Duncan Elliot is a life coach working out of Basingstoke in England. He particularly works with people who feel that there must be more to life and are willing to work at it, so that they can feel happier and more in control of their life. He offers life coaching in person, on the phone or via audio or video across the Internet. Click here to contact him.
Catch the wind in your sails!
Parenting a traumatised child is incredibly hard. Parenting two or more is practically impossible – whether it's only one of them who has significant trauma or if it's all of them. It can result in issues that can be painful, exhausting and guilt-inducing, and decisions that are emotionally agonising.
One repeated scenario is that a child with trauma has huge needs. They need an immense amount of time, care and attention. Their needs are emotionally incredibly draining. And their ability to cope with anyone else having their needs met can be extreme, up to and including violence. The result is that we get overwhelmed with their needs and fail to notice or respond to those of their siblings.
The degree to which we do that can be much, much bigger than we realise. The number of times that we say, “No” to simple requests because of the way that their sibling will react; the failure to give them love and attention because their damaged sibling can't handle it or simply that you don't have the time and energy. I've been there and done it and find it shocking that I didn't realise it at the time. It took someone external to point it out to me – not for guilt and condemnation, but so that we could change and improve.
Another scenario is domestic violence. In the UK, one of the reasons why children are taken into care is if they repeatedly witness of suffer domestic violence. Yet with a traumatised brother or sister, the pattern can continue. Child to parent violence occurs in many adoptive families and we often fail to recognise the damage that can do to the siblings who are seeing it, day after day; week after week. Even social workers, when involved in your family, can fail to notice and understand this.
They can also suffer from violence from the traumatised child. I've come across a range of behaviours: lashing out when upset or frustrated; systematic bullying; trying to injure a sibling to provoke a reaction from the parents. We protect children from abusive parents, but sometimes fail to protect them from abusive siblings.
Finally there is the trauma bond. Because they are placed with their siblings, the children trust each other which can get in the way of them healing by trusting their new parents. Older children can parent the younger ones, preventing the younger ones from accepting care and nurture from their parents. They can re-trigger trauma in each other by re-enacting their past, rekindling traumatic memories, or by their responses to situations which resonate with their siblings. Humans are pack animals and are very sensitive to the responses of others: if one sibling reacts with fear, the others are likely to pick up on that and react in a similar way.
The first issue that we parents have is that we're often so caught up with the overwhelming, immediate needs that we miss the bigger picture. This can particularly happen where one of the children has significant issues. Their needs and behaviours are so extreme that it's easy to overlook the needs of the other child or children. Those other children can also become quiet and compliant and so we almost forget about them: they're not saying they have needs and not fighting for them to be met so our brain concludes that whatever needs they have ARE being met.
Added to that, if we're dealing with extreme behaviours, we will be under stress ourselves. When stressed, we will be flooded with cortisol and operating from the more primitive parts of our brain, which react to immediate situations. The rational parts of our brains will be pretty much shut down so we will find it difficult to think logically and to look at the big picture.
The next is that, when we do see the issues, the solutions can be devastatingly painful. There are options, but one of them is that the children may not be able to live together: it may be too damaging to some or all of them. Considering this – and it can be difficult to come up with the right solution until you've considered all options – is emotionally very, very difficult. Our heart can be screaming with pain and we carry on because we can't face the agony of even contemplating it.
I can work with you to evaluate your family situation, give you strategies to control your stress, enable you to step back and look at the bigger picture and then support you as you make the decisions you need to for yourselves and all of your children. I know it's not easy for you because I've been through it myself. If that's something that you and your family need, contact me.