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Attachment and Trauma

A Ethiopia

(the beginnings of our adoption and foster care story can be found at Orphans Crossed my Path and Because of Jaso)


Although we knew we wanted to start a second adoption as soon as possible after bringing Jaso home, we found that we were spending more time in the hospital with her than we had anticipated.  As we learned to navigate the new normal of hospital admissions, surgeries, and insurance wranglings, we came to see that I had the kind of skills needed for a mom of special needs children.  I was able to organize, advocate, and research. I was able to juggle hospital life and home life.  And I was able to communicate with specialists and insurance companies. We also lived less then 10 miles from a nationally ranked Children’s hospital.

We decided that we would again pursue a waiting child with medical needs for our next adoption. We prayed very specifically that God would bring us to the child with the greatest need that we had the capacity to parent. Though we thought at the time that meant a medical diagnosis, we learned over time that it meant more.

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I remember the year Kalkidan turned eight. Her birthday was approaching and she was very excited, so excited that I was concerned about it all falling apart. We met with her therapist early that week and spent nearly the entire session talking about what we could all do to make Kalkidan’s birthday a happy day.

Deborah explained to Kalkidan that lots of kids think about their birthfamilies on their birthdays and that can give them sad and/or mad feelings. Those feelings can make a special day difficult, so she suggested we devote time before Kalkidan’s birthday to talk about her Ethiopian family. In particular, she suggested that we light a candle and remember Kalkidan’s mother.

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We like to give hugs in our family. One of our little kids’ favorite things is making a “Sandwich Hug” with Mom and Dad. We wrap our arms around each other with a child suspended snugly between us. They love it!

I didn’t anticipate needing to teach some of my children that hugs are good and shouldn’t hurt. Kalkidan didn’t learn how to give or receive love and affection when she was little. When she came home to our family, most of her hugs were tight squeezes that hurt and generally left the recipient squirming to be released.



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Years ago we were fortunate to work with one of the best attachment/trauma therapists in the country. In one of our earliest visits, it became clear that I’d gotten something backward. I had become so focused on correcting the offender that I’d neglected to comfort the wounded.

There was a lot of conflict between the children and Russ and I were doing our best to reign in the challenging behavior in an effort to protect the little ones. In doing so, we were focusing too much attention on the offender while the injured child was left to tend to himself with minimal comfort from us.

I’ll give you an example.

One evening Russ was working in the garden with the kids when he got a phone call. He told the children that they could play for a few minutes. One of our children was not happy about this and began to interrupt him saying, “Dad, stop talking, we need you in the garden. There is nothing to doooooooo….” He gestured to wait and be patient. Finally this little one had had enough, so she proceeded to walk over to her little brother and pinch him.

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This week’s Tuesday Topic comes from a dad who wants help for his family.

We feel defeated by this child

We have 4 children at home: ages, 13, 11, 9, 4 (the 4 year old is our former foster son). We home school all the children. We have had the 4 year old since he was 3 months old. He was a drug baby, but not sure what drugs, and we are pretty certain there was alcohol in the pregnancy. He spent the first 3 months of his life in Children’s Hospital as he was born with his intestines outside his body; he had surgery and seems to be fine.

Obviously we are having some problems with him; so we started reading The Connected Child. It seems that all of the suggestions from the book are time consuming, and my wife feels like she simply cannot do all of the suggested things without neglecting the others. I know the book is not assuming that families only have one child. Sure he is only 4 years old, but he runs the house. He will scream and scream when my wife tells him “no.” She tries to correct with words, but it fails. She has tried to ignore but he will escalate until she responds.

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Eby has always preferred sleeping in small, confined spaces. When he was young, he often chose to sleep in a sleeping bag tucked between a chair and a cabinet rather than on his bed.

One day Russ dug out the kids’ old play tent and asked Ebenezer if he wanted to put his sleeping bag inside. Eby loved it and seemed to relax in the cozy enclosure where he also put his favorite fleece blanket, teddy bear, and favorite puppy.


MLC - offering choices to children

Making choices is a challenge for many children, and offering choices is often inconvenient for parents. That being said, we also know that being offered choices gives children voice, which they often need. Here is a tip I use for helping children make choices.

When I present my kids with two options, I touch first one palm and say the first option…

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…and then the other as I say the second option.


Last Friday, Beza had her wisdom teeth removed. For two weeks we talked about the soft foods she wanted and the movies we were going to rent.

As the day approached, I found myself looking forward to the opportunity to nurture Beza in a way I hadn’t before. Overall, Beza is a very healthy kid, so the closest I’ve come is making tea for a sore throat or heating up a rice sack for a stomach ache.

This was a whole new level of caring for her.


In 2009, I launched My Learning Curve, a series of posts with practical tips for parenting children from “hard places.” I’m reaching back into my archives to share some of these updated posts with you. We are nine years into our adoption journey, while many of you are at the beginning; I remember how desperate we were for help. I hope these posts are useful to you.

Here is my quick tip of the day. As I watched the therapist work with Kalkidan, I noticed that when she gave an instruction, she looked in Kalkidan’s eyes and said, “Got it?”


K i have enough 2

In 2009, I launched My Learning Curve, a series of posts with practical tips for parenting children from “hard places.” I’m reaching back into my archives to share some of these newly updated posts with you. We are nine years into our adoption journey, while many of you are at the beginning; I hope these posts are useful to you.

So many of our children from “hard places” experienced extreme deprivation. They may have lived in an orphanage, neglectful home, or in a place where there simply was not enough to go around. These experiences wired their brains to believe that there would never be enough of anything: food, clothing, attention, love.

We spent years helping Kalkidan work through these fears. Back in 2009, she created the photo above during a therapy session. With help, she made a list of the things she feared she did not have enough of, and then drew the picture showing that there is enough to go around.