My Brain Change


I started out trauma parenting solely trying to change my children. But I’ve ended up accepting that sometimes, I need to try and change me

My adoption journey has had me seeking out so many methods of change – primarily changing things about my children ie. their brain. Therapeutic methods of changing their brain connections and emotional patterns, in order to change their patterns of behaviour, their beliefs, their emotions…and so on and so forth

And wow, when you write it out like that…well, that’s a bloody tall order, frankly! Change part of the way my childs brain works, blimey.

It doesn’t always seem like that, does it, down in the ditches? It’s hard to be objective enough to step far back and see the big picture, see how big a change you are ultimately really aiming for. You’re struggling and you’re just trying to make things better…stop this aggression, stop these sleep issues, make my child more comfortable with hugs, help them focus more in the classroom, help them gain more social skills…help my child attach to me more. You take one or two issues at a time, and you seek out books, blogs, forums, friends, anything at all. You need this to change.

The problem is, these issues are often so interlinked and basically down to the effect of trauma on their brain, so resolving these behavioural, emotional and social difficulties involves changing the way our children think…changing their brains.

And to adoptive parents out there when you struggle, remind yourself what ultimately you are trying to do. Not something which is always impossible, and whilst complete ‘healing’ may be out of the reach of many children, many children do make remarkable progress. But remember when you struggle, what you are trying to do and be kind to yourself. It isn’t your fault that your child has all these issues, and you are trying your hardest, so actually rather than criticising yourself, why not give yourself a pat on the back for coming this far!

I have had to accept that some kinds of brain change will be impossible for my children. But it’s not just about my children.

Now for the main theme of my post…looking back, the relationship between my children and I, and also the atmosphere and interactions in our house, hasn’t just been alterred by working on my children’s brains. Real tangible change has been brought about by me changing mine. Me working on MY behaviour, MY emotions, MY reactions. Not on my own, I have had real help from my childrens therapists, books and other resources, and from the candid, honest thoughts of other adoptive parents.

I came to adoption with my brain. My innate way of relating, my innate emotional patterns, and expectations and beliefs, and so much of tht is actually unconscious, laid down when I was a child.

And something I’ve really learnt along this journey, which I was clueless about at the start, is that sometimes I’m the one who needs to change, if it’s possible. Sometimes, I’m the one who needs to look at myself, and question where my beliefs and expectations are coming from, question why I respond the way I do when my children do x,y or z. And seek out resources for me.

And at some points, I thought, “Why does this particular behaviour upset me so much and cause such a visceral reaction in me? Maybe I can find support to change my emotional response?”, and then next I would think, “But’s that so horrendously hard! I don’t even know why that causes such a response in me, let alone how to go about changing my emotional response to it!”

Yes, it is horrendously hard sometimes. And that’s what I’m trying to do in my children! If they can make brain changes, I can, right?

I can’t say I’ve been very successful at even the majority of things i’ve tried to change about myself. Through talking to a counsellor and using some techniques, I have managed to moderate my response to certain behaviours, on an emotional level. And you know, I’m pretty proud of myself now for managing that! I’m also proud beyond belief with my children’s progress.

Something which is slightly easier has been not changing my beliefs/expectations/emotional response, but by working to change my physical behaviour, even when how I’m behaving goes against what my brain is really thinking.

It can be on a very simple level, but something I wanted to share with you is how changing my behaviour eventually helped change my emotions, about one particular thing. Real brain change on my part.

It’s about the word, ‘no’.

This is a common theme I have read about in adoption books, and on blogs and I have talked it with other adoptive parents. I know from this that other adoptive parents have succeeded in doing exactly what I have (pats on the back all around, I think?!). As it’s a common issue, I hope some other parents here might identify.

My older two children have attachment and control issues. Kestrel especially. She has a serious problem with the word, ‘no’. No you can’t do this, or that! No Kestrel, stop that!

The word ‘no’ provokes a bad response from her.

When she was about 10 and we were seen at CAMHS, we saw one person who ‘got it’…wow! A rare gem of a professional to find outside of specialist adoption services and their professionals.

And this professional suggested to me, that I was part of the problem, because I said ‘no’ too much.

Well, ouch. I wasn’t happy.

She was right though.

My upbringing involved the word ‘no’ quite extensively (most people can say the exact same thing). As a child, I actually responded very well to that, though. I didn’t enjoy saying no to my own children, but I was very conditionned to just automatically say ‘no’ or give a negative response in most situations. Consequently, when my children ignored, ‘no’ or actually became really very agitated and angry when given negative responses, I emotionally seriously struggled.

The therapist suggested to me the following – that even though I might not be able to just say ‘okay brain, stop loving the word no quite so much’, I could ignore what my brain thought, and behave differently. I could say ‘yes’! Not all the time, obviously. But some of the time, a lot more of the time than I was managing at that point in time.

What?! you say. Impossible. The correct response to Mum, I want dessert NOW, before dinner, or I want those sweets! just can’t possible be ‘yes’.

Why not?

Yes, you may eat dessert first and then you will eat all of your dinner second, right?

Yes, you may have those sweets, just as soon as you have put your dolls back in the box

Does that always work…no! But did saying yes to more things help prevent serious meltdowns? Oh yes! And did the world end because my daughter sometimes ate (actually still eats!) the sweet pudding course, before the vegetables course? No. I was just seriously conditioned, by the whole world, to believe that it is essential to eat vegetables before sweet things. It’s just the way thw world works, right? But it’s not essential. Especially when you have a child just looking for a control battle, a child who does not do delayed gratification that well.

So I tried saying ‘yes’. And wouldn’t you know, it helped. So I committed myself to changing my behaviour.

But over time…I found my emotions changing too. At one point years later…and now….I am not completely overwhelmed with an urge to immediately say ‘NO’ to everything. Of course I say no often enough. But emotionally I am way more comfortable with not saying it every second minute of every day, and I don’t get stressed out by this strange concept of saying yes.

And that’s brain change

But it has been mine, not theirs

That quote at the very top of this post? I love it

I accepted my children’s problem with ‘no’ (eventually). And that acceptance has led to change on my part instead.

And on a bigger level – just to reiterate – I started out trying to change my children. But I’ve ended up accepting that sometimes, I need to try and change me

Just another part of this insane (but wonderful) adoption journey

Parenting my children has changed my brain an awful lot. I’m not the same person I used to be. But I think my eventual willingness to accept that I might need to change, has made me a better person

One thought on “My Brain Change

  1. Wow. What an insight! How much do we do things or fight about things which are just because that’s how we do things. I think it’s a particularly British trait too. What a radical and helpful perspective. Thankyou.

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