Why Love is Hard for Kids from Hard Places
Many foster parents jump into caring for foster kids with both feet. They are eager to love and help them. But it doesn't take long for them to realize that sometimes kids who have experienced early trauma appear resistant to love. Parents often want to love the hard things away. However, to truly love a child from a hard place, they have to understand why love is often difficult for them. Here are a few reasons why kids who have experienced trauma are resistant to love.
They push you away. They are often scared of being moved so they will push you away before you push them. They always seem to love at arm's length. They fear getting too close to anyone or letting anyone fully in.
They have learned that the world is unsafe, they are often vigilant and guarded in their interactions with others. They are more likely to perceive danger when there isn't danger. When they perceive danger, their body goes into fight vs. flight which is a protective measure, the difficulty becomes when they don't need to utilize fight/flight.
They tend to dissociate. Again this is a protective measure. When bad or scary things were happening at home, they would dissociate as a defence measure. Dissociation is when a child is able to mentally separate themselves from the situation. Again this becomes a learned behaviour. When they sense a threat or are triggered they may dissociate from present time to avoid or survive.
Kids who have experienced early trauma learn to not trust others. They must survive. And that survival often means not asking for help. They don't reach out to others. They learn to just figure it out on their own. This often continues with them even when they aren't in survival mode. They learn not to rely on anyone. Just last week, my daughter Arianna who is adopted was playing at the playground when she fell off and scraped up her entire leg. She didn't tell me until I told her it was time to go. She didn't cry, despite the fact that she was dripping blood. She's learned to be independent. She struggles to let people help her and love her through situations she's encountering. It feels safer that way to her.
So often kids who are in foster care, feel responsible for being in care. They must have screwed up. If only they had behaved better, they might not been taken away from their families. They struggle with self-esteem. How could anyone love them now after all their mistakes? They internalize so much and struggle with confidence. They believe the lie that they are to blame and therefore no one can or will love them.
Foster kids ask for love is the most un-loving ways. However, they need love the most. As parents we have to push through all the reasons they give us not to love them. We have to focus on connection and security. Even when it's hard, we have to tell them repeatedly how much we love them. How much we cherish them. How happy we are that they are here in our home.