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Parenting adopted children who have been traumatized (part 1) . . .

Updated: Apr 21, 2021

The majority of adopted children—especially those adopted at older ages (typically ages 3 and above) have experienced some level of trauma prior to their adoption. For the internationally-adopted child the trauma may have been in the form of abandonment, malnourishment or even human trafficking. For the domestically-adopted child it may have meant neglect, physical/emotional/sexual abuse or being bounced around multiple foster homes. There is even a growing body of research and expert opinion that points to in-utero trauma experienced by babies who are affected by fetal alcohol or drug usage by the mother, as well as being affected residually by the emotional/physical stress the birth mother experiences as a result of an unwanted pregnancy.

As adoptive parents, we must always be aware that it is likely that our child has experienced trauma of some kind. Symptoms of past trauma can include things like the hoarding of food, being easily prone to sensory overload and habitual lying. Regarding the issue of habitual lying, I am reminded of an 18-year-old young woman I worked with in a residential treatment setting who was adopted from a Russian orphanage at age 15. She had a serious lying problem, almost to the point of being pathological. In her four years in the orphanage (subsequent to her mother’s death—a traumatic event in and of itself), lying was used as a survival mechanism. She shared with me “You need to understand that in the orphanage that if I lied, I got what I needed. When I told the truth, I got physically beaten.”

In upcoming posts, I will provide more specific information on how to recognize and address trauma in adopted children, as well as when to seek additional help. For now, I’d like to leave you with some resources about parenting traumatized children: I highly recommend “The Connected Child” by Dr. Karyn Purvis, “From Fear to Love” by B. Bryan Post and “Adopting the Hurt Child” by Gregory Keck and Regina Kupecky. Also, for those interested, Dr. Dan Siegel, Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at UCLA Medical School has written some excellent books on child and teen brain development (we know of course, that trauma affects the brain). They are “The Whole Brain Child” and “Parenting from the Inside Out” (co-authored by Mary Hartzely).


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