So much of the advice that I see about how to parent adopted kids deals with coming to terms with their trauma, grief, and brokenness.
While I believe that this is an important place to start, I don’t think we should end there. Our kids have tremendous potential to GROW, and they can and do heal over time.
So it’s important to keep an optimistic attitude and never give up on our kiddos. In fact, I often tell my son this: “I love you so much, and I’m not giving up on you!” There are so many times when I can sense that he wants to give up on himself, so it’s important for me to stand for him and believe in him even though there are so many challenges he must overcome.
There are also very specific things that we can do as parents to help build resilience, strength, and a desire for change in our kids. As the saying goes, “Just because I love you exactly the way you are doesn’t mean I’ve abandoned all hope of your improving!”
One really helpful strategy that has worked well for my son in building his skills and emotional strength is to help him re-frame the story he tells himself about who he is and what he can do. Trauma therapists talk about the “trauma narrative” – which is helping patients with PTSD to express their past traumas in storytelling form – but I’m talking about something even more global and holistic.
For example, one time a few hours after a behavior incident when he was calm and regulated, I asked my kiddo, “Does it make you feel strong when you are bullying me or hitting me?” He smiled sheepishly and nodded.
So from that moment on, I worked on helping him change the story in his mind about what it means to be “strong” and “in control.”
Every time he finally started to calm down, I would say, “You are calming down now and using your coping strategies to stay calm. Wow, you are SO STRONG to control yourself like that!” That kind of thing… just always praising and noticing the times when he did NOT try to bully or hit or destroy things.
Eventually, he started to internalize this. Now a few years later, he is actually PROUD of himself when he calms down from a rage quickly. We always process it together like that… I will ask him how he calmed down, and he will reflect on what it was that helped him to “gain control and be strong” again.
So that’s just one example of how we as parents can help facilitate a re-wiring of the brain while our kids are processing and reflecting on what they really want to feel and to become. By noticing every tiny increment of positive change and focusing on THAT, rather than the negative, our kids will also start to focus on changing and improving.
It’s not an overnight process, of course. It takes time, determination, and strength. But the rewards of a child who feels confident and proud of himself are so worth it!