John and I opened our home to foster care and adoption with a lot of hope and little knowledge of what the reality would look like. As a mom trying to help these kids heal, I learned a lot about children, trauma, myself, our mutual needs, and healing. Out of everything I’ve learned, the following dos and don’ts top the list for how to make your home a place of healing.
- Don’t take your adopted child’s anger personally. As I got to know my kids better, as I discovered their hearts and their unmet needs, I stopped worrying that their anger was all about me. Instead, I investigated how to help my children with the help of professionals and God. I used their anger to discover the places where deep healing was needed.
- Work on yourself as a way to help your kids. The better I was able to care for myself—making it easier for me to control my own anger and find help for my overwhelmed emotions—the better I was able to assist my kids. And they were able to see in me that it is possible to calmly deal with difficult and painful feelings.
- Teach kids they have a right to be angry. Adopted kids have a right to be angry—angry at the situation, angry at how they were hurt, and angry at the daily little stuff that always comes up. “It’s okay to be angry. It’s okay to express it,” my sister Lesley—a former foster mom—reminded me. “I would tell my foster kids to go to their room and scream into their pillow if they felt out-of-control angry, to get out the brunt of their emotions, and then we could talk it through. Sometimes they just needed to scream a little.”
- Be teachable. I remember sitting at our first adoption training, thinking, I don’t know why I’m here. I write parenting books … This is a waste of time! I laugh now to think how prideful I was. Yet the first time I went to trauma therapy with our daughter Sissy, the therapist was an intern who couldn’t have been more than twenty-five years old. When she started to explain why things worked and didn’t work with Sissy, I was amazed. I pulled out a notebook and pen and started taking notes. It truly was a humbling experience—me (an experienced mom) taking advice from a young intern. But as we adopted more kids, I learned something important … to be teachable.
- Understand that shame is at the heart of anger issues. I’ve never felt more incapable and powerless than I did when dealing with an angry, out-of-control child. That feeling brought a flood of panic. I cannot do this. I can’t control this situation. I don’t have what it takes. Once I realized that shame was at the core of my feelings of not being enough, I knew I had to change. I started focusing on what I did right, instead of all the things I thought I was doing wrong.
- Show up every day. It’s important to look past your child’s behavior to find his heart. Even if there is only a crack in the armor your child has erected, fill that place with love.
- Give up preconceived notions about medication and treatment. The first time I met with my children’s doctor, I wanted to know when I could take my kids off the medications they were on for hyperactivity, ADHD, anxiety, and depression. I believed that a stable home and loving parents should make them all better. While over time we were able to take our kids off some of their medications, it wasn’t as simple as I expected. It required working with doctors and testing how my kids did at lower doses. It also meant understanding that some of our kids will likely need to take medications for the rest of their lives. I learned to be open minded about my kids’ needs. I learned to listen to experts who helped me understand.
- Meet your child where he is. If, for any reason, adoptive children have missed a developmental stage, they might need a way to fill that area in. When you take time to meet your child right where he is, a bond is formed. These bonds connect parents and children, helping kids overcome anger issues.
- Try essential oils. For example, orange oil is cold pressed from oranges, and when diffused into the air, it helps people become more alert and better able to concentrate. Lavender oil is known to have a calming effect.
- Share your broken story. When our older adopted kids first started visiting our home over weekends, we learned a lot about them—their likes and dislikes, their hopes and fears. How? Something triggered a memory, and they launched into a story. We learned about how they ended up in foster care, their first days of school, the challenges they faced, and the events that molded their personalities. In addition to telling their stories, our girls often asked us to tell ours. It never failed that after they got ready for bed, they’d want to hear a story about us, about our lives. By sharing our stories with our kids, we helped them understand our family culture.
The more I’m willing to open my heart and life to my children, the more willing they are to open theirs to me. And that is what all this healing is about. It’s opening up our hearts to our kids with a “me first” attitude. It’s dealing with our kids’ anger by dealing with ours. It’s understanding that just as God has transformed us, He will do the same with our kids. And it’s realizing that dealing with the hard stuff of anger leads us to all the good places God’s wanted us to go to all along. It’s a journey of healing and of hope. It’s a hard journey but one I’m thankful I embarked on.
(Excerpt from Calming Angry Kids by Tricia Goyer)
If you have a child who struggles with anger, or if you know a family that does, be sure to order Calming Angry Kids today. Each of us needs to wake up with hope and lay down in peace—you do, your kids do. Each of us needs to discover that with the right tools, overcoming anger is possible.
There is help. There is hope. There can be calm.
“I felt as though Tricia was sitting next to me sharing her personal stories and giving me help, guidance, and encouragement for my own parenting journey. If you have a child who struggles with anger, sit with Tricia and let her encourage you as well.”
Bestselling author of If You Only Knew, host of the podcast The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey
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