Why Won’t Your Foster or Adopted Child Look You in the Eyes?

It Might Be the Key to Why They Resist Your Love

My son is just now beginning to look me in the eyes when I talk to him. He is almost seven and has been in our family for six years. Sometimes I gently hold his cheek and ask him to look at me. He seems to try, but he looks at the ceiling, to either side, glances at my eyes for a split second, then quickly looks away.

I feel sadness rather than anger or frustration. My father heart longs for his trust; for him to feel safe with me.

As I said, he is looking into my eyes now more than he ever has, and when he does, I try to hold his eyes for as long as he will let me.

Do you find it hard to look into someone else’s eyes?

To look fully into the eyes of another person takes vulnerable courage. It’s like we can see into the other person’s soul as they pear into ours.

Sometimes the reason a person won’t look you in the eye is they feel guilty or did something wrong. But more often the reason is…FEAR.

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Why Does Your Foster or Adopted Child Reject Your Love?

It is a scene that plays out in foster and adoptive families over and over. Parents tearfully share stories about the children they welcome into their families rejecting their love. It’s especially painful when, no matter the child’s age, they stiff-arm every effort a parent gives to help them feel loved and find healing.

This past Sunday the pastor at my church quoted from a book by Dr. David Benner—Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality (Spiritual Journey). First as I listened, I identified in my own life the ways I struggle with surrendering to love. Then I began to listen through the lens of my experience as a foster and adoptive dad.

I bought the book and began reading, and I can see clearly how many of my son’s actions—His high need for control; his overly cautious tendencies; his need to be with one of us all the time, yet struggling with trusting us with his deepest thoughts; His desire to be the center of attention and to always be right, the first, and the best—point to one thing.

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Who Is Supposed to Fight the Bad Guys?

Our now five-year-old son is like any boy that age I suppose. He likes to build things, explore, play with cars and legos…and fight bad guys.

It’s not that big of a deal, but some days or days on end, it is his choice of play. It goes beyond just playing make believe. I think he really feels a need to fight bad guys.

I notice that he “fights bad guys” when he is uneasy about his environment, such as, anywhere new, noisy, or anywhere or anyone that unsettles him. Instead of just playing chase or some other usual kid’s game, he assumes the role of protector. He has to fight the bad guys, whether they are other kids, me, or some made up villain.

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When Survival Instinct Encounters Love

Any person who has suffered trauma, abuse, neglect, abandonment, etc. learns how to survive. This is especially true if their experience is chronic or ongoing. Even though it doesn’t always look the same, we all have the will to survive. Some shut down, pull in, and seal themselves off from the world trying to protect themselves the best they can.

Others run. Physically or emotionally run away from any perceived danger. Then there are those who fight. They lash out with their fists or words, angrily striking first hoping to avoid anymore pain.

When a family brings a child into their home, either to foster or to adopt, they need to know that they are bringing a child in that is in survival mode. This is true even if the child is only a few months old. And, as they grow older, even if the abuse or trauma was years before, they will implicitly react to perceived danger much more strongly than a child who has not experienced trauma.

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5 Things that Happen When God Has All of me

Does God really want all of me. This question challenges me. Surely God doesn’t expect to have all of me. Don’t I have free will? And my free will is to have some of my time, money, etc. for myself. Didn’t God just set things in motion for us to enjoy our lives however we want to live them?

Occasionally I meet someone who carries a sense of confidence and success that doesn’t come from themselves. It’s a sense of destiny. It’s as if God’s favor rests on them. They exude humility and peace that makes another comfortable in their midst. What they carry attracts others.

Do you know anyone like this?

I know the source, but I think I know why some who call themselves Christians carry this while so many don’t.

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Why Your Child Pushes You Away

The Trauma Dance

Some days, when our son is having a good day, I easily forget that he experienced trauma as a baby. Then…he bangs his head, skins his knee or maybe breaks a toy. And I see what we now call the trauma dance.

It begins with him running toward me or Danielle. We wait with sad faces and anticipation of comforting him. But he doesn’t make it to our outstretched arms. He suddenly veers off and runs in crazy circles crying as if he is looking for the one thing that will comfort him yet not really sure what he is looking for or where to find it.

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Understanding How Transitions Affect my Son

3 Types of Transitions

My adopted son just completed his second year of preschool. A few weeks ago some coping behavior resurfaced—chewing on his shirt, separation anxiety, etc. Danielle and I struggled to find the cause. Then on the way to his next to last day of school, he asked Danielle, “What if my teacher next year doesn’t love me?”

Photo Credit: TheaBredie via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: TheaBredie via Compfight cc

We then understood that this was most likely the cause of his behavior. I knew most kids ramp up at the end of the school year and wonder what the next year will bring. But this took me a little by surprise.

Honestly, I was frustrated by his regressed behavior especially his separation anxiety. I had to breathe deeply when he clung to my leg instead of going into his classroom or when he didn’t want me to leave the house. Part of the frustration was me not understanding the cause. I really shouldn’t need to always understand the cause. I know sometimes I never will understand. But it helps.

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How to Overcome Fear by Taking Risks

Seems counter-intuitive. Isn’t risk taking what causes fear? Hmm…maybe not. Maybe the fear of the outcome is what keeps us from taking risk, not the risk itself.

Photo Credit: hdeb89 via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: hdeb89 via Compfight cc

I don’t consider myself a natural risk taker. For example the few times I have snow skied I resist going too fast with every bit of my mind and body. I don’t take the risk of trusting my equipment and ability. What ends up happening is a less than enjoyable experience and some extremely sore muscles. And, I probably have more “yard sales” (a crash where my skis go one way, my hat, goggles, and gloves go another way, and I am sprawled out all over the side of the mountain) than if I would just let go and ski!

What am I afraid of? Not the risk. I am afraid of losing control and crashing into a tree or flying off the side of mountain. Sure, some respectful fear of those things is proper, but…

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Understanding How Fear Impacts a Child

What do you do when you are afraid? Do you ball up your fists ready to fight? Or maybe you take off running as fast you can to get away from the danger. Perhaps you freeze not able to move a muscle or think rationally.

What if you experienced chronic fear putting you on a constant state of alert? Would you be able to handle even the most basic tasks of life? How well would you relate to others? Could you even contemplate making plans for the future besides how you can survive?

Often we identify bad behavior in a child as hyper-activity or defiance when in fact it might be hyper-vigilance or fear driven.

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Why Should They Have to Overcome Their Fear?

Sally wrote a letter to the Executive Director of Partners in Hope Lake Travis after several volunteers worked at her home. She is a collector of what some might call junk. But to her it is a source of income.

Here is how a part of her letter reads:

The thought of 20 people who I never met before were all going to be mad at me or think I was rude or unappreciative and just wanted to collect junk. And then they would be telling all their friends about it and oh my gosh what an embarrassing terrible mess this would turn into…Sally

Her fear was real. She lived in fear of judgment and rejection. Many who live in isolation, poverty, depression or (fill in the blank) live in fear of how others will receive them.

Sally overcame her fear and agreed to allow the volunteers to work at her home.

Read more of her letter:

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