Monday, April 10, 2017

Breaking the Cycle

We had our first in-home visit with the adoption agency last week and the ball is now officially rolling! She will be back in May, and between now and then we will complete Car Seat Safety Training, First Aid/CPR Training, and 20 hours of Pre-Adopt Education and Training. We also have a mountain of paperwork that we are working on throughout the whole process. She is still anticipating approval at the beginning of June!  I am praying we are able to match shortly thereafter and bring our kiddos home near the beginning of the summer, so we have as much time as possible to bond with them, and for them to attach to us and their siblings.

We also attended a conference geared toward those who work with "kids from hard places" called Empowered to Connect.  This was an amazing conference that I can't recommend enough, even if you don't interact with kids who have endured trauma! I signed up for it before we began this journey to learn how to connect better to my biological kids!

Here is a brief overview of my takeaways from the conference:

1. Our kiddos brains are capable of amazing things.  The brain is a complex organ with different areas responsible for distinct functions, and all these separate areas need to work together in order to properly function.

2. How the brain functions is affected by a variety of risk factors including time spent in utero, birth, postnatal issues, abuse, trauma, and neglect.

3. The brains of kiddos subject to the risk factors in #2 are different than those of a child who has not experienced these risk factors. Because of this we cannot view all children through the same lens.  Their level of maturity does not directly correspond to their chronological age.

4. The stress and trauma that some at-risk kids endure affects not only their brain, but their beliefs, behaviors, body, and even their biology.

5. Attachment is critical, especially in the first year of life. The attachment style of the parent will affect the child's view of the world and will likely be the attachment style that child defaults to when they become parents.

Those last few lend credence to the phrase  "you are a product of your environment".

-If a child experiences a healthy pregnancy, birth, and has no complications after birth, they have a great start! Their environment thus far has been conducive to good brain development and because the brain hasn't been affected by outside factors or substances, it will begin developing as it should.

-If a child experiences a difficult pregnancy or is subject to outside substances in utero, has a traumatic birth, or has postnatal stressors like extended NICU stays, their brain has already been affected.

-In either case, if this child is then raised in an unhealthy environment, or by a caregiver that doesn't foster healthy attachment; or worse, the child experiences neglect, abuse, or trauma, their brain's development will be greatly affected.

They talked specifically about Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) which include the various forms of abuse, neglect, and trauma. Kids who endure ACES grow into adults that suffer the consequences. Unresolved traumas are a breeding ground for mental and somatic health issues, substance abuse, and issues with stress, anger, and sexuality.

A cycle is set into motion in these children's lives without their consent. But the good news is, we can help break that cycle.

We can help them learn to trust and appropriately attach. We can help them begin to believe they are worthy of love. We can help them learn to negotiate their needs, stand up for themselves, and be confident in who they are.

There was so much information shared on how to do this, and as someone who introduced one of the speakers said, "I don't have enough letters before and after my name" to accurately relay all that they shared. But this video, this video, and this book, among many other resources would be a great starting point!

One final takeaway that is valuable to any parent is this:

It is so important to take time to connect with each of your kiddos, one-on-one, for at least 10 minutes every day.  Let your child decide what you are going to do during this time and just focus on following their lead and having fun doing what they want to do! This is not a teachable moment, or a time to ask them excessive questions. It's a time to let them know that you WANT to spend time with them.

And when you say your head down on your pillow at night, you go through your kids one by one and ensure that you have taken this time to invest in them. If you realize you missed out on one, get up and go to that child's room and tell them you missed spending time alone with them today. It will be ten minutes well spent.

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