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The Power of Play for Kids from Trauma Backgrounds

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A Guest Blog from Jared & DeAnn Jennette – Embrace Parent Coaching

embrace-parent-coaching-logo-transfiguring-adoptionWhen children from a traumatic background are brought into a foster/adoptive home, there are often so many areas of their life that are delayed. Anything including education, social skills, attachment, even physical health can be significantly delayed depending on their environment and its impact on the child. As parents we feel the pressure to do everything we can to get a child improving in all of these areas, sometimes even all at once, and it can cause us to neglect things like fun and play. But what if we told you that play could be the key to unlocking many of the areas which have been underdeveloped in our foster and adopted children? Would you look at play differently? Play is a tremendous tool in developing many of the skills we want our children from a trauma background to gain.

“Play is a tremendous tool in developing many of the skills we want our children from a trauma background to gain.”

One of the great things about play is that it gives kids chances to try new skills that they are needing to develop. Play gives opportunity to take turns, to imagine, to collaborate, to accomplish a goal, to laugh and create safety. Play allows a child to try out new social skills that he/she may need to work on. Play is even a great way to help a child increase his/her capacity for learning. Play is a wonderful tool in our tool belts as parents that we often forget exists. Many of us have been conditioned to think that learning must be serious, quiet, and often didactic (teacher talks and student listens). But learning happens in a variety of settings, and play is a great place for a child who comes from a trauma background to learn new skills that he/she may be experiencing a delay.

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Another of the great things about play is it offers our children a non-threatening way to grow. Let’s be honest, any time we’re trying to learn a new skill, it is difficult. The stress of trying to master a skill, especially in a new environment like our foster/adopted kids, can be overwhelming, and lead to meltdowns. By giving chances to grow through play, you provide your child a safe, non-threatening environment to try, and especially to fail. No one gets skills right immediately. And often as parents of children from trauma backgrounds, it can be easy for us to think what seems “natural” should just come to the child. But what is “natural” to us may not be to a child from a trauma background. Play allows those “natural” skills to grow when things don’t really count. Your child may not understand that, so you need to make sure you’re reminding him or her play is fun, there is no one right way to do it, and if a mistake happens, it’s a part of the playing. By creating a non-threatening space for your child to try out new skills and grow in them, you help him/her gain confidence and continue to grow and improve.

“Play allows those “natural” skills to grow when things don’t really count.”

Finally, play is a great way to create attachment with your child with a trauma background. For many kids who have an insecure attachment due to their past experiences with neglect or abuse, learning to trust a new parent is incredibly threatening. Often foster/adoptive parents assume that because they feel attached to a child, the child should be attached to them. But attachment is something that must be reinforced through trust, safety, and reassurance of love. One of the best ways you can do this is by playing with your children. No matter the age of your child, playing creates opportunities for laughter, safety, and love. Attachment is foundational to trying to teach your child any of the skills you want him/her to gain. Allow play to be the way in which you develop healthy, lasting attachment with your child with a trauma background.

“But attachment is something that must be reinforced through trust, safety, and reassurance of love. One of the best ways you can do this is by playing with your children.”

No matter the skill, no matter the delay, play is a wonderful opportunity for a child from any background to learn, grow, and bond. Children from trauma backgrounds often have missed out on the opportunities that play has to offer them. By allowing play to be a regular part of your family life with your child from a trauma background, you will create a deeper, more secure attachment with him/her. This is done while giving him/her the opportunity to grow in skills in a non-threatening environment. Play is a critical tool in your toolbelt as a foster/adoptive parent. So stop reading and GO HAVE FUN!

embrace-parent-coaching-christmas-blog-traditions-transfiguring-adoptionJared and DeAnn Jennette are trained 
coaches who are committed to creating 
brain-based, non-punitive parenting 
solutions to create connection from 
chaos for families of children with 
hidden challenges. They offer a free
coaching consultation, and you can 
reach them at 
embraceparentcoaching@gmail.com or visit their
website at embraceparentcoaching.com.

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Christmas Traditions for Foster and Adoptive Families

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Christmas Traditions for Foster and Adoptive Families

Christmas and holiday traditions for foster and adoptive families can be wonderful opportunities to connect with your child and communicate their importance to family. If we are not willing to incorporate our children’s traditions into the life of our family, we communicate to our foster/adopted child that they are an outsider who needs to conform. This will likely lead to a child feeling excluded and rejected. So how have we created new traditions as an adoptive family?

Look for Decorations that Mirror our Child

As a transracial adoptive family, we learned that we needed to be conscious of our choices of decorations and ornaments. We didn’t want  a lily-white baby Jesus in the manger because it was neither factually accurate nor inclusive of our son. We became purposeful in finding decorations that reflected our multiracial family. These include:

  • A black Santa figurine kneeling before a black Jesus in the manger
  • Haitian ornaments for the tree
  • Craft ornaments made with his skin color in mind

You may not be a transracial foster or adoptive family, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways for you to acknowledge your child’s heritage as well.  Are there ornaments that are important? Decorations to remind him/her of their biological family? Help them celebrate by incorporating them into the family.

New Family, New Traditions

When we were first married, we had to decide what new family traditions we would create. Where would we be for Christmas eve? Christmas morning? When we foster and adopt a child, we need to take the same approach and be willing to create new holiday traditions, even if it means letting go of others that we hold dear. For us, this meant making New Years a day of celebrating Haitian Independence Day. We have tried our hand at joumou soup, a pumpkin soup that is often had to celebrate. Once we realized we were terrible at making it, we found a Haitian restaurant in Evanston, IL, about an hour away. Every year we order food to have at home on Haitian Independence Day. We’ve even shared this with our extended family to invite them to be a part of the celebration. Ask your child what’s important for them during the holidays and make it important to you.

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When possible, include biological family

Your child’s biological family is a part of your family. Denying this reality will cause your child to feel ashamed rather than a part of your family. So how do yo go about including your child’s biological family? Depending on the situation you can:

  • Create an ornament with a picture of your child’s birth family
  • Send a card with a personal note from your child.
  • Take your child to purchase a gift for a sibling or parent.
  • Invite family to a meal or celebration

These are just a few ways that we hope spark ideas for you. The more you’re able to include your child’s birth family, the happier your holidays can be.

Keep in mind that holidays may be very emotionally overwhelming for your child. Don’t put pressure on yourself or your child for a “perfect” holiday. Look for ways to create new traditions, including your child’s biological family, to create a chance at a happier holiday.

embrace-parent-coaching-christmas-blog-traditions-transfiguring-adoptionJared and DeAnn Jennette are trained coaches who
are committed to creating brain-based,
non-punitive parenting solutions to create
connection from chaos for families of children
with hidden challenges. They offer a free
coaching consultation, and you can reach them at
embraceparentcoaching@gmail.com or visit their
website at embraceparentcoaching.com.

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