As we pulled up to the amusement park, we heard a sweet voice in the back seat say, “When do I put on my swimsuit?” My wife looked at me and then turned around and asked, “Do you not already have it on? Where is your swimsuit?” “No, it is at the hotel”, came the response, along with a very confused look.
The simple instruction to our five oldest children prior to getting dressed earlier that morning was, “kiddos, be sure to put your swimsuits on under your clothes.” This child heard the direction, but had failed to do so. So, what were we to do? Is this a life lesson moment? Perhaps a logical consequence of, “Well then, no swimming for you!”?
We headed down that path, but then, we stopped. My wife and I looked at each other and asked, “What was our role in reminding her?” It sounds simple, it really does. But, the deeper discussion we were having was not about swimsuits, but more so, about where our 6 year old was functioning due to the trauma she had experienced in her life.
We’ve been to the trainings and even read a few books, but for it to come to life, we had to own it, understand it, and respond properly to it.
What did we have to own? We had to own the fact that trauma almost always stunts development. So, while we were hearing our 6 year old say, “she forgot”, in reality, it was the 3-4 yr. old child in her speaking. This was in contrast to our own biological children. They’ve grown up with limited trauma, they have developed properly (whatever that really means) and have an understanding of our expectations and we have an understanding of their capabilities.
We both agreed that due to where she is at, we probably should have given her a reminder and followed up to make sure it was done. We even purchased her a swimsuit at the amusement park, so that she could enjoy the time with all the other children. If you know us, then you know this action is contrary to who we are as parents, but that is what foster care has done for us. It has taught us to be different, much better parents. It challenges us to get out of what we think is right and really invest in what is right for ‘this child’.
Here is what we know, trauma almost always stunts development. It messes up boundaries, it alters brain development, and it wrecks trust.
We also know, that when we parent with a clear understanding of ‘WHO’ each child is, we are able to be more effective, more caring, more attentive and the headaches that follow statements like, “no, it’s at the hotel…” begin to come less and less, because our expectations and understanding evolve to meet that specific child’s needs. The expectation of “you’re six, so you should act six” will lead to a lot of frustration for both the parent and the child. The action of, “I’m your parent and will meet you where you are.” will always be a game changer in dealing with children from backgrounds of abuse and trauma.
So, what are your thoughts? Have you seen how trauma has effected the development of a child and have you catered your parenting style around that?
Although my children have not exactly been through trauma, per se, I really resonnate with the desire to parent each child where they are at in that moment. I have two daughters who are only 1.5 years apart. So, in some ways, one or the other is ahead or behind the other and I have to stay on point on where each is in her physical, mental, and emotional development and remember that they have unique needs, talents, and struggles.
Very true! Understanding and supporting the individuality of each child may be the trickiest part of parenting at times! 🙂
What a great example of what parenting is. I “get” the delays that are not their “fault” by the fault if a parent choosing themselves over their children. I “get” understanding where they are developmentally. Where I struggle, is the child, possibly due to having no parenting to set rules, choosing to believe that the rules do not apply to them and that you are not their parent, therefore they do not have to follow those rules 😦
Thank you for this post. I have been pondering about it as well with an 11-year-old who sometimes gets stuck at either 5 or 8, and other times have wisdom surpassing my wildest dreams. I figured that, due to her trauma, she flees back to when she last felt safe, or to the time before she was uprooted. I also realised that we will have to be a bit more directive (read gently leading) in certain situations, since she is not there emotionally. Wondering though…. do they ever catch up?