Are you taking care of yourself?

Parenting a traumatized child can be challenging and exhausting work. It isn’t something that should be done alone without adequate support or a self-care plan. Parents can seem like tireless caregivers who sacrifice their own needs for the needs of others. They can be highly efficient people with incredible levels of compassion and mercy for others. This mercy can have limits!

They often continue their work to the point of exhaustion, leaving them emotionally bankrupt. You can give away what you don’t have. Like the airlines instruct us before a flight: “in the event of an emergency, a life mask will drop. Be sure to put on your own oxygen mask before trying to put it on your child.” The point is that you can’t save someone one else if you are passed out and parents of traumatized children can’t help them if they are burnt out. 

REST stands for “RE-store your Soul from Trauma.” 

REST stands for “RE-store your Soul from Trauma.” Our soul refers to our entire being: body, mind, and spirit. Each area requires specific attention. You can’t focus on one and ignore the others. If we are empty in one area, it affects our entire soul. 

The key is to find rest IN work, not FROM work. It is a mindset that places hope at the heart of our care of traumatized children and looks at our beliefs about what we are doing more than the activity itself. If you have two people doing the same activity and one has a hope-filled, positive attitude about it and the other is weighed down with bitterness and negativity about it, who will be more exhausted by the task at the end? Of course, the one holding bitterness and negativity. 

When I was a young man I used to work for the father’s landscaping company. At the end of the day I was physically exhausted but mentally I was pleased by what I accomplished that day. I enjoyed seeing the results of my labors in the beautiful landscapes we would create. After going into “trauma work” there have been many days that I come home mentally exhausted and this showed in my physical body as well. My wife would often comment about the dark circles under my eyes and I would have to go to bed early to get enough rest to do it all over again the next day. 

This is how it feels for the parent or caregiver of the traumatized child. You are mentally exhausted, emotionally drained, and physically worn out and tomorrow you know you have to do all again. How will this be possible? 

Renewing our minds. 

Renewing our minds is the answer. In Romans 12:2, the bible says that were are to renew our minds. This means that we have to think the thoughts that Jesus thinks about ourselves and our situations. We have to let go of the negative, condemning thoughts (Romans 12:1) and start agreeing with heavens way of thinking. 

Parents might ignore this instruction believing they have “good reasons” for their poor attitudes. 

  1. There aren’t enough skilled people who can take over for me or provide consistent respite.
  2. My children are too difficult for other providers to manage. 
  3. They don’t have the time or money.
  4. God will sustain me.  
  5. It’s easier if I just do it myself then try and get someone else to do or if I don’t do it, no one else will.

The list could go on and on, right? While they all have a bit of truth to them and they are “good reasons” they are “bad excuses” for not living a life of rest. God will sustain parents but they must use the wisdom He gives them by setting boundaries and take proper care of themselves as well. 

Caregivers can adopt an orphan mentality or victim mindset that patterns the thought process of their individuals they are taking care of…In psychological terms, we call this parallel process. In trauma-informed care, we call this secondary trauma. 

Overcoming your orphan mentality and REST.

I have said elsewhere that we are double agents. We take care of people who have been traumatized and we have experienced trauma in our lives as well. This might have been our motivations for becoming a therapist, social worker, foster parent, adoptive parent, etc. It isn’t a wrong motivation but you will be triggered and you may have limiting beliefs that prevent you from finding rest IN work. It may exhaust you more! 

You have to be a “son or daughter” before you can be a fully functioning father or mother.  You can physically seek spiritual parents to support you as you carry on the work of parenting traumatized children. You may not have natural-born families that are near or healthy enough to rely on mentally and spiritually. You can review scriptures that explore being adopted by God and how you are a brother to Christ and sons/daughter’s to God (John 1:12, Galatians 3:26, John 3:16, Mark 10:13-16, Romans 8:16, 1 John 3:1-10, Romans 8:4-17)

Renewing your mind and life for REST. 

Ask yourself, what am I believing about my situation that is causing me to be drained and overwhelmed. 

Am I starting this work off with an attitude of resentment or with hope-filled promises?

Do I believe that nothing I do will matter or no one will appreciate me for the things I do or will I focus on doing this for God and seek only his approval? 

Are we inviting God into our circumstances to partner with us and bring us divine appointments and be able to find moments of grace and joy in our day.

Do we love ourselves before we attempt to love others? That is a hole in a bucket that will leave you empty sooner than later for sure!  

Are all the burdens you are carrying really yours to carry or are there a few bags of troubles that belong to other people?

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28  

REST in the little things.

When we think about rest we think spa days, two-week vacations in Hawaii, snuggling up in a cabin with a nice book and plenty of warm tea for a weekend. These are excellent ways to find rest but they require a lot of time, money and effort to pull off. If you can’t do these things then look for ways to find rest in the little things. 

Little activities are available at all times, are on-demand, and brief in duration. They don’t cost much or anything at all. They can fit into your busiest days and don’t require a lot of planning or sit up. 

Examples of little ways to rest include, but are not limited to: having morning devotions, watching a movie, pausing for a cup of tea or coffee, buying yourself a treat, taking the dog for a walk, playing a puzzle game on your phone or paper, taking 10 deep breaths several times a day, going to a yoga class or gym, cleaning up a closet or drawer, getting a massage, burning a scented candle, reading or telling a joke, taking a bubble bath, working on a hobby, listen to music, eat a healthy meal, drinking more water, talking to a friend, crying when needed, holding hands, going to church. You get the idea…

List 5 ways you will restore your soul in the next 30 days:

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Healing the Special Needs Child

Many foster and adoptive parents have children with special needs who require specialized care and skills. According to Wikipedia, the term special needs “is a term used in clinical diagnostic and functional development to describe individuals who require assistance for disabilities that may be medical, mental, or psychological.”

In the United States, more than 150,000 children with special needs are waiting for permanent homes. Traditionally, children with special needs have been considered harder to place for adoption than other children, but experience has shown that many children with special needs can be placed successfully with families who want them.

This can put more of a strain on families than they realize. Just loving a child really hard is not enough to manage the requirements of a special needs child. It takes special knowledge and a support system from other parents of special needs children and professionals who “get it!”

Being unprepared is one of the reasons foster and adoptive families disrupt. Disruption is a term that refers to the ending of a foster placement prior to the finalization of an adoption. The rate of disruption has traditionally been10-20% nationally. Post-Adoption services and education can decrease this rate dramatically!

Perhaps the most challenging special needs issue, for parents and professionals, is Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). This is defined as a “continuum of permanent birth defects caused by maternal consumption of alcohol during pregnancy. It refers to a group of conditions that can occur in a person whose mother drank alcohol during pregnancy. Problems may include an abnormal appearance, short height, low body weight, small head size, poor coordination, low intelligence, behavior problems, and problems with hearing or seeing.” (Wikipedia)

Fetal alcohol syndrome

In addition to the physical symptoms of FASD, there are several corresponding mental health problems, such as attentional deficits, clinical depression, anxiety, or other mental illness. As you can imagine, many of the problems show up in the child’s school experience. Suspensions or expulsion from school occurs in 90% of children in the united states. For teenagers, this can result in dropping of out of school, experienced by 60% of the subjects (age 12 and older).

Other problems, such as legal issues, can occur for FASD children. Being charged or convicted of a crime is experienced by 60% of the children ages 12 and older. (Wikipedia)

One of the ways to help children with special needs heal is to work on executive functioning skills. Executive Functioning: “are a set of cognitive processes – including attentional control, inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility, as well as reasoning, problem-solving and planning – that are necessary for the cognitive control of behavior: selecting and successfully monitoring behaviors that facilitate the attainment of chosen goals.”

Elevating executive functioning skills will help children with special needs make better choices, control their behavior and manage their thoughts and emotions. The simplest way to elevate them is through play.

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It’s been said that play is the “beginning of knowledge.” The play is a child’s natural language and how they interact with the world and learn new skills and the shortest route to helping special needs children.

Babies and young children can benefit from games of peekaboo, pat-a-cake, hiding games, simple songs, and music, copying games, and fingerplays. Example of young child games include Eensy Weensy Spider, Where is Thumbkin, Open, Shut Them. Repetition and allowance for failure is key to helping children’s brain develop normally.

School-age children benefit from reading books, music, and movement, simple imitation games like follow the leader, conversations, manipulation of objects like blocks and Legos. Allow children to set the course of play allowing them to start and stop the rhythm of play.

It would seem that play with special needs children is the same as with any other child and it is…except that the intention and purpose of the play are to build brain skills that need reinforcement. The ability to stay focus and tolerate interactions need to be increased over time. If a child can only sit and play for 5 minutes, we want to increase that time to 6 minutes, then 7, etc. Start where the child is and allow them to increase tolerance and focus.

Take into consideration that each time the nervous system starts and then stops, it learns how to persist past impulses and distractions. Each time it achieves a difficult goal, it discovers the pleasure of success and wants to repeat this experience. This provides an internal locus of control that doesn’t require an adult to always supervise the play.

Play also develops social skills, an area that can be drastically missing in children with special needs. As children get older, teamwork becomes more important and necessary both at home and school. Children become more active and like to engage in dance, sports, playing catch, and various competition games. Competition can become a way to alienate others as special needs children have tantrums/meltdowns when they don’t win. This is due to a need to compensate for low self-esteem feeling like a failure at tasks and games.

Let the play be about the process and not the end result. Be happy for others who when and concentrating on celebrating team efforts will enhance executive functioning and overall relational success.

Is this still exhausting work? Yes! But the effort will be worth it in the long run. Use storytelling and imaginary play to make the connections that are missing in social/emotional development. Role-playing and creative art can also be a powerful tool for parents and professionals. Red Light/Green Light, Simon Says, clapping rhythms, guessing games, I Spy, and Brain Teasers are also useful brain tools.

Teenagers with special needs can benefit from practicing real-time daytimers, calendars, whiteboards, mind mapping and more to develop organizational, goal setting, planning, and monitoring and studying skills.

None of these activities should be done in isolation from caring, patient adults. Attachment and brain researchers operate under the maxim that “brains that fire together, wire together.” Just giving a toy to a child or tell them to do a task will not enhance the prefrontal cortex of the brain, where executive functioning is centered. Optimal development occurs when do people interact. Adults can guide the conversation and play to specifically target the individualized needs of the child. The child’s ability to push passed frustrations and manage moods will need the adult to help them through it.

calm

Finally, children of all ages can benefit from the mental organization power of mindfulness. Executive functioning is more than academic ability. This might be the focus on many of the adults in the child’s life but life smarts are important aspects of book smarts.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), “Mindfulness is the awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” Learning to be mindful of one’s thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations calm the nervous system so thinking skills can increase. Teaching children the importance of experiencing their breath, mindful eating, yoga, and how to ground themselves are crucial skills at all ages.

Get more powerful tools for managing special needs and trauma for your organization with Trauma-Informed Training by contacting Ron Huxley now…click here!

Riding the Wave of Change Together: Foster Parent Conference

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It is my honor to present at the 41st Annual State-Wide Foster Parent Conference in Garden Grove, CA. on October 12th, 2017. The conference is entitled: “Riding the Wave of Change Together.

I will be teaching a 4-hour seminar on  The Trauma Toolbox – NeuroResilience: How to Trauma Proof Your Nervous System and Healing Strategies for the Hurt Family. 

Descriptions of the seminar are as follows:

You have a beautifully designed brain and nervous system, but what happens when it is exposed to toxic stress and trauma?  Learn the basic components of NeuroResilience to calm the brain and body with easy-to-use nervous system hacks.

How do power-full families live in close relationships with one another?  Learn how to decrease power struggles and teach children to be responsible and fun to be around.  Use practical, power-full parenting tools with interactive activities to help your family heal.

This seminar will be fun, informal, and always functional. Hope to see you there!

Conference Presentation Slides: Click here!

Faith-In-Motion Training Series: “Healing The Hurt Child” May 20, 2017

Adoptive and foster care children that have suffered trauma have lost their “first love”. This loss creates pain in their hearts that make it difficult to love new people, in particular new mom’s and dad’s. Every time they open up to love or be loved the pain comes up as well. This can create some very interesting reactions in the child, often seen in reactive attachment disordered children (RAD) like lying, stealing, hoarding, urinating in their rooms, hurting self and others, destroying property and a host of other emotional and social dysfunctions. The answer to this problem is to remove the pain…

Come to the free training series “Healing The Hurt Child” sponsored by San Luis Obispo Department of Social Services’ Faith-In-Motion Program, Cuesta College and Grace Slo Church. This is a full day training from 9 am to 4 pm on May 20th. Lunch is on your own but child care is provided and the training is free. Parents and professionals who work with traumatized children are welcome to attend. See the training flyer below for registration details:

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NeuroResilient Play Therapy ©: A Trauma-Informed Approach to Healing

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The goal of therapy with traumatized children is to help them learn to regulate and develop the executive functioning skills of the prefrontal center of the brain. I call this the state of being NeuroResilient.

All children are born emotionally impulsive and need to learn how to manage their moods, initiate and stick with tasks, plan and organize, and learn from past mistakes. This is nothing new and neurological studies of the brain suggest that the prefrontal areas of the brain do not completely develop until people are in their mid-twenties.

The challenge with trauma is that it can set a person back socially and emotionally so that while they are 15 years old chronologically, they react to the world as if their were 5 years of age. We call this, in the field of trauma-informed care and attachment-focused research, “age vs stage”. The individual’s chronological age doesn’t line up with their stage of development causing problems in relationships and daily functioning.

Many parents and professionals believe that an emotionally regulated child is a calm child which would be nice, even understandable, but not realistic for a child who has been traumatized. Consequently the goal of therapy is to build resilience, not calmness.

Resilience refers to ability to “spring back, recoil back into shape” or “recover quickly from a difficult situation”. It literally means to “leap back” to a place of safety and security. Who wouldn’t want to have more of that in their lives or the lives of their children?

Children have to build resiliency in their neurology so that behavioral strategies will stick. Parents and teachers get frustrated when their behavior charts and modification tools don’t have any effect on their hurt children.

NeuroResilient Play Therapy © models, to parents, how to integrate the various physiological and mindful parts of the child so that they can function optimally. It is based on identity focusing on the strengths of who the child was created to be instead of forcing the child to fit into a mold made by adults who believe the child has no motivation or seeks only to manipulate.

For more information on how to be NeuroResilient for children and adults, contact Ron today about speaking opportunities or schedule a session in his Avila Beach, Ca office (skype services are available).

The Important of REST when Parenting A Traumatized Child

parenting a traumatized child

By Ron Huxley, LMFT

Parenting a traumatized child can be challenging and exhausting work. It isn’t something that should be done alone without adequate support. Parents must take care of themselves as well as others. You can’t give away what you don’t have… Faith-based families look to God for their help (Psalms 121:1-2) and operate from a place of REST:

“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

“He restores my soul.” Psalms 23:

REST stands for RE-store your Soul from Trauma. Our soul includes our entire being: body, mind/emotions and spirt. Each area requires attention. How do we do that when we have an endless to-do list, dealing with continuous problems?

The key is to find rest IN work, not FROM work. It is a mental recognition that we can be in partnership with God and others. We can set boundaries and say “No” to outside activities, not live up to others expectations, and remembering “who you are and whose you are” spiritually speaking. You have to be a “son or daughter”  before you can be a fully functioning father or mother. Seek out spiritual parents to support you as you carry on the work of parenting traumatized children.

List 5 ways you will restore your soul in the next 30 days:

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