Callie is 10 years old and she lives with her adoptive mom and dad, her older sister Terry who is 15 years old and their dog, Bella. Callie loves art, playing in at the park and her two best friends who she spends every minute with when she is not at school or doing chores. She loves her mom and dad and likes it best when she can be with just one of them. She finds her sister annoying because she thinks she is perfect….the only perfect thing in Callie’s opinion is her dog, Bella.
Callie came to live with her family four years ago when she was six years old and she wishes she didn’t remember much about her life before that. But she does and when she does it gets really hard for her. Sometimes there are so many thoughts and feelings that she ends up saying and doing things that leave her feeling just awful afterwards.
Callie’s mom has explained to her about COVID-19 and she did not like hearing about it. She knew she was scared, sometimes knowing what she feels is hard for Callie and she is learning more about what she feels. She knew this was a scared feeling in her stomach. She was pretty sure that mom did not actually mean she could not see her friends, she knows mom sometimes says things and then changes her mind later, that’s ok, mom’s do that. It better be true about this though.
Two things then happened…later that day her friend told her on the phone that it was true that they could not see each other and mom said that her whole family was going to stay in the house together but it would be ok because they would do art, watch movies and play games...everyone together! Callie was not sure which of the 2 things was worse…she went to her room and stayed there for the rest of the day.
The next day was even worse…mom made this huge breakfast that they all ate together and Dad said they were going for a hike, together again for the whole afternoon. By the end of the afternoon, Callie’s stomach was really hurting and she had no idea what she was feeling. She was sort of remembering her original family and that when they spent a lot of time together, it often did not end up being good. And that when she was home, it was often better to spend time in her room on her own. She had no idea how to talk to mom or dad about all of that. Instead, when mom wanted them all to cuddle on the couch after dinner she just lost it, crying and yelling at her mom. She went to her room and slammed the door. When dad came up to talk with her, she just ignored him, she did not know what to say.
These feelings and experiences can be very common for children who have histories of attachment challenges and trauma and cannot live with their original families. What appears to everyone else to be happy, good times can create many other feelings and experiences for them. It can trigger memories of their original family and feelings of loss and sadness. If there was trauma, feelings of fear or upset that children and even teens may not understand can appear and often do not have words. Some children have not learned how to be close to others and to be able to relax and enjoy and have these times feel good. Loss and trauma can leave children not trusting other people and it can take time for them to be able to spend long periods of time with a whole family and feel safe and relaxed.
COVID-19 is a huge change for everyone, change is often harder for children who have experienced too much change and too early in their lives. For them, change may have resulted in moves and the loss or people and important things in their lives. Children often learn to sense when adults or the world around them feels wrong or is full of tension and worry. They may not know why they have these feelings or what to do with them. Everyone needs ways to make sense of all the changes and support to find ways to cope, children with challenging histories may not have learned how to cope with change or to feel supported during challenging times.
Callie heard Mom and Dad coming up the stairs and she groaned. They were going to either give her a consequence or want to talk to her, neither was a good idea in Callie’s mind. Dad came in and gave her a cup of hot chocolate (her almost favourite thing) and Mom sat on the bed. She said “Callie, we are sorry, I think we forgot that lots of time together is not always fun for you…we need to change this a bit and make sure you have more time for the things you like to do and more time for yourself. We also think we can set up some ways online for you and your friends to get together.”
Callie was really surprised, neither mom or dad were mad and there was not a consequence, in fact they seemed to understand, they were actually coming up with the words that Callie did not have.
Callie took a big breath and smiled…then she hugged both her mom and dad!
Being able to “tune into” a child’s feelings and experience and understand when loss and trauma have been triggered helps a child feel safe and trust their parents when life around them is difficult or scary. For children with attachment and trauma challenges that need to be repaired, this is often much effective than focusing only on the behaviour.