Ten keys to healing trauma in the adoptive child

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Trauma creates fear and stress sensitivity in children. Even for a child adopted from birth, his internal systems may already be more sensitive and fearful than that of a child remaining with his biological parents. You must also consider the first nine months in which the child developed. These early experiences could also have major implications.

  1. Recognize and be more aware of fear being demonstrated by your child. Be more sensitive and tuned in to the small signals given such as clinging, whining, not discriminating amongst strangers, etc. All are signs of insecurity which can be met by bringing the child in closer, holding, carrying, and communicating to the child that he is feeling scared, but you will keep him safe.
  2. Recognize the impact of trauma in your own life. One of the single greatest understandings parents can have is a self-understanding. Research tells us that far more communication occurs non-verbally than verbally. Understanding the impact of past trauma in your own life will help you become more sensitive when your reactions are coming from a place other than your existing parent/child experience. Re-experiencing past trauma is common when parents are placed in an ongoing stressful environment.
  3. Reduce external sensory stimulation when possible. Decrease television, overwhelming environments, number of children playing together at one time, and large family gatherings. When necessary that these events take place, keep the child close, explain to him that he may become stressed and he can come to you when needed.
  4. Do time-in instead of time-out. Rather than sending the stressed out and scared child to the corner to think about his behavior, bring him to you and help him to feel safe and secure. Internally, this will then permit him the ability to think about his actions. Though time-in is not a time for lecturing, it will allow your child an opportunity to calm his stress and then think more clearly. Another effective key is to let the child decide how much time-in he needs.
  5. Do not hit traumatized children. Doing so will only identify you as a threat. The biblical verse “Spare the rod, spoil the child,” speaks to the raising of sheep. A rod is used to guide the sheep and the staff to pull him back into line when he strays. Hitting children, just like sheep, will cause them to become frightened of you and in many instances to run away or hit back.
  6. There is never enough affection in the world. A very simple technique for time is the affection prescription 10-20-10. Give a child 10 minutes of quality time and attention first thing in the morning, 20 minutes in the afternoon, and 10 in the evening. Following this prescription of time has proven to have a great impact on the most negative behavior.
  7. Encourage an IEP in the classroom to develop an understanding of the child’s stress and fear. This may assist in addressing such vital areas as homework, playground, peer interaction, lunchtime, and physical education. All are common areas of reduced structure and increased stress.
  8. Educate yourself regarding the impact of stress and trauma on families. Try not to scapegoat your child for their difficulties, but rather take responsibility for creating the environment necessary for healing his hurtful experiences. There are many resources available. A couple to note are: www.parentingtheadoptedchild.com and www.traumaresources.org.
  9. Seek support. Parenting a child with trauma history can take its toll on the best of parents. Seek out a support system for occasional respite care, discussing of issues, and the sharing of a meal. Such small steps can go a long ways during particularly stressful times.
  10. Never forget that you are a great parent. During times of stress you won’t always feel like it, but both you and your child were meant to be together. Your child will teach you far more about yourself than you may have ever realized without him. Give yourself time to refuel, connect, and communicate.


A secure parental relationship is the single greatest gift you can give your child. When the parental relationship is secure this will permit the child a foundation to grow from.