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by April Kiekintveld, Recruitment and Retention Specialist, Bethany Christian Services of Michigan, Holland

Black boy shouting in living room

Source: Granger Wootz / Getty

Persistent childhood trauma—abuse, neglect, chronically feeling unsafe or out of control—physically changes how a child’s brain works. Neurons carry messages in our brains like cars travel on a highway. The way our brains interpret and respond to what is happening around us builds up “highways” to information we access most. Children who are always in “survival mode” develop well-traveled pathways to their back brain, the amygdala, and “fight or flight” becomes their go-to response. When they are triggered and feel unsafe, their instinct is to survive.

Triggers are a call to the past, and when children are experiencing big emotions and feeling mad, sad, or out of control, their brain is literally unable to go beyond that moment. As a foster parent, you’ll want to make sense of what the child is experiencing, but that conversation needs to come later, in the calm after the storm.

This conversation might feel awkward to initiate, but it can build trust and connection between you and the child. And you can be better prepared if it happens again.

The following tips will help guide your conversation after a meltdown.

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Bethany Christian Services

Families come to Bethany hoping to adopt a child for many reasons. We work closely with these families to identify their strengths and the child they are most able to parent and we help place children of all ages, cultures, and backgrounds in the safety of a loving home.

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