The Adopted Child: Trauma and Its Impact – Bryan Post

By Bryan Post

Adopted at the age of six months, Joseph was a fussy and sometimes hard to soothe infant. Feeling as though this was just normal infant difficulties with the adjustment of adoption, Pat and Robert paid it little attention. When Joseph reached the age of two and began to bite the other children in daycare, they chalked it up to the dreaded two-year old stage of which everyone assumes to be okay. Though the biting never quite ceased that year, with a few modifications, Joseph made it through the year. The teachers raved about how smart he was. By the time he was six, the increasing duration of the school day seemed almost more than he could bear. Sometimes screaming for hours at a time, Joseph would do no work and then would spend the remainder of the day in isolation. Prone to striking out when others attempted to soothe him, Joseph had now grown accustomed to attempting to runaway from the school personnel when his behavior would escalate. On many occasions this would lead to Joseph being restrained by the security guards, principal, or coaches. Eventually Joseph began to stack up a list of schools attended and suspended from. By the time Joseph had hit the 5th grade, his increasingly violent outburst coined with outward defiance had gained him two different stays at local residential treatment centers. Not knowing where else to turn or what else to do, and after failed attempts at therapy, and more than eight psychiatric medications had proved of little benefit other than causing Joseph to appear “zombie-like,” Pat and Robert felt their only other option was to send Joseph to a boys boarding school.

Unfortunately, the above story is not an uncommon plight that adoptive parents face. Though not always leading to a disruption or out-of-home placement, many adoptive families struggle for years to create the peaceful family of which they had dreamed. Regrettably, one of the main barriers preventing such family harmony is one of the least understood when it comes to understanding the plight of the adopted child. The barrier is trauma.

Whether adopted from birth or later in life, all adopted children have experienced some degree of trauma. Trauma is any stressful event which is prolonged, overwhelming, or unpredictable. Though we are familiar with events impacting children such as abuse, neglect, and domestic violence, until recently, the full impact of trauma on adopted children has not been understood.

What Science Is Now Revealing

Scientific research now reveals that as early as the second trimester, the human fetus is capable of auditory processing and in fact, is capable of processing rejection in utero. In addition to the rejection and abandonment felt by the newborn adoptee or any age adoptee for that matter, it must be recognized that the far greater trauma often times occurs in the way in which the mind and body system of the newborn is incapable of processing the loss of the biological figure. Far beyond any cognitive awareness, this experience is stored deep within the cells of the body, routinely leading to states of anxiety and depression for the adopted child later in life.

Because this initial experience has gone for so long without validation, it is now difficult for parents to understand. Truth be told, the medical community still discounts this early experience. Nevertheless, this early experience is generally the child’s original trauma. From that point forward many more traumas may occur in the child’s life. These include premature birth, inconsistent caretakers, abuse, neglect, chronic pain, long-term hospitalizations with separations from the mother, and parental depression. Such life events interrupt a child’s emotional development, sometimes even physical development, subsequently interrupting his ability to tolerate stress in meaningful relationships with parents and peers.

An important aspect of trauma is in recognizing that simply because a child has been removed from a traumatic environment, this does not merely remove the trauma from the child’s memory. In fact, stress is recognized to be the one primary key to unlocking traumatic memories. Unfortunately for both the adopted child and family, the experience of most traumas in the child’s life is that the traumatic experiences typically occur in the context of human relationships. From that point forward, stress in the midst of a relationship will create a traumatic re-experiencing for the child, leading the child to feel threatened, fearful, and overwhelmed in an environment which otherwise may not be threatening to other people.

10 Keys to Healing Trauma in the Adopted Child:

1. Trauma creates fear and stress sensitivity in children. Even for a child adopted from birth, their internal systems may already be more sensitive and fearful than that of a child remaining with his biological parents. You must also consider the first nine months in which the child developed. These early experiences as well could have major implications.

2. Recognize and be more aware of fear being demonstrated by your child. Be more sensitive and tuned in to the small signals given such as clinging, whining, not discriminating amongst strangers, etc. All are signs of insecurity which can be met by bringing the child in closer, holding, carrying, and communicating to the child that he is feeling scared, but you will keep him safe.

3. Recognize the impact of trauma in your own life. One of the single greatest understandings parents can have is a self-understanding. Research tells us that far more communication occurs non-verbally than verbally. Understanding the impact of past trauma in your own life will help you become more sensitive to when your reactions are coming from a place other than your existing parent/child experience. Re-experiencing past trauma is common when parents are placed in an ongoing stressful environment.

4. Reduce external sensory stimulation when possible. Decrease television, overwhelming environments, number of children playing together at one time, and large family gatherings. When necessary that these events take place, keep the child close, explain to him that he may become stressed and he can come to you when needed.

5. Do Time-In instead of Time-out. Rather than sending the stressed out and scared child to the corner to think about his behavior, bring him into to you and help him to feel safe and secure. Internally, this will then permit him the ability to think about his actions. Though time-in is not a time for lecturing, it will allow your child an opportunity to calm his stress and then think more clearly. Another effective key is to let the child decide how much time-in he needs.

6. Do not hit traumatized children. Doing so will only identify you as a threat. The biblical verse spare the rod, spoil the child speaks to the raising of sheep. A rod is used to guide the sheep and the staff to pull him back into line when he strays. Hitting children, just like sheep, will cause them to become frightened of you and in many instances to runaway or hit back.

7. There is never enough affection in the world. A very simple technique for time is the affection prescription 10-20-10. Give a child 10 minutes of quality time and attention first thing in the morning, 20 minutes in the afternoon, and 10 in the evening. Following this prescription of time has proven to have a great impact on the most negative behavior.

8. Encourage an IEP in the classroom to develop an understanding of the child’s stress and fear. This may assist in addressing such vital areas as homework, playground, peer interaction, lunchtime, and physical education. All are common areas of reduced structure and increased stress.

9. Educate yourself regarding the impact of stress and trauma on families. Try not to scapegoat your child for their difficulties, but rather take responsibility for creating the environment necessary for healing his hurtful experiences. There are many resources available. A few of note are:,, (Dr. Bruce Perry’s organization),, (Dr. Daniel Siegel), and (Dr. Karyn Purvis)

10. Seek support. Parenting a child with trauma history can take its toll on the best of parent. Seek out a support system for occasional respite care, discussing of issues, and the sharing of a meal. Such small steps can go a long ways during particularly stressful times.

In closing, never forget that you are a great parent. During times of stress you won’t always feel like it, but both you and your child were meant to be together. Your child will teach you far more about yourself than you may have ever realized without him. Give yourself time to refuel, connect, and communicate. And finally, a secure parental relationship is the single greatest gift you can give your child. When the parental relationship is secure this will permit the child a foundation to grow from.

Sensory Processing Disorders

Kari Hall Shanks SPDSensory Processing Disorders: Bryan Post interviews therapist Kari Shanks Hall, MA, OTR - Ever wonder about those little, unreasonable things that seem to throw your children into dis-regulation, like food, zippers, sensations or whatever subtle irritations they seem to react to? Adopted or traumatized kids with smaller windows of tolerance than many, may be affected more easily by the things we might never notice. Kari and Bryan discuss the roots and implications of this disorder and ways to combat it. Listen to this short segment introducing the fundamentals of SPD and then purchase the entire audio interview for only .99 cents!

icon-headphones.jpg(10 minute segemt)

Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis for Sensory Processing Disorders July 9, 2013 - In a groundbreaking new study from UC San Francisco, researchers have found that children affected with SPD have quantifiable differences in brain structure, for the first time showing a biological basis for the disease that sets it apart from other neurodevelopmental disorders. For complete article click here.

Time-In, Time Out & Containment: What’s a Mother (or Dad) To Do?

There have been some interesting comments on Bryan’s Facebook posts on Time-In. Two short success stories also showed just how simple this very powerful tool can be, although admittedly, hard to accept at face value. It seems to turn the tables on discipline and as some parents have said, “it rewards a child for being bad!” Poppycock.

Bryan has often said that 90%-95% of children can be parented with any approach, even a bad one and still live a fruitful life. There are those parents who say, “I was  taken out back behind the woodshed,  got a good whippin’ and I turned out alright”. So why shouldn’t we all beat our kids right?

I love the part about “I turned out alright”. When I look at the world, I am not convinced that all that many of us turned out ‘alright’. We meet people every day who appear to have “turned out alright” but don’t we all have our issues – and some of them very destructive? All you have to do is read the paper to see the validity of this. And most of us are not attachment challenged. Yet our children – the ones you and I have in our care or in our families – have attachment issues and many with severe trauma histories.

To help you better understand and implement this easy approach to helping your child, I am including some simple success stories which show how some parents have used this – and the results they experienced. And these are with attachment disorder kids, the really tough ones. I wonder what would happen if we used applied these to typical children. Might we end up someday in world that is ‘better than alright”?

Read two excerpts from The Great Behavior Breakdown: Time-In vs Time-Out and Containment: The Foundation for Time-In

Success story #1: From Meltdown to Snuggle-down

Dear Bryan,

We found out about you about five weeks ago when we were on our knees with our (adopted) son’s behavior. I admit, I was cynical but was open to try anything.

I watched your YouTube video and then the very next time our son melted down instead of time out and what I now see was an unhealthy reaction to his behavior I told him that I loved him, didn’t like to see him so upset and thought that I could make him feel calmer with a cuddle. I opened my arms and an amazing thing happened … this little boy who has been punching, kicking, screaming, shouting, threatening, throwing things, breaking things (you know, I know you know!) and progressively getting worse for the last three years just walked into my arms and kissed me. He snuggled and then later we talked and I found out what had upset him and we fixed it together. Simple.

Within two weeks of meeting every meltdown with the same love our little boy who thinks that he is rubbish, doesn’t like himself and can’t do anything well, has told me that he loves himself. This is quite possibly the most wonderful thing that I have heard in my life! My boy is feeling better about himself.

Our two children both came to us at four years old. Our son four years ago and our daughter last Summer. We have a long way to go and years to make up for but I now feel that we CAN make a change and they WILL be OK despite their start. This is a far cry from the desperation that we have felt. We choose love and the way that we roll now even after just five weeks hears a lot more laughter than before! Thank you, thank you, thank you. –P.B.

Success story #2: From Freakin Out to Making Dinner Together
We received a note from a caseworker that shows just how simple this love based model is and I felt I had to share it with you. Many of our parents wonder where to start. Wherever they are at any moment is a good place. Here is a clue.

She wrote saying “I had a mother call me telling me that her 7 year old daughter was “freakin out, throwing one of her fits”… Mom had put child in her room and closed the door and I could hear the child screaming at the top of her lungs over the phone, and either hitting the door or throwing things at the door. I told the mother to go into the child’s room and just sit on the bed and stare at the floor. Within 30 seconds that child was calmed down, not completely but almost. In about 45 seconds that child was not screaming or talking loud at all and within another minute the child and the mother were talking about getting dinner ready”.

How simple is that? (Note: For more help in where to start, read Kirk Martin’s (founder of Celebrate Calm) advice telling parents to Just Shut Up!

Success story #3: If You Can’t Beat ‘em, Join ‘em! How mindfulness brought this mom to the ultimate Time-In fight of her life!

Think Time-In doesn’t work? Think again. Choose love and see what happens.

Time In vs Time Out by Bryan Post

Excerpt from The Great Behavior Breakdown by Bryan Post

Time-in is essentially the opposite of time-out. The first truth to recognize is that children don’t act out for attention. Children act out because they need attention. The time-out paradigm says, “Children act out for attention; therefore, you give them some time out to think about their behavior.” The time-in paradigm says, “Children act out because they need attention.” Therefore, you address this by bringing them close to you to regulate their fear and stress. What they need in those moments is not to put their nose in a corner. They need regulatory relating with you. You bring them in; you don’t put them out.

When children act out, they’re demonstrating that they’ve gone outside of their window of tolerance. Their stress and fear cannot be maintained any longer, and it explodes through that window of tolerance to a state of dysregulation, which causes the behavior. When your child is misbehaving, he is communicating to you in this way because he doesn’t know how to communicate in words. He is essentially saying, “Mom, Mom, Mom, Dad, Dad, Dad, I don’t know what to do right now. I need your help.” When this happens, the child needs time-in. You do it for a 5-year-old, you do it for a 2-year-old, and you do it for an 18-year-old.

I have said to some parents, “Your child doesn’t need to go to school tomorrow. He needs to spend the whole day with you.” A mother and a 16-year-old spent the whole day together, and the mother emailed me to say, “I can’t believe how powerful that was! It just reorients me to everything that I always knew — that I have to connect with my son in order for him to feel loved, because otherwise he doesn’t feel it.” I created a challenge once to help families with severe behaviors.It was designed to help them within 30 days by receiving nothing more than a designed system of implementation and phone coaching.

I actually gave them a guarantee that they would see a dramatic change. One of the participants was a very courageous mother. I asked her to try time-in. After she did, she called me and said, “I tried time-in the other day on my 7-year-old. I said, ‘Honey, come over here and sit with me because I can see that you’re really stressed out and scared right now. Why don’t you come and sit by Mama?

When you get ready, you can go back and play.’ Usually, we do the time-out for seven minutes, but this time I did the time-in. Do you realize that my daughter sat beside me for 45 minutes? I absolutely could not believe that she sat beside me for 45 minutes.”

Let your child decide how much time-in they need. You don’t give them the minute-for-every-year formula. I don’t know where that came from. But, when children are capable, let them decide. Try it with your child, and you may be surprised. On the other hand, if you say, “As soon as you feel safe, you can go back to play,” and your child runs out to play within two minutes, you will need to make the decision for them. Decide on a time frame based on how you assess the child’s feelings.

Time-in says, “I can see that you’re really scared. Come spend some time with me.” The difference between time-in and a consequence is in the way it’s communicated. It’s in the way the physiology communicates. I don’t advocate for the parent formulated consequences that  most educators and counselors teach. And I also wish to make the point that there is a big difference between a parent formulated  consequence and a natural consequence. Natural consequences occur naturally, thus being natural. You cannot control, prevent, or avoid them, they occur naturally. Natural consequences cannot be taught. For more on this I suggest getting Beyond Consequences, Logic and Control written by Heather Forbes and myself. I believe that most consequences are blame and fear-based, and do not teach responsibility but rather teach reactivity. Remember a consequence is a reaction to an action, so be mindful of what you think you may be teaching  when using some of the common consequence based parenting models. Consequences don’t encourage parents to take responsibility. They encourage parents to blame children for their behaviors because they come from that same paradigm that says children act out for attention.

When you use time-in as a consequence, it looks like this: The parent sees the child misbehave and says, “I can see that you don’t want to play like everyone else right now because if you wanted to play, you wouldn’t be out there fussing and kicking. So, get over here and have some time-in with me.” That’s time-in as a consequence. That’s blame-based.

Time-in as a love-based intervention that creates regulation says, “Whoa! Come here. Hurry, hurry! Wow, I can see that you’re stressed out right now and really scared. Why don’t you hang out here with me for a little bit. When you start feeling a little safer, then you can go back out and play.” There’s a huge, huge difference in the resulting dynamic, but you can see that it’s also a fine line in terms of how you word your response.

When you have a very sensitive child who is easily stressed and easily scared — especially those with traumatic histories — time-in is exactly what they need. Simply say, “Honey, come on over here and stay with me for a little while.” “Stay here with me while I’m doing this or while I’m doing that.” “Stay here on the couch with me and watch my show with me.” “Sit here in the kitchen with me.” “Sit here in the bathroom with me.” “Sit over here on the park bench with me.” You bring the child in because the child needs your attention.

Some children will need a lot of your attention. So, if you have a child that needs a lot of your attention, what you want to practice is containment.

Containment -The Foundation for Time-In by Bryan Post

Excerpt from The Great Behavior Breakdown by Bryan Post

Due to their sensitive or traumatic histories, some children are unable to be on the playground like everyone else. They’re not able to be on the church grounds with everyone else sitting in the group because they might hit someone, hurt someone, or bite someone.

The reason they do this is because it’s simply too much stimulation, and they become dysregulated in this environment. The child is unconsciously saying, “I need containment.”

Containment is like the foundation to time-in because the dynamic is that you’re creating regulation between you and your child. You keep the child close to you in order to decrease the space that causes the child to feel threatened. This regulated interaction allows the child to calm down in an environment where he or she doesn’t feel threatened. Containment is a dynamic that can be used in schools, with parents in the home, in markets, or in malls.

I worked with a family that has seven adopted children. When they were planning a trip to Disney World, I asked them what they were going to do there with seven kids. The mother said, “I’m going to keep them close.” I said, “You better believe it!” That’s containment. When you keep them close, there is a greater likelihood for regulation because you are regulated, and they’re feeling your regulation. When that happens, the whole environment changes.

I was once at a consultation in Canada at a residential treatment center. I took all of the kids to the park. (There were five or six of them.) All of them had an array of behaviors and diagnoses, including fetal alcohol syndrome, reactive attachment disorder, and opposition  defiant disorder. They were all out there playing in the park, and I was working to create a big, nice regulated environment for them. But one of the little guys named Tyler started to get a little dysregulated, and he started to kick the sand. He said to me, “You know I don’t like you. I hate you. You know you’re a _____ this and a _____ that.” So, I said “Hey, come here buddy.” He came marching over. He was mad, and I said, “It looks like you’re stressed out. Why don’t you hang out here with me for a minute?” He said, “I don’t want to.” So, I said, “I know you don’t. I know you’d rather be out there playing, but right now, you’re not in a very good place to be playing. You’re really stressed out. I need to help you feel safe.

Why don’t you hang out here with me for a minute?” I knelt on the ground. I never even stood up. He hung out there with me for about five or ten minutes until I said, “All right, buddy, go ahead and go play.” He was out playing for about five minutes before he started to dysregulate all over again. Who made the mistake? I did. As the adult in the environment, I am the significant regulatory figure. I made the mistake because I wasn’t attuned to myself or to him, and I let him go back before he was ready. Five minutes later, he was kicking and cursing all over again. I said, “Uh-oh, come back, buddy.” I stood up this time. He was on the other side of the jungle gym and said, “I’m not going to. I don’t want to do that anymore. That’s stupid.” So, he turned his back and acted like he was moving away from me. When I first got to the residential center, one of the first things I had been told about Tyler was that he had a tendency to run away. So, he started to go, but he turned and looked back over his shoulder.

I just stood there and took a couple of steps to the side, not toward him. He was a good 30 yards from me when I raised my hand and motioned for him to come back. Then, I looked away from him. He walked away, which only demonstrated how deeply dysregulated and scared he was. He was ready to fall back into his familiar state level behaviors of fight, flight, or freeze. His tendency, of course, was to flee. His state level told him that as soon as the threat became too big, it was time to get out of there. Guess what I wasn’t doing? I wasn’t triggering him. I wasn’t adding to the stress. I was letting my light shine, and my brightness was getting bigger and bigger and bigger. He wrestled with that. He wanted to take off running, but he kept looking back. His negative feedback couldn’t grow. I compressed it because I refused to increase his stress. He finally started walking back toward me. As he headed in my direction, he cursed and said, “This is  stupid” over and over. Then, he said, “I’m mad.” So, I said, “That’s okay. I can imagine that you are. I can tell that you’re really mad. Hang out here with me.” And we just sat there.

Finally, it was time to go, and I said, “Guys, let’s go.” They all lined up, and I was still holding Tyler’s hand. I said, “You know what, Tyler? I have to apologize to you.” He said, “What for?” He wasn’t cursing anymore. He was calm. I said, “Back there earlier, I let you go too  quick. I should have kept you there a little bit longer with me. Then, I wouldn’t have had to expose you to that stress all over again. I wouldn’t have had to call you back to me.”

He looked at me and said, “That’s okay, Bryan.”

To learn more about Time-In vs Time-Out by Bryan Post read more…

Parents: Struggling to Love a Child Who is Defiant, Lying, or Stealing? You CAN Establish a Solid Relationship!

Struggling to Love a Child who is Defiant, Lying, or Stealing?

In my new book, From Fear to Love, you will find out–

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Watch the 2 minute video below for all the details about my new book and how to get the free 30 minute training I’m offering that will give you information you can use today to help your attachment challenged or defiant child–even if you never read my book.

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Mr. T Parenting: Don’t Spank that Child

Spare the rod, spoil the child, spanking, and all that jibber jabber will lead you astray in your parent/child relationship. You gotta bring more love instead of fear. Let Mr. T show you as he deals with a family in trouble.

Mr. T Parenting with Love: Time-in not Time-out

Bring the love back to parenting with Mr. T as he teaches parents to use time-in not time-out. Stop all that jibber jabber and listen up to real parenting with love.

Session 4 Oxytocin and Children, The impact of Oxytocin on children’s behavior

Session 4 Oxytocin and Children, The impact of Oxytocin on children’s behavior