Susan Wilkinson

When in our little bubble, we feel that the world is secure and that change and loss will not happen to us. However, when we open our homes to a foster child, that has just happened to them, and they look to us for security. Not only are they experiencing shock and trauma, but we usually are when we find out what they have gone through. Secondary trauma is real, but we have to have the information to know how to love and care for them. When our world changes, confusion arises, and sometimes a deep sense of helplessness covers us.

We may fear for our safety and for those we love. We may not know where to turn for a sense of stability. At this point, many issues may not have been dealt with yet.

What Happens In Post Traumatic Syndrome

Individuals respond differently to sudden changes, especially children who come to our homes through foster care. Whether from their biological family or another foster family, the need to maintain or create stability should be done immediately. When a child or adult is in the middle of a PTSD episode, they may be in denial or not register what's happening. 

They go on with their day as though nothing is happening until they can unconsciously process and absorb it all. By pretending or masking that nothing is wrong, they are doing their best to maintain normalcy. However, the fear of the unknown will overwhelm them if they allow themselves to feel anything. In foster care, we call this the “honeymoon phase.” When the child feels safe to deal with his feelings, or when the danger has passed, the buried feelings come up, usually behaviors.

Post-traumatic syndrome means that the feelings a person has repressed during trauma arise. The trauma emotions occur when the person can tolerate fear, grief, anger, pain, and helplessness. The emotions can surface sooner for some people, and others, it may take years. The feeling may hit at any moment, and the person may not understand what is happening when they do. Then, seemingly out of the blue, a person can start shaking, crying, or having a raging fit. Anything can trigger them; sometimes, things are unrelated. A familiar place, smell, or sound can bring a response to the original trauma. 

How To Handle Post Traumatic Syndrome

A) It Is Normal

It helps a great deal to understand what is going on. The child tries to control their surroundings when their PTSD starts to surface. Some people fear they are going crazy. Realizing that these feelings are perfectly normal will help immensely. Do not fear your emotions; you are reacting to the shock.

B) Do Not Be Ashamed 

Allowing yourself to feel what is going on, breathe deeply through the feelings, and will enable them to pass. Let the child know they can release the fear or anger because they are safe. Do not try to control your or their emotions. These feelings are a response to what you have been through; they do not mean something is wrong. When they surface, you need to understand that you or the child are healing, be gentle with yourself, kind, and patient. When these feelings are flowing, they pass more quickly.

C) Express Love, Warmth, and Support

It helps to be with loved ones, but children in care need time to understand and trust that they are loved. Friendship, bonding, and love are beautiful antidotes for the feeling of meaningless and danger. Hug each other, express your love, and know that although part of the world has crumbled, plenty of good still exists. There is stability in the love that you can share with a child. Don't hold back.

D) Help as Best You Can

Reach out to others in any way you can. Secondary trauma when helping a child through their PTSD can be draining. Call a loved one, write a note, or meet a friend for lunch. Take time to be quiet or go to a place you love in nature. Allow yourself to absorb your feelings and de-escalate from what is going on.

E) Prayer, Silence, And Meditation

Of course, the most profound sense of security and stability comes from one's connection to a Higher Power or Higher Self. It is a necessary time to connect with what is ultimately meaningful to you. Spend time in prayer, silence, contemplation, or meditation; know that there is a larger purpose in all that goes on.

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