Looking Beyond Challenging Behavior

It is so easy to look at a Child of Trauma and think that difficult behavior occurs because our children hate us or, at very least, don’t care about us.  As a Child of Trauma begins to attach, nothing could be further from the truth.  Our children are desperate to figure out where they belong.  They are terrified of being harmed or abandoned again.  When a child is misbehaving, he or she is telling us something.  The message may be coming in the most infuriating way possible, but a message is being sent. 

So, it becomes essential that we ask:

Creating a Behaviour Log

Often parents of Children of Trauma find themselves profoundly disconnected and puzzled by their child’s strange behaviours.  It is fairly normal for kids who have been abused or neglected to:

  • Stop eating a food he or she really seemed to enjoy previously.
  • Refuse to eat entirely
  • Fly off the handle for, seemingly, no good reason
  • To grunt or moan instead of talk
  • To be defiant
  • To drive a parent into a red-faced fury to just giggle or laugh at them

In the moment it is difficult to see where these behaviours come from—what triggers them.  However, more often than not, there is a pattern.  Each instance of the behaviour is Just like looking at a comic strip so closely that all you see are dots.  If you can distance yourself from the behaviours,  the whole picture can come into focus.

Sometimes a behaviour log can help give one the perspective needed to see what is really going on.  By observing and documenting in a scientific way, patterns emerge.  Those patterns can then start to reveal that your child refuses to eat two days after he/or she has visitation with a bio-parent.  You might find defiance occurs a few hours after bath-time.  Perhaps too many instructions at a time promotes grunting or moaning instead of action.

RAD-Kid Primer

Quite by accident I came across this slideshow designed as a primer for those caring for children with Reactive Attachment Disorder.

It is copyright by Aubrey Saus and is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution License

"Living and Learning with the Hurt Child

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

When a woman consumes alcohol during pregnancy the results are often a disaster for the child.

Heavy drinking will result in Fetal Alcohol Syndrom--whose symptoms include:


  • poor socialization skills
  • learning disabilities
  • hyperactivity
  • concentration issues
  • stubbornness
  • mental retardation


  • birth weight is abnormally low
  • the child's head is smaller than normal
  • problems with organs
  • the child may fail to thrive

How Do You Become a Fost/Adopt Parent?

The requirements vary from state to state, but in general they follow a common path.  The process is not short, so be prepared to make an investment in your time before even having a chance for a placement in your home.  Also, be aware that a large part of the introduction and initiation is designed to scare you.  Social services really want to make sure that those they train are in for the long haul.  Also, it is really important to understand that just because you start looking at fost/adoption as a way to build your family does not mean you are committed to that path.

Taxes and the Foster/Adoptive Child

It is tax time!  Keep in mind that I am NOT a tax expert, but I do have a few bits of advice that you should follow up with your accountant or tax return preparer.

  1. If you are a foster/adoptive parent it is really important to let your accountant know that you have a dependent.  If you are a foster parent, and your foster child has been with you for six months or more, you can typically claim them as a dependent.  Unfortunately, if you have had your kid for less than six months, it won’t apply to you.
  2. If, after you have finalised, your child had been declared a “Special Needs Child”—this criteria ranges from age when the child was adopted to mental problems—you can apply for a special tax credit.  This can be applied for, I believe, the year after the child has been adopted.  Talk to your accountant, because this isn’t a small credit—it can amount to thousands of dollars that the government will add to your return.
  3. If you are fostering, ask your accountant what expenses you can write off on your taxes.

Tax time isn’t a fun time, but perhaps some of the benefits of being a foster or adoptive parent can take a bit of the misery out of the paperwork.

Sometimes It Seems Like a Midway Game

Elitch Gardens Sept 2008 I’m really not all that fond of games at the midway at the fair.  The odds are set up to be against you—you will never have a fair shot—and the prizes are poor quality.  Yet somehow you feel compelled to play over and over again.

Sometimes the act of parenting a child of trauma can feel like the midway.  Lots of bright colours and excitement but underneath there is something not quite right about the game.  The rules have been stacked against you.  In a very real way that is the truth.  When a child has been traumatized deeply by those who he/she should have been able to rely upon, the rules change.  The rules are skewed in the child’s mind but they also change for the people that end up parenting that child.

ADHD - A Layman's Understanding

Forgetful, twitchy, energetic, flighty, impulsive. 

Kids with ADHD have difficulty paying attention--this can range from being overly hyper in class to simply staring off into space.  They often can't sit still but when they are doing something that they really enjoy can be completely involved in that task to the point of nearly seeming obsessed with it.  However, given a task that they find boring they will never be able to attend to it.  You may find yourself saying something like, "I've just asked you do one thing.  Pay attention to what you are doing and finish that one task."  Something  simple like teeth-brushing becomes an almost impossible task.

ADHD behaviours can seem disruptive but even though the child may seem disobedient, they often are not trying to be bad. 

Attachment, Bonding, and the Emotional Roller Coaster

Elitch Gardens Sept 2008Working on attachment and bonding with an older child who has been in foster care can feel a bit like a roller coaster.  Damage that has been done due to neglect or abuse naturally makes the child fearful or mistrusting of adults.  These kids often haven't had the nurturing that they need early in their lives.  Loving touch isn't a luxury, but a deep seated need.

When a child hasn't had these early experiences of being nurtured--fed, held, changed, clothed, swaddled, direct eye contact--it becomes nearly impossible for that kid to form normal relationships as he or she gets older.  Kids in foster care or those who have been adopted from foster care may need those nurturing experiences as older children in order to catch up emotionally.

Friends and Family - Do They Understand?

When my wife and I started training as foster parents four years ago, one of the things we were told was,

DSC04717.JPG"This is a completely different kind of parenting.  On the surface, it is the same--the basic nurturing, caring, feeding, and clothing but you need to be aware that behaviours are going to be more intense.  Your friends and family who are not parents from the foster-care system will not understand the challenges you are going to be working through.  You will hear things like, "oh, that's just what kids do" when you try and explain some kind of defiant act your kid is engaged in.  They won't comprehend how intense these behaviours are because they have no base-line from which to gauge."