Healing Hearts

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. Foster and adoptive parents play a crucial role in healing the hearts of abused and neglected children. Every child in foster care has been exposed to some form of trauma. The very act of being placed in foster care disrupts their sense of security and familiarity. Trauma affects children’s brains, bodies, behavior, and ways of thinking. It disrupts their sense of safety, altering their responses to people and situations. Research reveals how maltreatment changes brain structure and chemical activity, influencing emotional and behavioral functioning. Understanding these biological aspects helps foster and adoptive parents provide effective support and parenting. Below is a list of strategies foster and adoptive parents can use in their journey to heal the hearts of the children in their lives. Foster and adoptive parents are unsung heroes, providing stability, love, and healing to children who have endured unimaginable pain.

Strategies that can help you and your child adjust to trauma’s effect (from healthychildren.org):

  • Learn to notice and avoid (or lessen) “triggers.” Find out what distracts or makes your child anxious. Work to lessen these things.
  • Set up routines for your child (for the day, for meals, for bedtime) so they know what to expect.
  • Give your child a sense of control through simple choices. Respect your child’s decisions.
  • Do not take your child’s behaviors personally.
  • Try to stay calm. Find ways to respond to outbursts that do not make things worse. Lower your voice. Do not yell or show aggression. Do not stare or look directly at your child for too long. Some children see this as a threat.
  • Remain available and responsive when your child keeps you at a distance.
  • Avoid discipline that uses physical punishment. For a child who was abused, this may cause panic and out-of-control behavior.
  • Let your child feel the way they feel. Teach your child words to describe their feelings when they are calm, words they can use when they get upset. Show acceptable ways for them to deal with feelings. Then, praise them for expressing their feelings or calming down.
  • Be consistent, predictable, caring, and patient. Over time, this shows your child that others can be trusted to stay with them and help them. It may have taken years of trauma or abuse to get the child in their current state of mind. Learning to trust again is not likely to happen overnight—or anytime soon.
  • Ask for help whenever you have concerns, questions, or are struggling. Pediatricians, developmental specialists, and therapists can suggest ideas why your child reacts in certain ways, and effective responses. Sometimes medications, used appropriately, will help to manage symptoms and make learning new ways possible.