Am I Contributing to My Child’s Trauma?

I know that is a difficult question. What parent, especially an adoptive or foster parent, wants criticism. We all, or most of us, parent the best we can. We are flawed people called to invest in children to help them grow up to be successful adults.

And if we are blessed to have foster or adoptive children, we are also called to help them heal from the past trauma experienced in their lives.

Yet far too often I parent as if I forgot the trauma my son has experienced.

It’s a well-known and documented fact now that all foster and adopted children endure trauma, even children adopted the day of their birth. Sadly, too many of these children suffer years of trauma.

Studies now show that many foster children suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, commonly associated with combat experienced soldiers.

Children in the foster care system endure many traumatic experiences. These experiences may include the trauma that caused their removal from the home, the trauma of separation from their families, and the potential trauma involved with numerous removals and placements in out-of-home care (Racusin, Maerlender, Sengupta, Isquith, & Straus, 2005). As a result of trauma exposure and several other factors, including the severity and repetition of the trauma, proximity to the trauma, and their relationship with the victim (if they are not the victim themselves), children may be at risk for developing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or “PTSD” (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2011).
It is not surprising that over 21% of foster care alumni suffer from PTSD, a staggering rate that is higher than that of U.S. war veterans (Pecora et al., 2005).

-both quotes from

One big difference between a child in a traumatic environment versus a soldier in combat…the child’s environment was meant to be safe; the soldier trained to go into battle. The child’s defenses initially were down while the soldier’s was on high alert. Of course after time, the traumatized child is on high alert as well.

Here are symptoms of PTSD according to U.S. Dept of Veteran Affairs:

  1. Reliving the event (also called re-experiencing symptoms)

Memories of the traumatic event can come back at any time. You may feel the same fear and horror you did when the event took place.

    2.   Avoiding situations that remind you of the event

You may try to avoid situations or people who trigger memories of the traumatic event. You may even avoid talking or thinking about the event.

    3.   Negative changes in beliefs and feelings

The way you think about yourself and others changes because of the trauma.

    4.   Feeling keyed up (also called hyperarousal)

You may be jittery, or always alert and on the lookout for danger. You might suddenly become angry or irritable. This is known as hyperarousal.

(follow the link above to get a more detailed list)

Am I contributing to my child’s trauma?

When I read that list, I see a lot of these behaviors in my son. I am not sure if he has PTSD, but my question is, “Am I contributing to his trauma?”

I am sensitive to my son’s traumatic history, yet I still find myself doing things that create a stressful environment, such as:

  • Impatience
  • Yelling
  • Over-reaction to a lack of response
  • Punitive correction

Too often I forget the trauma he faced. I expect him to not relive the trauma, respond to triggers, struggle with relationship, or be hyper-aroused.

The more I remember his history, not to coddle or over-compensate, but rather to mindfully offer a safe, understanding environment, the better I can help him heal.

If you are a foster or adoptive parent, please share your thoughts; especially ways you help and not hinder your child’s healing.

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I am a longtime Austinite. Married my beautiful wife over 25 years ago. Adopted our son September 2012. Currently a writer and loving it. Previous jobs and careers include project management, missionary, and pastor. I enjoy sports (both watching and playing), traveling, reading, digging in dirt and hanging with my friends and family.

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4 thoughts on “Am I Contributing to My Child’s Trauma?

  1. I try to be an informed parent… to a really involved level. I do “lose it” on my adopted teenager from time to time though. Part of it is that I didn’t get her until she was 11 (she’s 17 now), and not permanent until last year. So being older, and the instability for legal reasons with is at first make the trauma de-programming really hard. But to her credit she is trying soooo hard. As am i. And one thing she and I both try to do, and keep each other in check on, is to he kind to ourselves in all this. To recognize that we’re both trying to do something really, really hard.

  2. I have been guilty of adding to my child’s trauma. Thankfully I can say it was before I understood trauma and things are different now. One way to help your child is to empathize with them no matter how trivial the issue may appear. Nurture them by doing things like packing snacks when you are running errands so your child can relax, knowing there is food when he gets hungry. Give your child a journal and have him draw or write what he is feeling. Rather than talking face to face you can converse about tough subjects via the journal.