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Attachment and Trauma

fight like a girl

One of Russ’ students gave him an orange bracelet for Kalkidan’s birthday that says, “FIGHT like a GIRL.”

Kalkidan was a fighter. First she fought out of fear. Later she fought for healing.

One of my few memories from the accident is Russ’ voice as he, and a nurse who stopped to help, did CPR on Kalkidan.  Their voices, counting compressions, came to me in a moment of foggy consciousness. I heard Russ calling out to God, and then I heard him say,  “Come on, Kalkidan, you’re a fighter. I need you to fight harder than you’ve ever fought before. I love you.”

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Parenting children with trauma histories requires a whole new level of research and thought about how to handle particular behaviors, wounds, and relationships. I’m pretty sure I should have an honorary doctorate by now.

Thankfully, we don’t have to figure it all out on our own. There are wonderful therapists, books, videos, and even blogs written by folks just like us who are giving this parenting-kids-from-hard-places gig all they’ve got.

I read a post on a friend’s blog that is fantastic. Ann wrote about helping her child heal from a very painful memory by reenacting the event in a loving, nurturing way. She writes,


This week’s Tuesday Topic comes from Lydia.

This is my second year teaching First Grade. I have had a lot of experience with children with many different needs both in my parents’ home, camps, and educational settings.  However, there is a particular student in my class this year who comes from “hard places” and I am struggling to set him up for behavioral success.  His behaviors are very impulsive and he struggles to stay on task.  In addition, he is very defiant and often refuses to obey the simplest requests.  Stealing food and lying occur as well.  My typical behavior management tricks do not work with him.

Each week I reach back into my archives for a My Learning Curve post that I  hope will be helpful to you. An earlier version of this post was published in October 2011.

Last night I had an errand to run.  I drove a few minutes to a house in town and knocked on the door.  A little girl answered and a scowl appeared on her face.   She demanded, “Why are you here?”

You can imagine that was not the greeting I was expecting — especially since I was at my friend’s house, and the child was my daughter.

I said, “Kalkidan, that’s not a respectful or kind way to greet me.  Let’s shut the door and try that again.”

It’s Wednesday and I’m reaching back into my archives for a My Learning Curve post that I  hope will be helpful to you. An earlier form of this was published in April 2012.

Kalkidan asks questions – lots and lots of questions.  I can see dozens of you right now nodding your heads and saying, “Yep, I know just what that is like.”  From the time she gets in the car after school, until we sit down for dinner 2 1/2 hours later, the questions are constant and range from the necessary to the ridiculous.  I find myself answering, answering, and answering again; eventually I find myself saying, “Kalkidan, you know that is nonsense and I’m not going to answer it.”  Hmmm…that’s not a particularly smart strategy.

It’s as if Kalkidan believes she is not being seen, or I will not meet her needs, if she isn’t talking constantly.  Which reminds me of something Karyn Purvis says, and this is a paraphrase because I don’t want to dig through my notes this morning, “Abuse tells a child, ‘I don’t like you.’ Neglect tells a child, ‘You don’t exist.'”  Perhaps the constant questions help Kalkidan feel as if she exists.


|Part 1 of Giving Voice to Siblings|

Two years into our journey, we began working with a gifted adoption therapist who helped us with our children from “hard places.”  We began to see some light shining down into the pit where we found ourselves.  Every other week we were able to process the events in our home with somebody who really understood and could help us.  Our children began to respond to therapy and we slowly began to recover.

But what about our other children?  Were they meeting with a professional every other week?  Were they having their concerns heard?  Were they gaining new strategies for coping with what their family and home had become?  Nearly 18 months into therapy we realized that our other children were not going to spontaneously recover.  We needed to intentionally help them find their voices again and make our home a safe place for them.


In a recent comment, a reader asked if I’ve written much about siblings and I realized that, although I’ve spoken on the topic, I haven’t published much about the impact of adopting children from “hard places” on children already in the family. This article was originally published on another site, which explains the more formal tone, and it’s quite long, so I’m breaking it into two parts.

She was four years old.  Each night she woke with a tummy ache and most often went to her parents’ bed hoping for some relief.  Lying next to her mother gave her comfort, but the pain didn’t stop.  A doctor finally determined she had a stomach ulcer and treated her.  The pain went away, but her mother worried about the stress she was enduring at this young age.

K loves fall out

On Wednesdays I go to my vault of posts (there are 1700, friends!), and share a My Learning Curve post from the past. Today’s post is from June 2009, when we had just begun traveling to Seattle for therapy with Deborah Gray.

As the family cleared the table last night, Kalkidan began drawing a picture similar to one her therapist had drawn. She talked about the ways her heart was broken. Then she drew many small hearts spilling out of the broken heart. Her therapist had explained that when a child’s heart is broken, her mommy and daddy can try to fill it up with loves, but the loves keep falling out and the child never feels that she has enough. Once a child’s heart is healed, the loves can fill her whole heart.


This post, from February 10, 2009, launched My Learning Curve, a series of posts with practical tips for parenting children from “hard places.” I’m reaching back deep into my archives to share some of the best posts with you (with updates) over the next weeks. I hope you find them helpful.

Kalkidan is a lean girl – thin, muscular, and very strong. We thought that once she was home she would begin to gain weight, but in 21 months she has only gained 3.5 kg while growing significantly taller. She has the beautiful Ethiopian look of a long distance runner, but she doesn’t have much in the way of fat reserves.

When it comes to food, I am easygoing with my children. Food just isn’t a battle I’ve chosen to fight. We don’t struggle over finishing everything on our plates, or save dinner for breakfast if it isn’t eaten. That isn’t to say that I let them eat dessert when they haven’t had dinner, but I try to be relaxed about food.

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I found this post in my “Drafts” folder. Written on December 12th, I hadn’t gotten around to posting it. It’s a testimony to the dramatic healing that was taking place in Kalkidan and in our family. We felt “almost normal.” I could weep over not having more time to enjoy this sweet spot (and I do weep over it).  To be honest, I feel ripped off; after all the hard work for  Kalkidan and for us, she’s gone. It still seems impossible. Over and over I remind myself of what is true: God loves her, God loves us, he is good, he is sovereign, he is wise, and his plans are far better than mine.

Some days we feel it. We wake up, look at each other, and there is no fear in our hearts. We don’t dread the start of the day or wonder how we’ll survive. We don’t feel the need to shield our younger ones from a coming storm.

We feel almost normal.