The COVID-19 pandemic has brought stress, anxiety, and fear into our lives in unprecedented ways. As an agency, our hearts are burdened heavily for our adoptive families, knowing that many of you already live in a household full of stress, anxiety, and fear due to struggles and trauma in your adopted children’s lives. School can typically provide a respite from difficulties in the home for both you and your child so in its absence, we wanted to share some helpful behaviors and attitudes you must remember to focus on to help your family survive, and maybe even thrive, during this chaotic time. Our Nightlight offices and Post Adoption Connection Center (PACC) are here to support you, so please reach out for any help you need to any of our staff or Heather with the PACC at [email protected].
Keep your child regulated – We all know prevention is better than being forced to respond to a crisis. Stay on top of the simple things you can do every day to keep your child regulated and potentially prevent the tantrums, meltdowns, dysregulation, and outbursts.
- Keep a regular schedule of healthy snacks and meals, drinking plenty of water, making sure they are getting good rest, and physical activity. As adults, we know how cranky we can get when we are “hangry” and we have the maturity to handle ourselves better. Perhaps your child’s meltdown or bad attitude is due to be hungry, thirsty, tired, or under stimulated. Before you blame their past trauma, ask yourself when the last time they had snack was. If it was more than 2 hours ago, grab and apple or granola bar for them.
- Create a routine. Children thrive in routine and especially our children with trauma who live in a constant state of uncertainty and hyper-vigilance. If they cannot predict what is coming next, they will get fearful, and be triggered into flight/fight/freeze mode. Make a schedule, do regular activities at times they expect, and stick to it. Not only does this help save you brain power of thinking up how to spend time but also allows your child to rest in what is expected.
Self-care for Parents – You cannot give the additional care your child needs if you are not building up strength and patience in yourself, by caring for yourself. You are used to having space away from your child, so create some of that space at home. Take a break from your child every day.
- If you are married, talk with your spouse about giving each other daily time alone, away from your children, to do activities that refresh you. You need to be intentional to balance the load and work out a schedule during this hectic time. If one parent needs to focus on homeschool during the day, the other parent should handle morning and evening routines with the child.
- If you are a single parent, utilize “rest time” for yourself while your child does an activity they can be trusted to do alone in another space. Maybe this means is a little bit more screen time than you usually allow if that is an activity that will keep your child occupied for a little longer. Remember this time is not our normal lives and it is ok to do some things you would not normally allow if it will meet the ultimate goal of caring for yourself and your child better.
- Identify your goals and expectations for each day, focused on your family and child. How do you survive, connect, and give grace to each other today? How will that be different tomorrow? Lower your expectations for yourself and family during this time if needed. It is ok if the laundry does not get done if it gives you some extra time to care for your soul or connect with your child.
Increased structure needs increased nurture – With everyone contained in the home, you may see an increase in difficult behaviors from your child. They are reacting to the change in their routine as much as you are, and we encourage you to see this as an opportunity to connect with your child. As Dr. Purvis once said, relationship based trauma needs healthy relationships to heal. Notice where your child’s behaviors push you away from them and develop strategies to overcome this in yourself. It is good if rules and structure need to increase but that must come along with increased connection in your relationship.
- Only rules with no fun, connecting engagements between you and your child will not develop the much needed trust your child needs to follow those rules with a happy heart. If your child is resisting your rules, engage in conversation with them about your expectations and listen to their responses. You might be asking for more than they are able to give, especially if your child is developmentally delayed in any area.
- Consider the rules you are setting for your child and what the ultimate goal is for those rules. Is it to teach your child to be a healthy, attached adult or are the rules just to get them to obey what you say? Do your rules and discipline reinforce an attached relationship with your child or do they push them away?
Read adoption books and resources – Instead of seeing this time as a limitation, see it as freedom. Our American lifestyles are so busy and we never have time to do the good things that allow us to grow and strengthen ourselves. Have a family reading time and pick up that adoption book you’ve always said you should read, but haven’t. We would recommend:
- The Connected Child by Dr. Karen Purvis
- The Whole-Brain Child by Dr. Daniel Seigel
- Wounded Children, Healing Homes by Jayne Schooler
- Attaching in Adoption by Deborah Gray
- Raising Adopted Children by Lois Ruskai Melina
- Online resources from Harmony Family Center
- This organization has provided wonderful resources for parents, children, and families. There are training resources for parents, giving you tips on how to handle challenging behaviors in your children and sensory resources for children with sensory processing disorders. They also provide activities for children and families at home. https://www.harmonyfamilycenter.org/harmony-at-home
written by Heather Sloan