What Is The Goal of Therapy for Abused, Adopted Children?
By Ron Huxley, LMFT
One of the first goals of therapy when working with abused, adopted children is to establish a sense of safety and security. Maltreated children learned that they parent / caregivers are to be feared. Ironically, they appear to fear very little else. Certainly, their impulsive actions place them into some scary situations for adoptive parents and they don’t respond to normal discipline. This may be due to the fact that after a child lives in terror in their own home, what else could anyone do that would be as terrible or fearful?
In therapy, we want to help children re-learn that their caregiver is safe and to learn appropriate dangers of strangers. This is quite a reversal from the parent is dangerous and the world is not to the parent is safe and the world might be…
Children who have been abused or witnessed violence suffer similar trauma to war veterans…
LONDON (Reuters) Children exposed to family violence show the same pattern of activity in their brains as soldiers exposed to combat, scientists said on Monday. In a study in the journal Current Biology, researchers used brain scans to explore the impact of physical abuse or domestic violence on children’s emotional development and found that exposure to it was linked to increased activity in two brain areas when children were shown pictures of angry faces.
Previous studies that scanned the brains of soldiers exposed to violent combat situations showed the same pattern of heightened activity in these two brain areas the anterior insula and the amygdala which experts say are associated with detecting potential threats. This suggests that both maltreated children and soldiers may have adapted to become “hyperaware” of danger in their environment, the researchers said. “Enhanced reactivity to a…threat cue such as anger may represent an adaptive response for these children in the short term, helping keep them out of danger,” said Eamon McCrory of Britain’s University College London, who led the study.
Parenting and the Serenity Prayer: Asking for Help
By Ron Huxley, LMFT
If parenting could be summed up in a single prayer, that prayer might be “The Serenity Prayer”:
Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
In this 5 part series, we will explore the essential points of this prayer and how it can help parents find grace and peace in the family relationships.
Asking for Help:
If parents want to find more balance in their relationships with their children they must be willing to ask for help! Whether that help is from God, a higher power, or other people, parents will need support to help the through the many challenges of parenting.
A common denominator of stressed-out parents is trying to parent in isolation; they do not realize that they need help or can’t find healthy support and in moments of crisis, do things they wish they didn’t do and say things they wish they didn’t do. Parenting from a place of regret is not a “happy place to be.” Additionally, it may result in child abuse and neglect that will cause the legal system to become involved in the families life. This is not the type of help you want to happen if you can help it.
In other to accept help parents have to accept that parenting is difficult. I know that seems obvious to most of us but many parents believe they can do it all or feel shame if they don’t do everything perfectly which keeps them from seeking support.
Support can come from natural and artificial sources. Natural sources would including the help and advice of family and friends. Aunt Melba might come and watch the kids so mom and dad can get our for a break once in a while. Grandpa John might offer some helpful advice about managing teenagers. Unfortunately, not all family advice is helpful like when they suggest you get a stick and start beating some butts. The idea of taking more authority in the home could be a great idea but physical abuse will get you in trouble.
When natural help is not helpful, parents need to find artificial help in the form of professionals. Family therapy or parenting classes may be what parents need to shift the home from crisis to calm. Some cost may be involved in this but you get what you pay for, right? There are lots of non profit organizations in every community that will offer inexpensive, if not free, help to parents.
Take action: What kind of help do you need the most? Who in your natural network of family and friends could help you? If there are not natural helpers available to you, who in your community could provide you will support? Let go of feelings of embarrassment and do what is necessary to get the help you need.
Come back to RonHuxley.com to read the other 4 parenting tools based on the Serenity Prayer…
Kids put in institutions have different brain compositions than kids in foster care
In new research published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, researchers looked at brain differences between Romanian children who were either abandoned and institutionalized, sent to institutions and then to foster families, or were raised in biological families.
Kids who were not raised in a family setting had noticeable alterations in the white matter of their brains later on, while the white matter in the brains of the children who were placed with a foster family looked pretty similar to the brains of the children who were raised with their biological families.
Researchers were interested in white matter, which is largely made up of nerves, because it plays an important role in connecting brain regions and maintaining networks critical for cognition. Prior research has shown that children raised in institutional environments have limited access to language and cognitive stimulation, which could hinder development.
These findings suggest that even if a child were at a risk for poor development due to their living circumstances at an early age, placing them in a new caregiving environment with more support could prevent white matter changes or perhaps even heal them.
More studies are needed, but the researchers believe their findings could help public health efforts aimed at children experiencing severe neglect, as well as efforts to build childhood resiliency.
Child abuse is a persistent problem in this country. Research published in February in Pediatrics found that child abuse kills 300 kids under 18 each year and accounts for 58.2 hospitalizations of babies per 100,000 births — more than the annual rate of SIDS. Another recent study made the case that child abuse sets the stage for future mental illness.
For a pediatrician, it can be dicey sussing out whether a child came by a broken bone or a bruise naturally or whether the injury was inflicted by an adult. As of 2009, there is an entirely new specialty devoted to making those types of assessments: the board-certified child abuse pediatrician, who focuses on identifying child maltreatment and neglect.
I recently watched a movie called “Unthinkable” (CAUTION: Movie spoilers ahead) and was shocked by the intensity of the violence. At first I turned it off then later went back to finish watching the movie. There was something about the plot line that drew me back in. The subject matter was simple: A terrorist sets up nuclear bombs throughout America, is captured, and then tortured to tell their locations. Yes, tortured. Aside from the more obvious political messages here, there was a subtler, frightening psychological message.
No matter how much the terrorist was tortured physically or mentally he never broke. He suffered but he continued to play mind games with this capturers till the very end. What would hold a person together despite such horrific punishments? I realized what the answer to this question was when the terrorist stated that “he deserved this” for all the bad things he had done. The movie never really described what these “bad things” were but it was enough of a mindset for him to endure unbelievable torture. His captors tried everything to break him: reason, empathy, brutality, mind games, more brutality and finally more brutality. They just kept upping the ante on the terrorist with the belief that eventually everyone breaks. He didn’t.
What struck such a cord in me was that many of the children I work with, who have been mistreated, have this “terrorist” mindset. Their behavior says: “What can you possibly do to me that I have not already endured in a much younger, more vulnerable state as an infant or young child?” So many of the children who adopt this “defiant” attitude have a deeper narrative that they deserve the punishments they are getting. Children internalize their abuse and believe that they are responsible for what happened to them. In fact, they often believe that they are “damaged goods” unworthy of love or kindness or anything good. They may set up caregivers to make them angry and want to punish them. It is easy for an adult caregiver to play right into this narrative and reinforce the very thing they want to change in the child. They may not beat them or leave them in a closet for days but we do use other punishment-based techniques (lock them up, move them from home to home, shame them with words or actions, make them carry out sentences, etc) all with the hopes that they will express their guilt and shame and change their behaviors.
I think the end goal is a worthy one. We want to help the child see things differently but our methods need some updating. Hope for this is coming from the field of neuroscience which is why you will see so much of this in this blog. It may not be the final answer but it is allowing us to see the small, hurting child behind the big terrorist mask. It is telling us that children’s brains and minds are affected by their mistreatment and we must go back and redo attachment-based treatments to help them rebuild the mental and physical capacity for love and affection and moral reasoning too.
I know it sounds like I am hard on the adult caregivers. I guess I am but we are the ones who have to do something different. We can’t expect the child to “get it” and explain it to us. We have to look deeper to see the alternative narratives for the child to live out. That will take time and patience. Unfortunately, we caregivers are products of our own culture and parenting narratives. A shame-based approach to parenting is how many of us were raised and so, it is the only approach we know how to use. If time out for an hour in a child’s room doesn’t work, what else is there? More time in the room? Perhaps we should yell louder or threaten more? Obviously not. The answer to my title: How can you punish an abused child, is simple. You can’t.
The mission of the Parenting Toolbox blog is to give parents more tools. I used to teach a lot of court-ordered parenting classes where parents where referred to learn non-punitive parenting skills. I quickly learned that you got no where trying to debate the punishment mindset. I realized that I couldn’t really win the “spank/no spank” argument. I might get some compliance from the parent but there was no change in insight. My focus became teaching other things the parent could do by giving lots of parenting tools. This worked. It is my vision to see parents better equipped and hurt children healed with this blog as well.