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How Foster Parents Can Help Ease Trauma Responses
When you decide to open your home to a foster child, you are choosing to open your heart to a child who needs it most. The simple fact is that when children are taken into the foster care system, it is always already a traumatic event.
Being separated from your parents, perhaps even from your siblings, and moving into a new home will almost inevitably trigger feelings of fear and loss. Children may suffer from guilt and shame in leaving their loved ones behind. They may even blame themselves for being removed from the home.
However, the decision to place a child into foster care is never one to be taken lightly, and it typically follows a painful history of abuse and neglect. Being a foster parent, then, means more than simply loving a child. It also means learning to recognize the signs of trauma and understanding how to help your foster child begin to heal.
Understanding the Effects of Trauma
One of the most important lessons to learn about trauma is that it doesn’t just end with the traumatic event. Its effects can reverberate for a lifetime, impacting the child’s physical and mental health for years to come.
Sometimes the effects of trauma are not always obvious. Trauma responses in children are often mistaken for other conditions, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
This is why, before taking a foster child into your home, it is incumbent upon you to become informed about childhood trauma and its diverse and sometimes unpredictable manifestations. Armed with such knowledge, you can create a home and family environment that can help to mitigate those impacts.
A Nurturing Environment
Children who have experienced trauma need love and security above all. For many of these children, healing begins with the experience of having a safe space to retreat to when life and memories become overwhelming.
This is especially important for children who may have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or who may have other sensory processing disorders. A key strategy for helping calm children dealing with the emotional repercussions of trauma, particularly for children with ASD who may have challenges articulating or coping with their feelings, is to create a sensory-friendly room.
Use soothing colors, such as soft blues and greens, as well as comforting textures, such as velvet, plush rugs and blankets, and soft leather upholstery. This can provide your little one with a safe haven to retreat to when they are feeling emotionally overwhelmed or sensorily overstimulated.
The Impact on Self-Image
In addition to the risk of depression and anxiety associated with childhood trauma, a growing body of evidence suggests that those who have experienced trauma are also vulnerable to body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and the eating disorders often connected with it.
Children who have suffered neglect and abuse, these studies show, often internalize the abuse, tending to blame themselves rather than the abuser who is likely a parent or another loved one. Unfortunately, however, this tendency can all too easily mutate into self-hatred and a poor self-image, including a negative body image.
For this reason, you will need to be on guard for signs of body dysmorphia and eating disorders. For instance, if the child fixates on their appearance, especially on a perceived physical flaw, or if they exhibit unhealthy eating behaviors such as emotionally overeating, eating too little, or excusing themselves to the restroom shortly after meals, then there may be a problem that requires care from a trauma-informed counselor.
Even if your foster child is not showing such troubling signs, it’s important to be aware of these vulnerabilities and to work to create an environment that supports a positive body image. The beauty industry, for example, is now increasingly endorsing a healthier and more diverse image of beauty. This is something that your child should see you actively embrace, not only in the way you speak of and treat your own body but also in the images you uphold as beautiful.
There is nothing more important or more rewarding than opening your heart and home to a child in need. But caring for a foster child means understanding the effects that trauma has likely had on your little one. With the proper tools, information, and support, however, you can help your child heal from the wounds of their past and move forward into the happy and healthy future they deserve.
Jori Hamilton is an experienced writer residing in the Northwestern U.S. She covers a wide range of subjects but takes a particular interest in covering topics related to child development, health and wellness, mindfulness, and productivity. To learn more about Jori, you can follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn