5 Tips to Thrive While Sheltering In Place with Children of Trauma

Written by: Archibald Project Co-Founder, Whitney Runyon

Written by: Archibald Project Co-Founder, Whitney Runyon

Dear Adoptive/Foster Parent,

Adoption and Foster Care can be hard in everyday “normal” life. But now, any morsel of “normal” we’ve managed to create has been tossed out the window. And if we know anything about parenting children of trauma, it’s that our children thrive in routine and knowing what’s to come. But what was the first thing taken from all of our families when COVID-19 hit? Routine and knowing what was coming.

So now, a child who has experienced trauma and already might be living in a current state of anxiety or heightened nerves, is completely thrown off. Our children’s world has yet again, been swept from under their feet.

Now add your own fears, your own stressors of working from home, becoming teacher over night, not having any alone time, trying to ensure there’s food on the table, making sure everyone is safe all while trying to help your child regulate in this uncertain time.

It’s hard. And we know this because we are right there with you.

But there is hope and we believe we can thrive in this season…or at least make it until we come out of isolation and get outside help!

Here are a few things we’ve been implementing that have helped our family find a bit or normalcy and regulation. 

  1. You must move your body. I’m not talking about marathon training or aiming for weight loss, but there is scientific evidence that says exercise reduces stress and anxiety. If you have help during this season have someone watch the kids while you get outdoors and move. Walk, run or do a combination of both for 30 minutes minimum. If you don’t have help, take your kids with you. When my husband is working I’ll pack up the minivan and head to a field (sometimes with kicking and screaming kids). I bribe them, because let’s be honest, all normal parenting is out the window. If they do 5 laps they get half of a little cup of ice cream, if they do 10 laps they get the whole cup. Boom! Need help knowing what to do? Peloton App has a free subscription for 30 days and I’m not kidding it got me back into running and I’m so thankful. You do not have to have a bike or any equipment to utilize this program. Also, not sponsored, just love them!
  2. Lower your standards of parenting. We put so much pressure on ourselves as parents, especially when we are working on bonding and attachment and felt safety and trying to help our kids regulate. They say screen time isn’t ideal for children of trauma but neither is a parent who is overstressed and not sleeping. So loosen the reigns a bit. Let them have a screen or a show, or however many you need to help regulate yourself so that you can jump back in the game and pour out patience and gentleness. Remember, it’s better for a child to have a safe and loving caregiver to heal from their past than worrying about them getting a few extra hours on a screen.
  3. Give yourself positive affirmations. My therapist told me that when we do good things as parents that we need to stop in the moment, close our eyes and tell ourself what we did that was good. Kind of like what we do with our kids when they do something good! “Wow, you just showed really good patience. That was really hard and so and so was not acting logical but you did not explode but you extended empathy. You are a good mom/dad.” These little practices, as silly as they might feel, change our brain and enable us to endure more stressful moments. It’s like if there was a running faucet with a tiny cup trying to catch the constant flow of water, the water is the stress, the cup is you: the more kind words you speak into yourself the bigger your cup gets and the more water you can catch.
  4. Get 8 hours of sleep. I know this might not be possible for some people, but if at all possible, please try. If I get less than 6 hours a night I’m a complete monster to my children. I can’t handle their mood swings and outbursts and I have zero compassion. Why? Because a lack of sleep leads to an increase in cortisol levels, and increased cortisol levels leads to depression, anxiety, hormone irregularity, and many more health problems. Need practical help? Get a light alarm clock so children know (based on color) when they are allowed to leave their room. But perhaps that won’t work because a strong willed child won’t obey the clock…(been there, still there)…so I go to bed earlier than I normally do. I have to be in bed by 10 or 10:30 because I know I will be woken up once or twice in the night and I know one of my kids will be up by 7/7:30…So if I need 8 hours…I have to be strict with my own bedtime. Need help falling asleep? Here’s an article that some people I know have used…
  5. Remember that this too shall pass. Do not, and I repeat, do not get stuck in the mindset that this season will last forever. Yes, things are hard, but I promise you shelter in place, doing life alone will not last forever. I’ve been in a similar situation, it lasted 7 months and I am forever changed by that time. But what I learned from those 7 months is that the pain will lessen and the hardships change and you will get help and your kids will get help and this season will end.

You can do this. We believe in you!

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