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Years ago we were parenting two newly adopted children, both of whom had significant trauma-related needs.  Our children each required a high level of support.  We had  just begun to learn about the impact of developmental trauma and had limited resources and access to support.  We were overwhelmed and pretty much on our own. We lived in isolation… much as we all are living right now.  

 We learned how to do things differently and got our family through the roughest and most isolated days.  We kept it simple, stayed connected with each other and tried our best to be kind.  We found that when we could do that…we really did survive and thrive.  We were not perfect.  The kids had hard days and we had them too. We made repair, tried again, and moved forward.  Our greatest lesson was learning that our kids do not need us to be perfect.  They needed us to be gentle with ourselves and with them; and to worry less about DOING and more about BEING.

Responding to Isolation

The way that we connected with and supported our own children became a new roadmap for parenting and family life. With the closing of schools, public entities and social distancing becoming the norm, families are facing the same challenges of parenting in isolation. New strategies are needed, especially for those who are parenting children with trauma related needs.

Survive & Thrive Packet

It’s important to note: we created this packet for families caring for children with complex trauma-related needs. Children whose neurology was impacted by adverse early experiences and whose behavior and function are therefore impacted by high levels of toxic stress. However, I want to be clear, these are stressful times for all of us, especially children and there is no reason to believe all children would not benefit from this approach. So feel free to implement the tools you find here with any child you feel may be in need of extra care right now.


The R.I.S.E. Model (Relational Integrative Supportive Experiences)

 Our family survived and thrived during our season of stress and isolation.  Our way of life and our approach to helping our children, is based in Neuroscience.  Our model provides a foundation and road map that transforms parenting.  The stress of isolation necessitates that parents support building resilience and  hope.  RISE lays the foundation for a structured routine focused on relationship, self-regulation and resilience. The model provides simple-to-use tools to address complex challenges.

 The RISE model offers a structure focused on meeting basic needs, supporting regulation, maintaining connection and providing positive, memory-building experiences.  Our tendency is to structure each day around the things on our “to do” lists.  This approach offers families a new set of priorities for the household.  Putting the child’s self-regulation and resilience at the top of the “to do” list helps the family function better on a day to day basis and gradually builds tolerance and function. Children with lower resilience need predictability and reassurance from caregivers to feel safe.  The traumatized child will require caregiver support to regulate brain states and areas of the brain associated with learning.  Simply put, children with high trauma needs will learn best and sometimes only  within the context of a relational experience.  When my husband and I really leaned into that truth, our family became happier and healthier, and life got easier for all of us.

 A goal of our model is to decrease chaos and help children build a tolerance for structure.  Children with trauma-related needs require on-going support to do this.  Behaviors that are perceived as defiance are often a natural adaptation to toxic stress experienced in early childhood or in-utero.  Neuroscience tells us that trauma can cause a neurological need for higher stimulation (chaos) and a rejection or avoidance of structure. Children with trauma needs may create chaos in the external environment in order to match their (internal) brain states.  When parents respond in kind, non-threatening ways, recognizing and  understanding the child’s flight or fight threshold, they build tolerance, function and resilience. Understanding this principle was a HUGE part of my own parenting transformation.

 Right now, we are all coping with stress and isolation. The valuable lessons my family learned back in 2006, have relevance for children with trauma-related needs today.  We learned how to relieve stress and decrease uncertainty for our children.  We also found that the strategies we used were helpful for all children (and the adults in the household)!   This model transformed our family.  We hope it can help your family to survive and thrive!

Regulation

Children with high trauma needs will thrive best at home with a daily routine focused first on meeting their basic needs, then on balancing what they need to do with what they want to do, intensionally incorporating regulation activities in 5-15 minute doses throughout the day and doing all of this within a positive memory building experience they are sharing with a caring, capable adult.

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Three Guiding Truths

We’ve extensively studied the neurology of relationships through the research of Bruce Perry, Dan Siegel, John and Julie Gottman and Brene’ Brown. Their powerful work led me to uncover 3 guiding truths that transformed the way we parent and ultimately the way I interact with every person I encounter.

What we found was a new understanding and appreciation for the importance of safe, authentic human connection.

These three important truths changed my life, and I hope they’ll change yours too.

one

Early trauma physically changes the developing brain.

two

Kindness and compassionate responses soothe the nervous system.

three

Our idea of community needs to be re-defined, it needs to adapt, because compassionate relationships heal trauma.