As adoptive parents know, most of their children carry their shame around like a ball and chain. Thoughts of insecurity follow them everywhere— they’re bad, unloved, unwanted. These thoughts shape many of their relationships, especially those where they worry the person will leave if they’re disappointed in them.
Because of this fear, their brains are wired for self-protection. If they think they’re in trouble, their brain either panics or shuts down. For my son, it goes wild. He jumps on that crazy train and wreaks all kinds of havoc. It used to take hours to get him off of it.
We learned long ago to remain calm when he is in this state. Do not threaten punishment or yell, as that will only heighten his fear and increase his behavior. We have tried humor, bribery, distraction and/or just giving him time. All of these have worked at one point or another, but none of them work every time.
Two weeks ago, we attended The Empowered to Connect Conference, and I had a new revelation. When his brain is in panic mode, what he needs more than anything is to know that I think he is a good kid. Even when he is acting like an animal, a toddler, a lunatic, I need to acknowledge to myself that this is not the real boy: it is the self-protective way that he is coping with his fear.
For the past two weeks, every time his lid is flipped (which has been about once a day on average) I have said, “HEY! You are a GOOD kid. I like you. I am glad you’re mine. You are a good boy.” I kid you not, it has worked every.single.time. Within 2-3 minutes, he is talking like a normal person again.
We all want to know that we are liked, loved, good and kind. But a kid with shame and self-doubt needs to know it all of the time.
It is not the natural response, so it does not come easily. Usually I am feeling very frustrated internally while saying these words out loud. I have even told my other children, "Just pretend like you're an actor in a movie. 'Read the script' with conviction, and you will believe what you are saying once he has gotten back to himself."
Many people may see his behavior and “good kid” is likely not the first thing that comes to mind. Isn't it sad that the "trouble-makers" can seem unlikable and the cycle continues?
But if we make the effort to look underneath, to see beneath the hyper, nervous (sometimes obnoxious) kid… more often than not, there is a real sweetie under there.
Often, when my son will tell me about an adult at school that he likes, he’ll say, “She thinks I’m a good kid,” because that is the most important thing in the world to him. Those adults that he feels "like" him, he likes back. Which means that he will more often cooperate with them because he can relax and be himself.
If finding the good in your child feels too hard for you, just watch them while they sleep. Every child on the planet is precious when they're sleeping! Pray over them and ask God to soften your heart toward your hurting child.
He put you in this role to help them heal. Convince them that you like them and they will want to please you. Connection and acceptance is the desire of every heart, especially the broken ones.