Whether a child has been in the foster system for years or was adopted as a toddler, they may have suffered from trauma. It’s up to adoptive parents and caregivers to develop the skills and tools necessary to handle these special trauma survivors. Below are five tips for parenting an adopted child who has been traumatized.
- Be informed. While you may not get all the information you want, it’s important that you collect as much information as possible about your adopted child’s history. Were they abused? Were they born with alcohol or drugs in their system? Did they witness violence firsthand? What type of emotional and psychological challenges do they face? By getting this information now, you can seek out the specialized help you will inevitably need as you parent your adopted child.
- Create a safe place. It is absolutely essential that you create a safe space for your adopted child to grow. This could mean moving to a neighborhood with less crime and keeping violent media out of your home. It could also mean carefully selecting caregivers for your child—requiring a criminal background check and other investigations into the person’s character before you allow them access to your adopted child. You must also communicate to your child (especially if they’ve experienced trauma) that you are safe. When your child acts out, avoid saying or doing anything that will indicate that their behavior will make you stop loving them.
- Be watchful. Any child who has been traumatized may be triggered by anything—certain smells, people, colors, weather, or even holidays. Try to figure out what your adopted child’s triggers are, and then work to minimize them. If your adopted child’s trauma begins to affect their life—making them unable to do homework, make new friend, or properly relate to other children or adults in the household—you should reach out to a trauma counselor to help guide your family through the process.
- Family integration. Fully integrate your child into your family. They should be included in family photos, family events, and given access to the same amount of resources as the other children in the household. This will help them feel that their new family is real and permanent. Even if your adopted child is a trauma survivor often triggered or agitated, don’t dish out different discipline for them than you would your other children. And most importantly, don’t isolate your adopted child from your other children. Obviously, if your adopted child is harming other children in the household, you must take immediate action to protect those children while seeking therapy for the traumatized child.
- Encourage remembering. Many parents make the mistake of believing that their adopted children are better off if they forget the past. But the truth is that even a traumatized child has positive memories of their former family. You should never discourage that remembering. Allow the child to remember positive things about their biological family, even if that family is no longer allowed to contact with the child.
Making the transition into an adopted family is tough for any child, but it’s especially tough for a child who has experienced trauma. Be patient, compassionate, and allow the child to move at their own pace.