OUR VOICES: TOUCHING TRAUMA AT ITS HEART

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Reaching the Teacher

Dear Teacher: I adopted my daughter through foster care. Her birth parents were addicts, and she experienced neglect and abuse in her early years. No one answered  her cries on a regular basis; no one consistent changed her when her diaper was wet or fed her when she got hungry. Because of these experiences, she formed Reactive Attachment Disorder*. My daughter’s brain has developed differently than a typical child’s–it has

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Christmas Spaghetti

Dinner is served A couple days before Christmas, I make spaghetti sauce. On Christmas afternoon, I move the pot of sauce from our refrigerator to the range and warm it while preparing pasta from a blue box. Matt slices grocery store bread. The tradition of “Christmas Spaghetti” may not be the tradition our kids are looking forward to, but it is a tradition. They do enjoy it and it simplifies

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The Greatest Christmas Gift

A few years ago, my parents flew out from Wisconsin to visit for Christmas. Because they only make it out to California to see us twice a year, and we make it to Wisconsin to visit them even less, it was a pretty big deal. Holidays were hard When we adopted our daughter through foster care eight years ago, having visitors at this time of year was unthinkable. To avoid

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Christmas Reinvented: The 12 Days of Connection

Relationships or things? Which one are you focusing upon this holiday season? To be honest, my family’s first Christmas 20 years ago was over-stimulating. An emotional roller coaster. My six adopted children unwrapped one gift after another – many from people they hardly knew. The following morning, the drama began. Fighting over each other’s toys and games. Arguing for no reason. Seeking control rather than enjoying the moment. In their

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Groundhog Day on Thanksgiving

The problem? Thanksgiving didn’t feel the same Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. I have a relatively small family and since I wasn’t raised with religion, Thanksgiving was the main holiday where everyone all came together for a festive meal. This gave me a sense of family deep in my heart. I took it hard when my sister, Amanda, got married over twenty years ago, and agreed to spend

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The Attachment Effect

When TarcherPerigee offered to send me Peter Lovenheim’s The Attachment Effect: Exploring the Powerful Ways Our Earliest Bond Shapes Our Relationships and Lives so I could review it for the ATN blog, I had two sets of contradictory hopes and fears. One was that I’d see my child in it. The other was that I’d see myself. This just about always happens when I read books like this. The question is usually not

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A New Phase, Part II: Moving On

Last week on the blog, I told you a little about what life was like with my son with complex early trauma. I talked about the lying, the stealing, the fear, the things we did to protect ourselves and him. And I told you that once he turned 18, he outright rejected what he’d always resisted–our family rules and expectations. Here’s what happened next and what, so far, moving on has

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A New Phase in Life–Part I

I have moved into a new phase in life, especially my parenting life. My last child has moved out of the house. Another child visited for the summer, so we didn’t experience a true empty nest immediately. Yet it is still a new phase–the child who moved out last was our child with an alphabet soup of diagnoses. He suffered complex early trauma. Life with this child was never easy.

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Giving Ourselves and Others a Break

Time to take a break. Friendly neighborhood blog manager here. Life is doing that thing right now where it dumps a heap of overwhelm. Yet I want to preserve what’s left of my sanity. And I want to continue the string of (hopefully!) helpful posts on the ATN blog. Therefore I am taking a couple weeks off to get my ducks back in a row. The ATN blog will be

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ACEs and Toxic Stress: How We Can Heal Children’s Brains

As a trauma and emotion-centered psychotherapist, I am relieved that children are now being screened for toxic stress. Thinking about mental health as a byproduct of a child’s environment is an important addition to current thinking on how to improve children’s wellbeing. Rushing to diagnose a child with a potentially stigmatizing label, incorrectly blaming “defective” brain chemistry, resorting to unnecessary and sometimes toxic medications, and carrying out punishments do not

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Paying Attention: The Most Exhausting Part of Parenting with ACEs!

[Original version published at ACEs Too High, May 26, 2016] Self-care? What’s that? I used to sneak away for a hot bath as often as possible when my daughter was in the need-me-every-minute years. I’d soak long past when the water went cold and I felt guilty at times but sometimes I needed to be alone. To read poetry. To have some physical space. To exhale. I didn’t always know where

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Dear Educator, Part III

Dear educator, Here we are, the last of my three letters about childhood trauma. I appreciate you taking the time to read what I have to say. Here are my last pieces of trauma-sensitive teacher advice. Kids with trauma need teachers to understand that emotional age does not always equal chronological age. From day to day and from hour to hour, my child fluctuates in his ability to cope with

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Dear Educator, Part II

Dear educator, In my first letter, I shared some things I didn’t know about kids with trauma. In this installment, I would like to share what some of what I have learned. Kids with trauma are just trying to survive Because his brain has been changed by trauma and he feels his very life might depend on it, my child seeks to control every situation. His nervous system is in

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Dear Educator: A Series of Heartfelt Letters about what Kids with Trauma Need in School

Dear educator, Thank you so much for teaching my child. I appreciate this opportunity to share with you some insight into the challenges that my child has been having in your classroom and as a student in your school. I was one of you. A few short years ago, I was in your shoes. I worked as a classroom teacher for over 20 years, so I know you better than

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Stopping a Bully: How Learning About Attachment and Emotions Can Help

Richard, a former patient of mine,* used to bully kids when he was in high school. When I asked him to share what bullying felt like, he told me intimidating kids was the only time he felt powerful and strong. His father beat him. He showed the world his tough side, but he secretly believed he was the “weakest boy on earth.” The flip side to his rage and aggression was the

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Creating Connections, Finding Support

I am sitting on airplane headed back home to my real life. I have been at a retreat/conference with a hundred moms of kids from hard places. We had classes and support groups…and chocolate and hot tub time. We did a fair bit of lying in the sun and a whole lot of talking. From early in the morning to late at night (which, really, was actually the next morning…haha)

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What Therapists Want Parents to Do

–by Susan Ward, LPC Note from the blog manager: this is the promised and long-overdue follow-up to Susan’s popular post, What Therapists Want Parents to Know. Thank you to both Susan and our readers for your patience!   As the parent of a child with trauma and attachment issues, I understand first-hand how overwhelming your life is. In spite of that, I’m going to provide a list of things that, as

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A Trauma-Informed Revolution

by Sandi Lerman [original version published by the author, who is also a parent coach and educator, on Adoption Roots and Wings on March 12, 2018] “It is my hope that our story on trauma-informed care will not only be impactful but will also be revolutionary. It certainly has caused a revolution in my own life.”  – Oprah Winfrey One Sunday night in March, my online community of warrior mamas and I

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BRAVE: What I Chose to Tell

When I talk about BRAVE: A Personal Story of Healing Childhood Trauma, I sense assumptions from the outset. They are understandable  – after all, the title says it’s about childhood trauma, right? Yet at the same time, I want to laugh and say, “Could you just read the book before you make up your mind?” This might seem slightly paranoid… but I once received a list of interview questions written

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Two Kinds of Brave

[warning – this post briefly references an act of sexual assault] In her response to BRAVE: A Personal Story of Healing Childhood Trauma, Laura Dennis, ATN blog manager, asked me to address the following: “There are (at least) 2 kinds of being brave. One is an illusion in which we tell ourselves a version of events that we would like to be true. The other is the real deal. It

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One Year Ago

For over a year now, my son has been living in a residential treatment facility. One year of not being together for birthdays, Christmas, or Mother’s Day. One year of visits. One year of wondering what will happen next. One year of prayers. While I’ve written here and there about this experience (Residential Treatment: When Holding On Means Letting Go, The Downward Spiral of My Son’s Behavior), much of the time

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Trauma-Informed Parenting: What Adoptive & Foster Parents Can Teach About ACEs

[original version published on Parenting with ACEs on June 5, 2016] There are many adults with low ACE scores who parent children with high ACE scores. These parents are often feisty and fierce advocates who tirelessly seek out support, strategies and solutions to make the lives of their children easier and better. They are some of the best parents I know. The ones I admire most have helped me be a better

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What I Learned -or Remembered- when I Read Brave

1) There are (at least) 2 kinds of being brave. One is an illusion in which we tell ourselves a version of events that we would like to be true. The other is the real deal. It involves facing our fears head on and living to tell the tale. In a future ATN blog post, Janyne will talk more about these two kinds of being brave. 2) Even the most

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On Losing a Mother…and a Mother Culture

I saw them the moment we entered the restaurant. The dad was suited up, ready for Mother’s Day at our favorite Indian buffet. The little girl, her black hair chopped in the style I instantly recognized as the “Indian orphanage bob,” sat safely strapped into a high chair. The mom wore a salwar kameez, blond hair hanging loosely about her pale neck. They sat close to the door, but that

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Opting Out of Mother’s Day?

I’m here to give you my blessing…yes, you CAN opt out of Mother’s Day! It is your day after all…so technically by the rules of our society (as enforced by Hallmark) you’re allowed to do whatever you want. Well…unless “whatever you want” triggers the heck out of your children with relational trauma. And there’s the rub. I truly believe there is NOT another day in the entire calendar year (not

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Mother’s Day. Beautiful and Complicated.

–by Neeva Carter The moment I heard my children’s names, my world stood still. I was at work, standing in an empty room on the phone, listening to our social worker run through the highlights of their story. She was reluctant to tell me anything, having only agreed because the children’s social worker had begged, convinced that we were the ones she’d been looking for. We were already considering five

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