Nutrition for Childhood Trauma

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Obviously, good nutrition is important for all children. For children who have experienced trauma either prenatally (such as prenatal exposure to drugs, alcohol or stress) or in early childhood, good nutrition is a critical component in their brain function and healing.

The importance of nutrition in children who have had early childhood trauma along with practical, specific tipsChronic stress can actually impact the way a person digests and absorbs their food so in children with higher cortisol levels due to early trauma, supplements may be needed.

When a child eats regularly scheduled nutritious snacks and meals, their blood sugar levels remain constant. This allows an optimal opportunity for learning and for regulating moods.

Dehydration causes all kinds of problems including decreased cognitive function, headaches, fatigue, poor concentration, increased anxiety, and mood swings. Getting enough water and reducing or eliminating caffeinated and carbonated drinks impacts everything from sleep to emotional regulation to playtime.

Ways to improve nutrition in children with trauma:

  • set a timer to remind yourself to give your child small healthy snacks
  • have a regular schedule for mealtimes so that they know what to expect
  • give each child a water bottle and keep it filled all day
  • remind them regularly to drink their water
  • model healthy eating by eating breakfast, lunch and supper yourself and drinking enough water

If you suspect that nutrition may be playing a role in your child’s behaviour, keep a food journal for two weeks. Document everything your child eats and what time and record behavioural challenges that correlate within a two hour window. Look for patterns.

If you see patterns that seem to correlate with behaviour issues, try eliminating that food from your child’s diet or try an elimination diet. Foods that are commonly associated with changes in behaviour are gluten, dairy, sugar, colourings, and additives.

Omega-3 fatty acids are especially important for children who have FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), ADHD or trauma. Studies show they reduce symptoms of anxiety, impulsivity, inattention, and learning difficulties. Omega-3 can be introduced through fish oil capsules, seafood, flaxseed oil capsules or flaxseed, raw almonds, raw walnuts, soybeans, spinach, and chia seeds.

Adopted children and food:

Food can be interlinked with trauma in children who have experienced neglect or were born into poverty and went hungry. Providing a feeling of safety in regards to food can take years. It is important for children, especially those who may not have had consistent access to food in their past to know that their physical needs will now always be met. Telling them that there will always be food for them is not enough. Show them where the food is in the house. Choose some food that they can have unlimited access to. In our house, this is fruit and vegetables, but when our internationally adopted children first came home, we also provided them with a box of snacks such as granola bars and nuts that they could have whenever they wanted. We always kept their water bottles filled so they would know that clean water would never be something they had to go without. Having very set snack times and mealtimes also helps to establish trust in the area of food.

Some children who have experienced neglect or hunger will hoard food or will eat to the point of being sick. Generally speaking, those types of behaviours will lessen once food is consistently provided but for some children, these behaviours can be long lasting. The brain is a powerful thing and sometimes even years after hunger, children will be in fear of being hungry and be hoarding food or overeating. If this is the case for your child, you need to talk to a doctor or mental health professional, particularly one who specializes in adopted children.

Malnutrition is also a consideration in adopted children who have experienced hunger. They will need supplements and a nutrient rich diet. They will also need healthy fats to help with their brain development and function. You may wish to consult with a nutritionist.

Adoption Nutrition is a website specifically for information for adoptive parents on nutrition. It also includes lists of what internationally adopted children may be deficient in depending on their birth country.

Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

This is part of a series with other special needs moms. This month’s topic was food or mealtimes. You can click on the links below to read their tips and experiences.

Food Issues: Are They Behavioral, Sensory Related or Medical? | Every Star is Different

How We’re Gradually Introducing New Food Into Our Son’s Restricted Diet | My Home Truths

Nutrition for Childhood Trauma | The Chaos and The Clutter

30 Things SPD Parents Secretly Wish You Knew About Their “Picky Eater” | Lemon Lime Adventures

Mealtime Strategies for Kids with Hyperlexia and/or Autism | And Next Comes L

How to Help a Non Verbal Autistic Child at Make Meal Time Choices| Kori at Home

The 7 Food Battles Not Worth Fighting About With Your Picky Eater with Special Needs | Finding the Golden Gleam

Create Your Own Feelings Jenga Game

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Giving kids a vocabulary rich in emotion words is one of the best things you can do as a parent. This is particularly true if you are parenting kids who have experienced trauma, have anxiety or are on the autism spectrum. This Jenga Feelings Game is perfect for helping kids talk about their emotions and experiences, building their vocabulary of emotion words and improve their communication skills.

Feelings Jenga Game is perfect for therapists or parents working with kids on their emotions and expressing their experiences.I love finding ways to make this kind of teaching fun. Presenting a therapeutic activity as a game is a great way to help your child feel relaxed. Being relaxed is an important element to learning. It means your child can access all of their brain instead of being in their “lizard brain” which happens when they are feeling under stress or for any other reason are in fight, flight or freeze mode.

One of my daughters played a version of this in therapy and as soon as she told me about it, I knew we could easily make one to play at home too. We have since invented different versions of the game. Some of my kids have an easier time talking about their feelings and past experiences than others so I have found ways to adapt it accordingly. The key is to make sure they feel comfortable and relaxed. This will ensure that any learning is effective and will make it more enjoyable for everyone.

To create this Feelings Jenga Game, you will need a Jenga game. You can use a permanent marker to write feeling words on the side of the wood blocks in the game or I have created printable feeling words that can be cut out and attached to the Jenga blocks with double-sided tape or glue. In the printables, I have also left some blank so that you can add in any other feelings words that you would like to focus on.

How to play Feelings Jenga:

Once the blocks have feeling words on them, set them up as you would in a regular Jenga game. There are two variations to the set up. You can face the words in so that you can’t see them or you can face the words out so that most of them will be visible during the game. For kids who are particularly apprehensive of not being able to see the words on the inside, you can have them do the set-up so that they know what even the few hidden words are.

One way to play this game is to have to describe the word that you pull out before placing it on top. This is a nice introductory way to play and especially good for kids who don’t have a strong emotion word vocabulary.

Another way to play this game is to have the person who draws the block have to describe a time or experience in their life when they felt that particular emotion. You can expand on this by having them explain how that felt and how they coped with that positive or negative feeling.

For kids who are just starting this game or who are less comfortable talking about their feelings, it will be less difficult if the words are visible because they can pull ones that are easier for them to talk about. As they grow more comfortable with the game and with expressing their feelings, they may reach a point where they are comfortable pulling out blocks even when they can’t see what the word will be.

If you know that this particular child is too vulnerable to be able to discuss certain emotions, it may be best to not include those words in the game the first few times you play. Ease into things at their pace.

This Jenga Feelings Game is perfect for helping kids talk about their emotions and experiences.This game allows children to express their experiences and feelings in a non-threatening way. Of course, modelling is another great thing about the Feelings Jenga game because it allows you to participate and model how to talk about feelings and times in your own life when you have felt those things. The child you are playing with may be able to relate to those experiences and have a “me too” moment, which can be very powerful.

This game is great for communication skills, lowering anxiety and normalizing talking about emotions and life experiences, both challenging and successful.

Subscribe for your free printable Jenga feelings words and you’ll also be signed up for our free 5 day email series Little Hearts, Big Worries.

What I Wish You Knew About Parenting a Child With RAD

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Parenting children who have RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) has been the single most challenging thing of my life. I had read about it, attended seminars about it, talked to other parents who were walking it, but none of that could have prepared me for the reality of it. Because I was not prepared even though I had all the head knowledge, it’s hard to write about this knowing that no matter how carefully I choose my words, they will not be able to fully convey what living this journey is like. I am also carefully structuring my sentences so that they speak in generalities and not about my children in particular.

What I Wish You Knew About being a parent to a child who has RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder)I hope though that in sharing this, others who are parenting kids who have Reactive Attachment Disorder will maybe garner a bit more compassion and understanding from those around them who read this.

This is what I wish you knew about what it’s like to parent a child with RAD:

  1. Children with RAD present very differently outside the home. They are often described as “charming” and “delightful” by others when things in the home are decidedly different. This dichotomy can further isolate parents as they worry that others won’t believe them if they share what the child is like at home.
  2. Children with RAD often have poor boundaries and therefore are socially indiscriminate. What you may see as “friendly” and “cute” may actually be a case of mommy (or daddy) shopping. We would appreciate if you would direct our kids back to us if they try to hug you or sit on your lap. We realize that you are trying to help by picking them up or returning their affection, but you may be further damaging their attachment to us. When in doubt, ask us.
  3. We know in our heads that love will not be enough to fix this, but our hearts often feel differently so we try to pour enough love into our child to replace what is missing.
  4. Parents of kids with RAD carry tremendous guilt. It is a heavy burden to carry the weight of something that was done to my child by someone other than me in a time before I even met them.
  5. These parents second guess everything. I know that all parents second guess, but when you are parenting kids who have RAD, it borders on compulsive and it is draining.
  6. Parents of kids who have RAD sometimes (or often) think they are losing their minds. Kids who have RAD can be expert manipulators, Philadelphia lawyers and extreme triangulators. This can lead to questioning of one’s sanity and second guessing facts that you know to be true. It also puts great strain on marriages or relationships with other caregivers.
  7. Parents of kids who have RAD are proficient detectives in their own homes. They need to be in order to keep from going crazy (see #6 above).
  8. We are tired every minute of every day. Our child’s hypervigilance can cause us to also become hypervigilant as we attempt to avoid any possible trigger for them. Our child’s emotional needs are often greater than the capacity we have as human beings to meet them.
  9. Parents of kids with RAD don’t tell you how bad things are because they don’t trust that you would understand the reasons behind their child’s behaviour and they would rather suffer silently than have you judge them or their child. We don’t tell you the worst because we want to protect our child’s privacy. Whatever we are telling you, imagine it at least ten times worse. Words like “rage” and “aggression” may be codes for “completely out of control for hours” and “physically violent”. We may be sugar coating in an attempt to protect. I would rather have you think that I’m a bad parent than have you think that my child is a monster.
  10. We love our child who has RAD. It hurts our hearts to be constantly rejected by them, but we hold on out of hope that healing is possible. We sometimes see a glimmer of the wonderful child that we know is in there and it makes us fight all the harder to love them through this.

If you are parenting a child with Reactive Attachment Disorder, what do you wish others knew? Leave your suggestions in the comments so that others can learn from them.
Join me for a free 5 part email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries offering resources and hope for parents.

Recognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment DisorderRecognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder

Recognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder

(This post may contain affiliate links. For more information, see my disclosure policy.)

Last month, I was asked to take part in a year-long blog series on Special Needs parenting. The other bloggers participating are women that I greatly admire so I eagerly agreed to take part. The theme for the first month was “recognizing signs”. I knew it would be easy to write about recognizing the signs of Sensory Processing Disorder in my kids or even to write about recognizing the signs of Aspergers in Einstein or the signs of hearing loss is Dancing Queen. I could also have written about seeing the signs of PTSD in two of our kids. I did not expect to be writing about the signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder because it is hard for me to talk about. RAD is the one diagnosis that I probably struggle with the most, both because it is the most challenging and because it is one that I never imagined we would be living through.

In the adoption world, Reactive Attachment Disorder or RAD is the worst case scenario. It is the diagnosis you are warned about but the one that you think could never happen to your family. Like many disorders, there is a spectrum with some children being more severely affected than others. I remember watching a documentary in a College Psychology class about RAD and the girl in it having no conscience and trying repeatedly to murder her adoptive parents. RAD is the stuff nightmares are made of. It is considered to be the most severe form of childhood mental illness.

Recognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment DisorderIn our years as foster parents, we did take care of a few children who had been diagnosed with RAD, but it is different to know that you are the foster parent, a temporary home for that child, that you can take care of them and meet their needs but at the end of the day, if an emergency arises or if it becomes too much for you to handle, there is a social worker you can call who can step in.

When we began our journey to international adoption, we knew that the possibility existed for our child or children to have RAD but we still didn’t think it would happen to us. One of the reasons that we chose to adopt from Ethiopia was because we knew that children are generally highly regarded in their society, the children were well cared for in the Orphanages (unlike the horror stories you hear of in Eastern European Orphanages) and we heard that it was unlikely for these children to have issues with attachment. We were naive.

Any time a child is separated from their primary caregiver, moved to an Orphanage where they are one of dozens or hundreds of children and then moved to a different Orphanage, there are going to be attachment issues. Add in some childhood trauma and an adoption fraught with challenges and Reactive Attachment Disorder is almost a guarantee.

When we adopted from Ethiopia, we already had two biological children and three adopted children so we were not new to parenting or to adoption. We were well versed in attachment and knew that in adopting older children, we would have to be actively working on attachment. We had plans in place for helping these children transition to our family and to help them attach to us. We assumed that with enough love, enough effort and enough time, we could help them heal and attach. 

Even while still in Ethiopia with our kids, we could see that the challenges were much more than we had anticipated. It was obvious that they were terrified of us. They flinched or lashed out anytime we got near them. By the time we got back to Canada, we were all exhausted.

We settled into our new life at home with seven kids and began to work at helping them adjust. That meant teaching them English, getting medical attention for things like parasites and fungus and play therapy. Over the months, they seemed to be settling a bit and we thought that we could see light at the end of the tunnel. That was not to be. Or the tunnel is just much longer than we thought.

I don’t want to share specifics or much of a timeline because I am attempting to walk that line between helping others who are walking this road and protecting the privacy of my children. I will share a few personal things from our story further down, but the following lists are general signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder. Not all signs will be present in all children with RAD.

In our two kids who are diagnosed with RAD, they each present quite differently and they each have signs that the other does not. Neither of them has all of these symptoms.

Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder:

  • anxiety
  • trouble sleeping
  • lack of boundaries
  • hypervigilant
  • extreme dependence
  • acts much younger than chronological age
  • underdeveloped conscience, lack of remorse
  • inappropriate responses (laughing or smiling when something is sad)
  • fake, not genuine
  • academic struggles
  • difficulty showing affection
  • disobedient
  • defiant
  • argumentative
  • controlling
  • bullying
  • aversion to physical touch
  • tantrums or rages
  • sensory issues or sensory processing disorder
  • withdrawal
  • lack of eye contact
  • not asking for help when hurt, sick or needing assistance
  • socially indiscriminate
  • manipulative (can be excellent at triangulating adults)
  • frequent lying
  • blames others for their mistakes
  • irresponsible
  • physically and verbally aggressive or abusive
  • mood swings
  • depression

Children with RAD are at higher risk for SPD, cognitive delays, malnutrition, language delays, depression, anxiety disorders, and ADHD.

We saw signs of RAD in our Ethiopian born kids from the beginning but we were in denial for a long time. I believed that with enough love, we could “fix” them. One of our kids showed classic signs of “mommy shopping” from the beginning, being overly affectionate with strangers and giving her best self to those outside our family. She was literally willing to go with anyone and still shows these boundary issues almost seven years after her adoption. She has gone into strangers’ homes, strangers’ garages and would be willing to go into a stranger’s vehicle. We always have to supervise her for this reason.

Our kids showed many other signs as well. It became obvious that our efforts towards attachment were not going as planned. Things came to a crisis point and we were finally able to get professional help for our two kids from Ethiopia who were both diagnosed with RAD, PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and one also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and the other with ADHD (both things are in the list of diagnoses that children with RAD are at higher risk for).

The kids each took part with us (separately) in a year-long intensive group for kids with trauma and attachment issues. We worked in the program with a team of professionals including a psychiatrist, OT, therapists, and others to help them find some healing. We came to the agonizing decision to add medication as a piece of the therapy puzzle. Even with medication and years of therapy, the kids have significant daily challenges.

We want to help them to reach healing in their journey. On bad days, I wonder if healing is possible but I have seen glimpses that give me reason to hope.

Hope for Reactive Attachment Disorder:

Last November, we conducted a therapy camp for five of our kids at home based on many of Karyn Purvis‘ principles and methods. For one week, we unplugged, had therapy activities and exercises scheduled every 15 minutes or so for 9 hours a day plus family connection time every other waking hour. It was intensive, exhausting, challenging, and worth every second. We saw tremendous gains in all of our “campers” in things such as communication, problem solving, sensory issues, and self image. We also saw gains in positive attachment signs such as willingness to ask for and accept help, eye contact and giving us glimpses into who they really are.

Of everything we have tried, it has been the Karyn Purvis model that we have found the most success with. We attended her Empowered to Connect conference in 2015 in Minnesota, have bought and watched all of her 13 videos many times, read her book The Connected Child and read many of the articles she has written. Sadly, Karyn Purvis passed away after a long battle with cancer but her legacy in working with children from hard places lives on. You can access articles, short videos, and articles on Empowered to Connect. The videos we have found especially helpful are on the TCU website.

Join me for a free 5 email series, Little Hearts, Big Worries which will provide you with resources and hope for parenting your child.

Parenting with Special Needs Series image

I am pleased to have joined a fabulous group of bloggers to bring you this series on Parenting Special Needs Children. Be sure to read their stories on recognizing signs in their children.

10 Early Signs of Autism | Natural Beach Living

How to Recognize Signs of a Mood Disorder in Young Children | Every Star is Different

Recognizing the signs – Childhood Trauma  | STEAM Powered Family

Recognising signs as a first time special needs parent | My Home Truths

Hemophilia, Juvenile Arthritis, and Allergies… Oh my | Grace and Green Pastures

Myths About Recognizing Developmental Delays | Life Over C’s

Recognizing the Signs of Reactive Attachment Disorder | The Chaos and The Clutter

7 Sanity-Saving Tips if You Think Your Child has Special Needs | B-Inspired Mama

When They Say It’s Just Your Parenting | This Outnumbered Mama

Signs That Your Early Reader Has Hyperlexia | And Next Comes L

How to Deal with the Unexpected Learning Disability | Kori at Home

Forgiving Myself for Denying the Signs of Autism in My Daughter | Parenting Chaos

Ripples on a Pond: Warning Signs of Early Childhood Development Problems | 3 Dinosaurs