“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” –Frederick Douglass
(The following excerpt from Brain-Based Parenting – A New Resource For Parenting by Daniel A. Hughes and Jonathan Baylin originally appeared on adoptionstogether.org on June 26, 2012. To view it in its entirety click on the link below.)
When children have been exposed to trauma in their birth family or in an orphanage, they may act out and may behave in ways that parents find upsetting and challenging. Trauma occurs when someone hears, witnesses or experiences an event that is life-threatening, violent, unpredictable, and overwhelming. A trauma can be witnessing violence or a crime, or it may take the form of abuse/neglect. Separation from birth parents can also be traumatic. In reality, trauma can be any fearful experience that felt out of control and left the child feeling unsafe, insecure, or even endangered.
When a child is triggered, he/she is reminded of the traumatic event which may bring up strong feelings of anger, sadness, fear, and/or anxiety. Being triggered results in changes the brain, causing the child to “flip his lid” and lose touch with the rational part of the brain that is more in control of reactions and emotions.
Understanding the brain-based reasons behind a child’s extremely challenging behaviors can help parents to be more sensitive, empathetic and attuned to the feelings, needs and reactions of their child. Even with this enlightened knowledge, however, it is sometimes very hard for a parent to remain calm, rational and in their “thinking” brain when their child has gotten on their last nerve, their job is demanding, dinner has to be made, and they are exhausted. When parents feel stressed, unappreciated, and at a loss about to how manage their child’s behavior, it may be really difficult for even “good” parents not to “flip their lids”. This may result in feelings of failure and inadequacy, as well as parenting that is not as effective or supportive as it could be.
In a recently published ground-breaking book, Brain Based Parenting, Dan Hughes and Jonathan Baylin convey their deep understanding of what is going on in the brain of a parent who, day in and day out, is parenting a child affected by trauma. They recognize that many parents feel deep love and empathy for the most challenging child and, at the same time, become triggered, self-defensive, and angry because their own brain is flooded by stress hormones. The authors use empirical evidence from neuroscience to explain why parents “flip their lids” in response to the trauma of parenting a difficult child. They talk about how the stress of parenting a challenging child can make it very difficult for parents to experience the joy of parenting, and remain flexible to their child’s changing needs and circumstances. If parents “flip their lids”, their good parenting intentions may be blocked by this stress, often resulting in ineffective parenting.
One of the reasons that I found this book so helpful is because it validates the philosophy of family therapy that we practice at Adoptions Together. The therapists at Adoptions Together recognize two fundamental guiding principles: parenting a child who has been traumatized is an extraordinarily hard job; and the relationship that a parent has with his/her child is the single most important factor in a child’s healing.