602-884-1801 | Arizona Association for Foster and Adoptive Parents info@azafap.org

I don’t want to bore you with stories from my childhood but, suffice it to say, there was plenty of trauma to go around for me and my 3 sisters. The 4th birth was even blessed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. Not fun.

I do, however, want to bring a few things to your attention that I know firsthand about being a kid with a trauma history in the classroom (public, private, or home school). I’m definitely smart enough to shine in the classroom but observing my 10-year-old self, you’d never know it. I was sleepy, cranky, ashamed, distracted, and just wanted to be left alone, preferably outside. I had trouble focusing on my work and following the rules about being quiet. Getting homework done and turned in was really beyond me. I couldn’t learn to read music though I loved singing in the choir at my parochial school. For added context, let me point out that there were no more than 12 kids in my class so adequate attention was never an issue. I remember telling the teacher to “just leave me alone” one morning when he called on me to answer a question. I also remember going to a birthday party and sitting with a table full of moms instead of joining my peer group. I felt I was too mature to be silly with them.

Folks, I just didn’t feel safe anywhere. School had always been a haven in my earlier years but by 5th grade, it just wasn’t enough to buffer the stress that enveloped me all day due to worry and fear.

I know, I know. The kids you live with aren’t in stress anymore, right? Wrong. Many of them continue to worry about their moms. Many of them feel like they’ve abandoned her after years of taking care of her. Others have never felt safe with ANY adult at home or in school, even you.

I now suspect that the Minister of my parochial school, Carl Gaertner, approached a classmate’s mom and asked her to invite me to spend weekends with them. I can’t tell you I got close to Mrs. Steltzer; she was not a warm and cozy woman. But she offered me a break from whatever nightmare was going on at home. Her daughter, Mary, and I swam in the creek, walked to the movies and the nearby soda fountain, and generally got to be kids in the world. I can tell you I felt safe in their home.

Look, I share this with you to make a single point: You can over-control, “support”, “guide”, or “help” your kids to catch up or keep up in school. You can dedicate your entire day to helping them hold their own in the classroom but until they feel safe, they won’t develop the skills they need to function without you at their shoulder. So, please, invest as much time and effort in your relationship with them as you have in their education. The sense of safety that comes with that connection with you just frees up what that little brain has to bring to the world.

I’ve even got some research to back all this up! “According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, chronic exposure to traumatic events, especially during a child’s early years, can:

Adversely affect attention, memory, and cognition.

Reduce a child’s ability to focus, organize, and process information.

Interfere with effective problem solving and planning…”

The executive functions that trauma can compromise:

“Inhibitory control — the capacity to inhibit or regulate strong emotional or impulsive behavioral responses voluntarily;

Cognitive flexibility — the ability to think about multiple concepts simultaneously or to switch quickly between concepts;

Working memory — the ability to hold new information in the mind, process it, and store it as a learned memory.“

From http://www.kappanonline.org/barr-trauma-hinders-learning/

You can’t be at their shoulder very long any way. They will eventually need to encounter the world on their own. And they need to be away from you to develop those executive function skills anyway.

Their challenges are not a reflection of your efforts. You have to know this deep down inside because the world, the teachers, the coaches, the Sunday School staff, the grocery store clerks, and the passersby will judge you harshly for any misbehavior your kid exhibits, and you have to rise above that. Your connection and the safe space that connection creates is your superpower. Don’t let the uninformed world distract you from this reality.

Their education is important but feeling safe will open up their brain to their personal capacity for learning. Don’t come in with that bear hug; let the child seek you. Respect how hard this path is; both yours and theirs. Do nice things for yourself. Be with friends. Laugh. Sleep well. Eat healthily. Restore yourself so you can bring what is needed: a calm, regulated, patient, responsive adult. Then you have to help the classroom teacher understand how to connect and restore regulation: Repetitive, rhythmic activities side by side throughout the day but especially before and after transitions.

You got this! But don’t set a timer, it can take a while…


  1. Check out the AZAFAP Event Calendar at https://azafap.gnosishosting.net/Events/Calendar.
  2. Our Friday night Happy Hour and Tuesday afternoon Coffee Chat continue. Some find me and a single other participant; others find a conversation among 4 to 12 people. The topics range from the silly to what hobbies have us in their grip to what life has thrown in our path. If you ever find yourself wanting a bit of grown-up conversation, consider joining us (check your email for the unchanging link).
  3. The Caring for Caregivers project provides counseling sessions for those who do not have insurance to cover counseling services. Find the information and link at https://www.azafap.org/family-support-services/
  4. Parent Mentor Partners: AZAFAP has trained volunteer parents as mentors who are ready to help support foster, kinship, and adoptive parents through one-to-one conversations. Interested? Fill out the form at https://www.azafap.org/family-support-services/
  5. I encourage you to check out what Dr. Bruce Perry has to offer. Find his thoughts at https://youtu.be/uOsgDkeH52o?t=3 and at https://www.neurosequential.com .

Thanks for listening. Maintain yourself so you can be there reliably for others.

Cathy (cathyt@azafap.org)