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Parenting When Your Child has Experienced Trauma [Helping them Heal]

Because every child in foster care has experienced some form of trauma, it’s important for you as a foster parent to understand the role it plays in your foster child’s life and how to address it. Taking an informed approach to addressing your child’s trauma will make you a powerful ally throughout their recovery process.

Every foster child has a shared traumatic experience of being removed from their home and family. Some may have additional traumas such as:

  • Physical or emotional abuse
  • Harm directed at someone close to them
  • Neglect
  • Growing up exposed to drug abuse or alcoholism

There is no hierarchy when it comes to traumatic experiences. No matter what the source was, if left unaddressed, trauma can cause difficulties throughout your child’s development as they grow into adults. But you can aid in the healing process.

If you’re raising a foster child who is battling with trauma, continue reading below to learn more about how it can affect your child and how you can support them. You can also contact an adoption professional to get immediate support.

The Long-Term Effects Trauma Can Have

If a foster child grew up in a traumatic or unsafe environment, all of those feelings of fear, anxiety and sadness that they feel in the moment may manifest as mental illness or the inability to trust others later in life. They may even develop behavioral issues such as eating disorders or acting out in defiance.

You might not even know the effects of the trauma until years after the experience. Children that have experienced a traumatic event or history of trauma are more like to:

  • Develop a mental illness or other psychological issues
  • Suffer from substance abuse
  • Have lower self-esteem
  • Have poor emotional regulation
  • Struggle to build or maintain relationships

You can help your child fight back and cope with these residual effects by providing them with support and helpful resources. These developmental outcomes don’t mean your child is broken. They just need patience, understanding and a little extra help.

How to Help Your Foster Child Cope with Trauma

Your foster child may have endured years of trauma not only in their biological family’s home, but just from being in the foster care system. Bouncing around between different homes is traumatic in and of itself and can create intense feelings of instability. But it’s never too late or early to help them start their healing process.

The first step to doing this is identifying their triggers. Triggers are anything that may remind your child of their past traumas and can result in an emotional episode or erratic behavior. Triggers can be anything from a specific situation to a certain smell. By knowing what your foster child’s triggers are, you can avoid reopening old wounds. There are three ways you can do this:

1. Patience

Every foster child’s experience with trauma is different, so the way they will heal will be different too. They come from all sorts of different family backgrounds and home environments. How the trauma manifests varies from foster child to foster child. It’s impossible to know what to expect, so try not to make any assumptions. It’s important that you take everything in stride and show them compassion and understanding.

2. Consistency

Being in the foster care system can mean bouncing between different foster families for years. This can create a mindset of instability and may make it hard for your child to trust people or form meaningful attachments. By being consistent and showing your foster child that you’re not going anywhere, you can help them develop a sense of stability.

3. Flexibility

Trauma may manifest as emotional instability and erratic behavior. It’s important that you are prepared to adapt to difficult behaviors and potential challenges that may arise. Instead of lashing out and potentially triggering past trauma, take a deep breath and try to identify the problem so you can work through it together.

One important thing to keep in mind as you move forward in your journey of raising a foster child is that healing isn’t linear. Your child may make a lot of consistent progress in coping with their trauma and then have one bad day brought on by a trigger. This doesn’t mean that the progress was lost. Just that they had a bad day.

There are a variety of resources out there that can help you support your child such as counselors and foster parent support groups.  You can receive guidance and advice on your journey to providing your child with the help they need to heal. To get additional guidance and support in raising a foster child with trauma, you can reach out to adoption professional today.