What Do You Need?
There’s a harsh and heart-breaking reality in working with children and youth from foster care. Adverse childhood experiences harm the developing child and it often shows up through confusing or negative behaviors. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Institute, trauma may look like:
- Hyperactivity or Hypervigilance
- Problems with boundaries
- Self-destructive behavior
- Sleep disturbances
- Anger and/or aggression
- Altered perception of reality
- Increased medical problems
- Withdrawn or distant
- Reenactment of past trauma experiences
- Social isolation
- Difficulties with focusing or regulation
- Oppositional behavior
Is there good news? Yes! Even though the pathways in the brain may be wired together in an unhealthy way, through relationship and understanding in both the child AND the caregiver, a healthy rewiring can take place. A child can learn to trust and receive love and correction. A caregiver can learn patience, how to adjust expectations and love unconditionally.
Be curious instead of judgmental. When you see behaviors or attitudes from a child who may have experienced trauma or toxic levels of stress, rather than asking yourself, “What’s wrong with him or her?” shift your internal questions to, “What happened to this child that led them to behave this way?” and “What do they need?” Then maybe ask the child directly, “What do you need?”
Shifting our response as adults addresses the root and heart of the matter rather than reacting to a symptomatic behavior. Learning to view behavior as the language of unmet needs, we can better explore what’s really going on with the child or teen.