Family Health Living Well

Trauma and Adoption: What You Need to Know

Adoption is an incredibly beautiful picture of the gospel. Just as God has brought us into his family of believers when he did not need to, so does the choice of bringing an orphaned child into a family demonstrate selfless love.

But there is a dark side of adoption that is not always talked about. It’s important to be very aware of the trauma that is caused when family relationships are severed, particularly at a young age. While redemption comes with adoption, that doesn’t erase the abandonment issues that those who are adopted often feel.

So if children who are adopted often have to deal with this kind of trauma, and you want to support adoption, here’s what you need to know and what you can do about it:

Is Adoption Traumatic?
Babies are biologically programmed to need their mother. From 20 weeks they know the sound of her heartbeat and of her voice. Most important of all, they know that they are completely safe with her. Studies show that newborns do not recognize the fact that they are separate beings from their mom until they are several months old. This biological bond continues on through childhood and when a child is taken from their biological mother, their brains can have a very difficult time recovering. This does not mean that an adoptive mother can fill the role of mother in every way, but it does mean that there is a new hurdle for the child to overcome. This can create trauma. Every child deals with it differently. 

Be Aware of How You Speak About Adoption
Never use phrases like, “When your mom left you,” or “You’re so lucky you had a family who wanted you,” to someone who is adopted or in the foster care system. These are incredibly insensitive and hurtful statements that suggest that this child was not wanted. Every human being has a desire to be known, loved, and wanted. Do not pour salt on a wound that already exists with careless words.

Give Grace to Adoptive Parents and Children
Often we are quick to judge a child, or their parents, when the child is misbehaving. While this is probably not right or fair in any situation, it is especially something to avoid with children who are adopted and/or are in the foster care system. When a child is separated from their family, they don’t yet have the mental development to be able to understand it the way an adult might understand it. This often results in a child acting out.

All parents must help a child when they’re behaving badly by helping them know they are safe and then helping them make a better decision. Adopted children and children in the foster care system often have a very difficult time feeling safe for a variety of reasons.

So if you see a child throwing a fit and you think they need to behave, give the child, and the parents, a little grace. Be kind, flexible, and understanding.

Educate Yourself on Trauma
We want to encourage you to do some research on trauma in general and how you can best love those who have experienced it. You’ll be demonstrating God’s love to someone in deep need by knowing how to properly handle a difficult situation with kind words and actions.

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