Trauma Triggers are Like Lightning Bolts

I’ve been thinking more about trauma and trauma triggers.

Monday I wrote, Why Does My Child React That Way?, sharing my experience of a trauma trigger and flashback of a traumatic event.

This got me thinking back to years ago when we took Kalkidan to a week long intensive of EMDR therapy. The therapist described trauma triggers as lightning bolts in our brains. These lightning bolts interfere with our ability to process feelings in a healthy way.

A lightning bolt sounds about right to me.

I wrote this post EMDR: Lightning Bolts during that time.

If you’re curious about EMDR, I also wrote this post, What on Earth is EMDR?  I explained how EMDR works and why we pursued this therapy.

Trauma Triggers

We’ve had some interesting conversations on my One Thankful Mom facebook page about kids’ different trauma triggers from cigarette smoke to doughnuts, yes, doughnuts.

We have to be curious and patient observers of our children, especially kids who come to us with unknown histories. Hello, foster care and adoption – right?

Even ten years after joining our family, our kids from Ethiopia continue to be mysteries written with unexpected surprises. Annarose recently met Ebenezer’s sister in Italy and we learned a little more of his story.

Foster parents commonly have very little information about their foster children’s histories. Zoe shared an important part of her history recently that I wish I had known ten months ago. A younger child likely can’t share anything at all – at least not with words.

Watch for Patterns

We must watch for patterns of dysregulation.

We notice our toddler screams and cries when we go to a friend’s house who has a large dog. No matter how much we try to calm her, nothing seems to help. We show her how gentle the dog is and try to get her to pet the dog.

Then one day after her bath, we pause as we put lotion on her legs and look again at the scar on her thigh. Could it be from a dog bite?

Ebenezer had a very traumatic experience when he was young being stung (35 times) by wasps. It took years of positive experiences playing outside before he could manage being outdoors for any length of time. I’ll admit, it was quite trying for me.

A reader commented that her child doesn’t tolerate swings. He was left unfed for long periods of time in a baby swing.

Me? Apparently talking about windshields was a trigger for me – I didn’t expect that.

Let’s be gently curious, mindful of our childrens’ histories, and respectful of their boundaries.

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Emily
    April 14, 2017

    So wise. I referenced your last post at work yesterday. Love you.

    We are trying to convince Samuel and Maria to come for Easter lunch!
    Remember the Easter when I bought eight times too much candy for your kids? 😉

    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 14, 2017

      Thank you for sharing my post with legit mental health people! I’m honored. Oh yes, I definitely remember the candypalooza. I will return the favor one day with your children.

  2. Teresa
    April 14, 2017

    It would be interesting to hear how you go about observing your kids. Have you written instances down that seemed mysterious in order to help you piece things together? Are you more informal, putting pieces together over a long haul? Have you ever brought hard pieces of their history that you are aware of to their attention to help bring clarity to what they might feel but can’t remember, or do you feel that is best left uncovered until/if they remember.

    1. Lisa Qualls
      April 14, 2017

      Teresa, that sounds like a great post of its own. I would love to get input from other folks.


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