Too many children are mis-diagnosed as hyper active with attention deficits when the real problem is hyper vigilance caused by early childhood trauma. How can we tell the difference? When we see useless movement, such as tapping, it fits with the hyperactive label. The body is discharging extra energy. When the activity is more like how a dear eats (one bite..check for cougar..one bite check again..repeat) then what we are seeing is hyper vigilance. With hyper vigilance they watch everything around them and trust no one or few. It would be nearly impossible to listen to a teacher while expecting a puma to pounce every second!
To heal, the child must FEEL safe! The brain can then begin the healing process. What scares our kids? Rejection is number one on the list for adopted children. They have suffered the ultimate rejection and primal wound and don’t want to endure it again. Parents who threaten “If you do (such and such) you will have to leave or…we will send you to….” Children in Foster care or any temporary placement have constant fear surrounding them. Even after the adoption is final anyone knocking on the door that even looks like a social worker can create days and nights of terror for a child who has been “moved” from a home by one.
We create that essential sense of security with strong loving leadership and by helping them to feel they BELONG. They need to feel that they are loved and an important part of the family.
What does strong loving leadership look like and why is it vital for children who start out with trauma? Imagine with me for a moment that you and I are going on a safari to the darkest jungles of Africa. We have saved up and have all our gear and supplies. As we de-plane we are met by the guide we have hired because neither you nor I have been here before. We load up in the jeep and drive to the edge of the jungle. As our guide approaches the thicket, he looks back at us and asks “Which way do you want to go?” How would you feel right then? I would be afraid, wouldn’t you? I assumed HE knew which way to go. I would be clueless to choose a route where I have never been before. Scary, stressful situation!!
It is the same with our children. They have never walked this path before. We have! We should be leading until the child is stronger with self control and some logic and reasoning going on in the brain. The first few weeks (or months) I work with an emotionally disturbed child I give them no choices (What do you want for lunch? Which game do you want play? Which way do you want to go?) I give clear directions, not requests and NOT choices. I say ” Hop in there and brush your teeth. Come with me. Sit here, it is art time. Go put your shoes on. No.” I am their guide through the jungle of life. I tread boldly so they can follow securely. Once the healing of the brain starts to move forward I add in choices and requests using the Love and Logic parenting program. It is the gold standard of parenting.
Equally as vital are healing hugs!! A hug (opening your arms and pulling someone to your heart) is TOTAL acceptance. Massive research on hugs prove they are powerful heart healing medicine. Give them their heart medicine!!
Our traumatized children’s brains have some major healing to do. They act the way they act because of that de-railmen of the brain from too much fear. Let’s start the healing process so they can have a happy life and not constantly live watching for the cougar! Then we can relax too!
Be sure to read my blog on feeling safe at night as well HERE!