 15 minutes later, put it in a your calendar just like an appointment, do some self-care over your lunch or while the kids are napping.  Self-care does not have to take a lot of time it just has to be something that gives you a break, is done on a regular basis and helps you re-energize.

 

There are many different types of self-care:

  • Physical – moving your body such as going for a walk, a run, dancing, yoga, bike riding or any physical movement you enjoy.
  • Emotional – honoring the way you are feeling that day- expressing your feelings in a journal, listening to your favorite music, talking with someone and sharing your thoughts and feelings.
  • Spiritual – doing something good for your soul such as making a gratitude list, writing a thank you note, practicing positive self-talk.
  • Personal- spending some time doing a hobby you enjoy such as reading, knitting, baking.
  • Social – spending quality time with someone such as meeting a friend for coffee, watching a movie and eating popcorn with your spouse after the kids have gone to bed, calling a friend.
  • Household – cleaning and organizing a room, closet or even a drawer.
  • Pampering- treating yourself by having your nails done, buying a special treat, enjoying a bubble bath or massage.

There are so many ways we can help ourselves feel better and live healthier, less stressful lives.  If you are treating yourself with love and kindness, you will respond to your kids and spouse in a kinder more loving manner as well.  Self-care is a requirement not an elective.  Challenge yourself to start today.

This blog post was written by Sherie Madewell-Buesgens, Post Adopt Coordinator

Trauma-Informed Schools

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With school beginning, some students may be excited to return, while others may be anxious about the
transition. A child who has experienced trauma may view aspects and tasks included in the school environment as a
trigger. In 2018, more than two thirds of children reported at least 1 traumatic event by age 16, contributing to the
research showing children who have experienced trauma may find it more challenging than their peers to pay attention,
process new information, and some may even develop sensory processing difficulties which can contribute to problems in
writing and reading.

First, let’s take a quick look at trauma and the body. Every human being has an alarm system in their body that is
designed to keep them safe from harm. When activated, by an event or series of events, this tool prepares the body to
fight, flight, or freeze. When a child experiences such toxic stress the brain goes into overdrive and is in “survival mode”.
As a result, behaviors, stemming from the trauma can reflect inside and outside the classroom. These symptoms of
traumatic stress may present differently in each child and at different developmental stages. Examples of traumatic
symptoms include, struggling to pay attention, difficulty processing new information, and sensory processing difficulties
which can contribute to problems in writing and reading.

Risk concept on speedometer. Vector icon

As a response to trauma and the effects it has on the brain, trauma-informed schools (TIS) intentionally create
policies and practices sensitive to the needs of traumatized students and work to create learning environments where
everyone feels safe and supported. In the documentary Paper Tigers, Jim Sporleder, Principal at Lincoln High School
in Walla Walla Washington and pioneer of TIS, explains “behavior isn’t the kid, behavior is a symptom of something
going on in their life”. Sporleder took this approach and provided TIS training to all school staff. He then implemented
the trauma training to the school by changing policies and procedures. For example, the school stopped suspensions for
minor infractions, shortened the length of suspension or in-school suspensions, and implemented a restorative justice
approach and modeled forgiveness by mediating before coming to expulsion. What the school found was there was a
90% decrease in suspensions, 75% decrease in fights, and a 5 fold increase in graduation rates.

Establishing TIS is not an easy feat as it involves a mind-shift by teachers, administrators, and other school staff.
It also requires changes to transform school culture, build a supporting infrastructure, and alter curriculum content and
interventions. Trauma-informed schools offer educators tools and strategies to identify, address, and manage traumatic
stress symptoms and support overall educational achievement. A trauma-informed approach to misbehavior will help
educator’s move away from reflexive discipline, which can be re-traumatizing for students, and move towards responses
that help students learn to cope with their feelings by building resilience trough acknowledging the trauma,
understanding its triggers, and avoiding stigmatizing and punishing students. When educators are less inclined to send a
child to the office, seclude, or punish, it speaks to their capacity and commitment to support all children socially,
emotionally, behaviorally, and academically. Accordingly, educators will learn to ask “what happened to you?” rather
than “what’s wrong with you?”

HOW YOU CAN HELP:
Foster and adoptive parents are familiar and skilled in regards to children and trauma and can advocate for the
child and push for education reform in your community. Two great resources offer templates for adoptive/foster parents
to provide to teachers and administrators at the beginning of the year. By acknowledging how scholastic experience can
influence mental health and understanding the impact of mental health in all developmental domains and applying it to
how children are educated leads to more beneficial educational outcomes for everyone.

 

This blog post was written by Bailey Kitko, LBSW,  Adoption Specialist @ Adults Adopting Special Kids

 

Sources:
“Trauma-Informed Schools.” Ohio Department of Education, June 2019, education.ohio.gov/Topics/Student-Supports/
PBIS-Resources/Trauma-Informed-Schools.
“Creating, Supporting, and Sustaining Trauma-Informed Schools: A System Framework.” The National Child Traumatic Stress Network,
3 Oct. 2018, www.nctsn.org/resources/creating-supporting-and-sustaining-trauma-informed-schools-system-framework.

 

 

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