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Wednesday, 24 February 2021
Unexplained Behaviors Print
Inconsolable Crying, Screaming, Raging Temper Tantrums

Early trauma (which includes separation from birth mother, multiple placements, hospitalizations, etc...) can cause impairment in a part of the brain (limbic system, Amygdala.) This becomes a nonverbal/emotional memory; the body remembers the trauma even though the conscious mind may not. This is "neuro-hijacking." Neurons in your heart, stomach, etc...send messages just like the brain does...and, because there are more neurons in the body than in the brain, it can in effect hijack the body. The body remembers!

The part of the brain in which this occurs is in a preverbal area; therefore, when a young child with this early trauma experiences one of these neuro-hijackings (which can look like unexplained crying, screaming, temper tantrums), it doesn't work to try to talk through it. His brain/body has been hi-jacked. He cannot hear you. In a similar vein, an older child with this issue cannot talk himself out of it. (You know the self-talk you give yourself--"It's going to be all right," "I feel nervous, but I know that it's going to be okay," etc...)

The good news is that you can help children to heal! But, because the part of the brain that you're dealing with is the non-verbal part, you have to learn to think differently. Traditional methods of discipline and trying to talk through these behaviors with children may be ineffective. In our son's case, I started to recognize that we had a problem** when:
    1. The discipline methods that I used with our other three children had no effect whatsoever. "No" meant nothing. I may as well have been talking to a brick wall.

    2. I saw unexplained behavior—excessive whining, unhappiness, crying, screaming, temper tantrums. If he had been my first child, I would have written the unexplained behavior off as terrible twos, teeth, tiredness, etc... I almost did anyway! Especially when well-meaning professionals also tried to write it off.
** Symptoms look different in every child; consult Symptoms for more information.

With the information we now have, we are able to deal with discipline and the unexplained behavior. The WONDERFUL thing about this is that the brain is so malleable up to the age of 33 months. We could have very easily written off his behavior as terrible twos and missed this incredible window of opportunity.

FAQ: So how do parents address the non-verbal part of the brain?

Wow. Isn't that the ten million dollar question?

Imagine trying to tame a feral cat. It is absolutely terrified of you. It claws and scratches and hisses at you at every turn. If you brought the cat indoors, chances are that if allowed to run lose, it would continue to be wild forever. You could say, “Here, kitty kitty. It’s okay kitty,” until you turned blue, but it wouldn’t tame the cat. Even under the best of circumstances with years and years of living with you, it probably would never allow you to hold and cuddle it. It might get "agreeable," but would never completely trust you…or anyone else.

If, on the other hand, you pulled that cat in close--protected it from hurting itself or you--and then gave it very, very tight boundaries, it would probably start to feel safe. It wouldn't like it at first. But over time, with very tight boundaries and a ton of consistency, it would start to feel safe.

Alternately, imagine you have a very anxious dog. He is 100% loyal to you, but when visitors come to the door he either emotionally loses control—barking & barking & jumping—or he cowers, running to hide under the bed. For his quality of life to be the highest, you pull him close to derive calm from you so that he can eventually learn to self-regulate. Like the cat, this beloved pet will only feel safe after learning that you are trustworthy, loving, and very, very consistent.

In a similar way, kids with attachment disorders are wounded. Parents have to put pressure on to stop the loss of blood. They cannot let up or they'll lose the kid. These kids need extremely tight boundaries--much tighter than what "normal" kids need--given with the utmost love and confidence. The kids need to know that Mom & Dad are 100% in control so that they can feel safe. This form of parenting is often counter-intuitive. Even the most experienced parents benefit from supervision by an attachment specialist.

Of course, the parenting component doesn't fully address the brain issues. Ideally, a child also needs additional neurological support from professionals trained in the effects of early separation/trauma on the developing brain.

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