Secondary Trauma

13288213_10210132049676488_898116405_o.jpgLast week my 17-year-old son’s mother died. She was only 42 years old. Seven years ago his mom had a heart attack then which led to a stroke. These horrific events led to her going into a hospital where she would spend the rest of her days and my son and his 7-month-old brother went live with his aunt.

As my son came into his teenage years, his aunt couldn’t handle him and he needed a stable home with a strong male presence. So one day, he came home with my other son and he just never left. We now have guardianship of him.

Last week, we had to watch our son kiss his mom goodbye and make the decision to take her off of life-support.

Upon learning that his mom had passed, I started to take on his symptoms of loss, grief, and anger; I hated to see him like that. His loss brought back my own feelings of what it was like to lose my own mom at 14 years old.

While “in my feelings,” I had to find the strength to help him deal with his. He came to me with tears in his eyes, using some very profane language, and said, “Dad, I am mad as %^&$! The problem is, I don’t know who to be mad at.”

As I sat and processed what he was saying and going through, I used my own feelings and hindsight to tell him exactly what I would have wanted to hear, as if I was talking to my own14-year-oldd self.

I told him, “Son, it is okay for you to be mad. You can be mad at everything. You can be mad that your mom is gone. You can be mad that your dad went to prison. You can be mad that it didn’t work out with your aunt. It’s ok and very normal to be mad at the crappy life hand that you were dealt. You may not see it now, but you will learn from all of these experiences and it will turn you into a very strong, humble and resilient young man.

“Over the next few days, your friends are going to want to be there for you, but you will not want to be bothered. My advice to you is to let them. During your time of need, your true friends will step up and your extended family will all congregate to one area. Go there and listen to them. Listen to the stories that they will tell about your mom. Find out who her best friend was and chat her up. You are going to want to put as many positive memories into your mental rolodex as possible.”

As I am dealing with my feelings and helping my son deal with his, I decided to try to focus on a silver lining. He is attached to us and, because of this, it is probably the first time that he felt safe enough to actually come to us and ask for help.

He told us his true feelings. He felt safe enough to seek care. He was intimate and able to turn to others in his time of trouble.

As a foster parent, we must recognize the full power of secondary trauma. Recognizing our own feelings will help your child deal with theirs.

Parenting a Trauma Kid

16439237583_fda9b3a25a_o.jpgOne of the more challenging things about being a foster parent is parenting a kid that has experienced trauma. It is hard enough to parent a child without their historical information. Add trauma to the mix and you begin to scratch the surface of the different levels of issues and challenges your kiddo faces day to day.

Recently, we had a meltdown with our ten year old foster daughter. Upon being re-directed for the wrong she had done, she proceeded to go into her room and destroy it. Toys were thrown everywhere as she turned over her own tubs and boxes. She was highly agitated – her way of dealing with not getting her way.

Until this point, she had only been shown violence and verbal abuse.  When the people in her life didn’t get their way, they would yell, fight, and destroy whatever was in their path.

This is what she learned.  It was the only way she knew how to react in that situation.

However, it is extremely difficult to think about that in the moment as a parent. Your emotions are high, and the adrenaline levels are on a ten. My first thought, was to punish her by taking all of her toys out of her room – removing a potential barrier to keeping her room clean. My wife had to remind me that we shouldn’t punish her for getting mad and throwing her belongings everywhere since she was only displaying what she had been taught.3409975634_7e11dcd3e6_o.jpg

In comes the tricky part: her trigger is being told to clean her room because, in the past, she was beaten if her room wasn’t cleaned properly.  As foster parents, we must create a safe place for her.  If I take away her toys then I am punishing the reaction she has learned through experience. But, if my daughter and I clean her room together, then I am teaching the moment.

Several things are happening in this teaching moment – I am creating a safe place in one of the most important spaces in the house- her bedroom – and the two of us are bonding while cleaning this space. Finally, I get to praise her for a job well done after her bedroom is transformed from a disaster zone back to a ten year old’s pretty-princess palace.

When parenting a kid that has experienced trauma, the things that have helped me are to  take the emotion out of it. This is very difficult sometimes since it is hard to function when you, yourself, are angry and upset.  It is imperative to recognize your own triggers!

Recognizing your own triggers are sometimes difficult, but it is imperative to parenting children that come from a past of chronic trauma. Trauma informed parenting has changed the way that my wife and I parent our children.

Want to be the best possible foster parent? Learn more about trauma informed parenting habits as soon as you can.

Tip: My wife conducts Trauma Informed Parenting training throughout Michigan. Please fill out this form to get more information about booking Stacey or myself for a training today.