So many of us are left attempting to manage our own disappointment while cleaning up the messes often created in these situations. Emotional messes. Physical messes. Relational messes. So why can’t they just act like all the other kids their age?
Kids from hard places spend most of every day doing the best they can. No one, myself included, wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I hope I get embarrassed today!” “I hope I get in trouble today!” We are all doing the best we can with the skills we have.
In these kids their bodies may have been growing and maturing and they may look 12 years old, they may have had 12 candles on their last birthday cake, but they may actually be 6 years old when it comes to their neurological abilities.
When a child goes through in utero and/ or early childhood trauma their brain is so busy focusing on survival and getting their daily needs met, that significant brain development has been missed. Many studies have discovered that most foster and adopted children are around 6 years behind in their capacity for reasoning, logic, problem solving, social skills, impulse control, deferred gratification & transition skills.
What does this look like in your home?
- A lack of independence
- Difficulty making decisions
- Lack of commitment
- Not many same age friendships
- Missing milestones like potty training
- Inability to sleep alone
- Needing help getting dressed
- Inability to take another’s perspective and resolve conflict
- Appearing to never learn their lesson from consequences
- Difficulty waiting (for their turn, for a reward, for presents, for special events)
- Conflict during transitions out of preferred activities. For example, “childish meltdowns” when it’s time to go to school or after recess or at bedtime. Even for teens this may look like a meltdown when needing to wrap up a social event or at bedtime.
How Do I Know If This Is What Is Going On With My Child?
The first step would be to step back for a week and spend some time observing your child or teen. Even create a journal to help you record some of their behaviors. Look at a few of the following topics and see how they are doing…
- Communication: How well does your child listen, understand and express their thoughts and feelings? Think about not only their speech, but also how well they understand what they read and communicate through their writing.
- Daily Living Skills: How well does your child do at taking care of themselves? Are they at an age appropriate level?
- Eating & Preparing Simple Foods
- Bathing, Grooming & Personal Hygiene
- Dressing (picking out clothes, dressing self, changing dirty clothes)
- Toileting (toilet trained, proper hygiene and avoiding accidents)
- Household chores (maybe they don’t want to, but do they know how?)
- Socialization: How well does your child interact with same age kids or adults?
- Do they share or help others when appropriate?
- How do they behave when around aggressive peers?
- How do they respond to helpful suggestions from others?
- Do they demonstrate appropriate concern or happiness for others?
- Do they initiate appropriate social interaction with others?
- Do they manage frustration well when disappointed?
- Do they act appropriately different with people depending on familiarity?
- Motor Skills: How well does your child perform task requiring fine & gross motor skills? For example, jumping, running, throwing, standing, writing, cutting, etc.
For a great example of milestones matched with age expectations check out this list: Self-care Developmental Chart
If you are thinking that you want to pursue some psychological testing for your child, one of the most common tests used is the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales Third Edition. If you are looking at starting an IEP process for your child you will want to make sure this is one of the tests used to measure how they are doing with their milestones.
In this process of assessment, either on your own at home, or as you partner with a professional (school psychologist, neuropsychologist, occupational therapist, family therapist, etc) you will want to think through, what needs haven’t been met for your child. Where were they too focused on survival and didn’t have the brain energy for skill development? When in doubt, if you didn’t teach your child something don’t assume they know it and work with them on skill development.
No matter what the age of your child when they move in or when you start to recognize their delays, you can become their coach. We tend to be more sympathetic to children when we can see the disability. If they are in a wheelchair, or if they are blind we are much more gracious and accommodating. The challenge with our kids is that their disability is hidden. Deep within their brain folds they are missing some pathways and we can err on the side of assuming they are manipulative or being babies. I will hear a lot of the time caregivers complaining of a child that is “so attention seeking”. Yes, they may really be searching for your attention. They may really be looking for your support and help. They need it. They need to learn and they need to connect. This is your moment to be there for them.
Never turn away a child coming to you. Don’t say, “You are too big for ____” They are not too big for your help. Their brain will only be able to develop when they feel safe and are involved in loving and trusting interactions. When they demonstrate a skill deficit or need, celebrate it and meet it. Celebrate that they came to you. Coach them on the skill they need to learn. This will build true connection and growth in your home.
For the past eight years Trish has been a foster parent to a group of 7 brothers and sisters, with her best friend, Roy. They are both child therapists, but inviting this family into their home was a whole new world! She wrote / narrated a book about their journey, The Call to Love. It is available on Amazon, Audible & iTunes. She has a Masters in Counseling Psychology, and she is an LCPC in Illinois with a certification in the treatment of child trauma (AAETS). Check out her website at www.trishjonker.com to read her blog, for more information on her book or to schedule parent coaching sessions for yourself.