Foundations- what I learned at ETC part 1

I learned so much at the Empowered to Connect conference last weekend that spans a wide range of topics and situations that apply to or take place when you are a parent of a "child from hard places." Honestly I never considered Jaydn under the "high risk" category until I learned what it scientifically meant. Basically, if I try to approach her needs with the same parenting style and technique as the other two children I have, I will have missed a great opportunity to bring hope and healing to some dark and damaged places in her heart. Actually, not just her heart! I was surprised to learn from Dr. Karyn Purvis that children are not provided the opportunity to develop the neurochemistry necessary for healthy relational/emotional/sensory styles if they have experienced a stressful pregnancy, difficult birth (NICU/premature), early hospitalization, abuse, neglect or trauma. Knowing what I know about Jaydn's history, although little, it is safe to assume that she is a child with high risk for some serious issues. For some families the effects are obvious and start right away while for other children, their limited abilities rear their ugly heads at the 5 major stages of brain development: Prenatal, first year, 8th year, 12th year and 16th year of life. While some kids show symptoms at age 5 that has more to do with what society expects of them (sit still in school for hours) than brain development processes. An Arthur Becker-Weidman study says that a child who has experienced early trauma may have the brain development of a child who is half or less as old.

So basically, if a child has a history of abuse, neglect or trauma, that child is less able to connect with people. But "recovery of function recapitulates the development of function." We take away the child's need for aggression and violence (survival skills) by meeting their needs and giving them a "voice." A study on babies in the 1960's, Infants in Institutions, revealed that if a child's cries are not met consistently in the first 30 days of life, that child will lose their "voice." The design in nature is for a child to whimper and a caregiver to respond. Those responses are saying, "yes" to the child. We say a thousand "yeses" to a little one in the first two years of life before we have to say our first no. These yeses are what build trust. They learn that when they have a need, they have a loving caregiver that will meet that need and they are not "alone." For a child that did not get all those "yeses", it takes months/years of intense therapeutic mentoring and support to bring them from a hard place to healing and trust.

When I talk about "attachment" that includes behaviors such as: trust, self-efficacy, self-worth, sensory competency, social/emotional competency, brain development and brain chemistry. The basics are not naturally "installed" in children from hard places so it becomes the privilege of the caregivers to help them recover their sense of connection through concentrated and purposeful bridge building to their true self.

Let me leave you with this bit of truth: there is no child that cannot heal when we intentionally remember what they missed and try to give it to them. Having an understanding of a child's early development will serve to help you bring them back on line b/c if a child's brain isn't mentored by a loving adult, they do not have the capacity developmentally to "act their age." You have the body, brain and beliefs to deal with when you are looking at their behaviors and those roots go all the way back to their beginning. The only options a child from hard places thinks they have are: Fight, Flight or Freeze. So as their parents we need to sustain a committed and invested interest in their progress toward holistic healing.

Like I have said before, I will have to break up what I learned from the conference into several blog posts that build on top of each other. This one serves as a foundational understanding of where parenting children from hard places begins. My next post will give more information on how to parent knowing that your child has a limited receptivity to things.


Steve Finnell said...

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Danielle said...

This reminds me of a book I read on a psychologist who works with children who have experienced severe and early trauma/neglect. One thing he discovered was that just holding the child for long periods of time, like you would with an infant, made dramatic improvements in their level of comfort with their caregivers. Although he was resistant to the idea at first because it was not "age appropriate", he found that going back and giving them something they missed dramatically helped make up the lost development, no matter what stage it was or how long ago it was.