Helping the Child Adjust
Leaving one’s home, the sights, sounds, people, pets, routines, toys, and other little everyday household items that make us feel safe and comfortable, is one of the hardest things we ever have to do. And when we are a very little kid, it is 10 times harder. Safety comes from the familiar, and when we are forced to leave our home, our place of safety, how can we feel safe?
The little one who has been placed in your care does not feel safe. She misses her home, her family, more than she could ever tell you. And there’s a problem – she really doesn’t have the words to tell you these big feelings. She may feel scared, confused, abandoned, worried about her parents, alone, and afraid things will never be the same again. Her parents love her, and she wants to be back with them. But for now, she can’t. And she misses them more than she can say.
She has only one person to help her with these big feelings. That person is you. But you are worried about so many other things too – how to find the money to support her and buy her food. How to get ahold of her health and shot records. How to get her enrolled into child care or school. How to help her adjust to your house and your routines, when she doesn’t seem able to do that.
The first few days after a child is placed in your care can cause a lot of turmoil. And very often, after a few days where the child is very well-behaved and does what she is asked, all of a sudden negative behaviors start showing up. And they often get worse, not better, with the passing days. Screaming. Telling. Tantrums. Disobedience. Sometimes even aggression or destroying things. And quiet behavior, while not disruptive, can signal something even worse. Grief. Incredible sadness and loneliness. Feeling like somebody died and having no place to go with those overwhelming feelings of loss.
All of these signs a child shows, from destroying things to tantruming to sitting alone and crying softly, are signs of trauma. Little children experience trauma just like grownups do, but it is even harder on them because they do not have the same abilities to cope like we do. So they need our help. Here’s what you can do:
PREDICTABILITY AND ROUTINES
Helping her understand routines in your home, wake up time, when we eat, after-school routines, bath time, bedtime – lets her know what’s coming next.
Even a raised voice can be scary. It can be hard when the child has misbehaved, but try to take a deep breath, stay calm, and use a calm tone of voice even when setting limits.
TIME-IN, NOT TIME-OUT
If she has a tantrum or meltdown, stay with her until she settles. It may take a while. But don’t use “time out” or isolate her. Being alone is scary for a traumatized child.
TALKING ABOUT LOVED ONES
Even when some negative things happened at home, children love and miss their parents. Hearing you talk about them, in a kind way, helps keep their spirit alive.
Be ready to talk, but don’t force the child. They need to know its normal and OK to feel sad and angry about what happened. Reassure them what happened wasn’t their fault.
For more information and help knowing how to support a traumatized child in your care, please visit Parenting a Child Who Has Experienced Trauma.