Monday, April 23, 2007

It's the guilt, stupid

..or why caring for traumatized children is sometimes easier.

I tend to assume that every behavioral problem or even character trait that the kids who come to me from the system have is due to their trauma. I know that is a mistake and in general terms I understand that. Take a specific behavior though and the possibility that this behavior is just part of who this kid is, and who he would have been in any case, flies clean out of my mind.

Does a child dislike being alone? It must be because of abandonment or neglect.
Does a child distance himself from the family? It must be attachment issues due to abandonment or neglect.

Give me a behavior and I can come up with a theory that makes sense given their case histories. It is always obvious to me why they are the way they are. If the child is someone else's I very often find the appropriate response to be fairly obvious. If the child is one of mine, I am still often pretty certain I know what the right response is, which is of course not the same thing as being able to stay emotional centered to do it.

All that I am forced to call into question when one of the bioboys has behavioral issues though.

If everything is to be understood in terms of a child's case history, then I, as part of Brian's case history, am part of the problem. This of course means that I have a terrible time feeling confident about how to respond.

So today Brian has been complaining that he has been having trouble breathing. He is tending to wheeze. I just called the doctor and left a message asking if we can be worked in or if we need to go to the walk-in clinic. He is now watching cartoons and his wheezing seems to have disappeared.

So why is Brian anxious, and why does it seem to be getting worse? Is it because there were only two years of his life between his father's home day care and our beginning foster care? Is he worse now because the house seems empty (he has been complaining about it)? If so, does that mean that I have raised him to be addicted to drama? Dear lord, could he be responding to my need to be a caretaker by offering up problems for me to obsess about?

Or has having had so many people come in an out of his life the cause of the anxiety? Did he not get enough from us when he was little? Did he suffer some sort of trauma that we don't know about? Did he figure out somewhere along the line that the way to get singled out was to be sick? Is he worse now because even though he says he wants someone new in the house, he really doesn't?

Or is he just a kid who suffers from anxiety and who feels that anxiety in his body.

Could that be the whole explanation? That is just who he is.

And if that is, maybe I go overboard on my analyses of the kids from the system. Maybe a great deal of who they are is just who they are.

And maybe I just think too much.

Unless of course I haven't thought about this carefully enough.


  1. I think we all do this. My friends in the adoption community are constantly analyzing whether their kids behaviors are history/adoption related or if they're just being kids.

  2. I don't know how helpful this will be, but when Julia is having symptoms that are possible not physical, I offer chamomile tea. I tell her it will help her stomachache, headache, tightness in her chest, etc because it could help. She feels like I am doing something about it and it does usually help. While he is drinking the tea, you could keep worrying.

  3. I totally do that with my boyfriend. That's what's kept me with him for so long. Whether you're right or not it's a good defence mechanism... As long as you can blame it on a mental health issue, you can separate the behaviour you don't like from the person you love, and it makes things easier. It also lets you believe that it will go away some day.

    Not that this really contributes anything to your conundrum, of course. :)


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