Understanding Brain Development in Children from Trauma

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Why?  What is going on with my child? Why does my child behave like this?  What can I do to parent my child who just doesn’t seem to “get it?”  Is there hope for my child?

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On this episode of The Honestly Adoption Podcast, Mike welcomes Dr. Gary Feldman from the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center to share some insights from his work with children at their International Adoption Clinic.

Listen Now:


Notes and Quotes:

“It’s helpful to zoom out and look at the big picture.”

Why and how did these children end up in orphanages or foster homes in the first place?  Let’s look at some of those reasons:  There may be mental health predispositions, drug and alcohol exposure in-utero, malnourishment, disease and illness…also, the child’s birth experience, was the child neglected, abused, and how were they removed from birth parents.  These, and more, all contribute to what is going on with the child now.

What can a parent do to be ready for the child(ren) they will bring into their home?
  • Prepare for what you know
  • Prepare for what you don’t know
  • Responsive and Pro-Active vs. Reactive parenting
  • Understand Attachment issues
  • Anticipate possible exposure to traumas like physical or sexual abuse (especially with older children from orphanages)

“The more you understand a worse case scenario, the more informed you can be, which means you are more prepared to offset difficult behaviors.”

  • Become Trauma-informed

[shareable]’You are more likely to be a reactive parent if you get blindsided all the time, or if you are not anticipating or not understanding why a child is doing certain behaviors.'[/shareable]

  • Understand the basic concept of Behavioral Pheno-type:  There is a common overlap in certain conditions and symptoms (i.e.  RAD and FASD have a 50% overlap in behavioral pheno-type)
  • Understand Executive Skills Deficits: One of the common challenges many adopted children have are executive skill deficits.  Much of this is from damage to the frontal lobe.  They just don’t have good judgement and can’t join the dots.  They can’t learn from their mistakes.
What about a child who seems to go “off the rails” almost overnight, after a long period of everything seeming “fine?”
  • Look back to genetic markers/mental health disorders
  • Puberty is hard on many kids, even in ideal circumstances
  • Teens beginning to seek their roots, plus puberty, plus mental health histories can become a perfect storm
 What can a parent to do help their Primary Care Physician (PCP) or therapist to understand more about their child?
  • Have realistic expectations of your PCP
    • It is almost unreasonable to expect a PCP to understand a special condition.
    • In most cases practitioners want to help, but they aren’t “specialists” in this area so they may need more education and information.
  • Seek out someone who does have the expertise
What hope is there for parents in the trench who are “victims” of their child’s behavior?
  • Kids DO change over time.
  • The outcome will probably be better than you think!  It isn’t just a linear progression, improvement is almost always is on a curve for the better!
  • Be meticulous to make sure you assess the child and intervene early
  • Put all your effort in
  • Your child’s traumatic past does not define their future

“By far, the majority of outcomes for children who are adopted are positive.”

“If you have knowledge, it changes how you parent your child.”

Resources and Links:

Dr. Gary Feldman serves as Medical Director of the Stramski Children’s Developmental Center, in Long Beach, CA, as well as the lead physician in the Sleep Disorder, Behavioral Disorder, and the Stramski Center International Adoption Clinic.  He is a member of the American Medical Association, Society for Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Pediatrics, and he is a coveted speaker on a variety of topics including pediatric sleep disorders and international adoption.

[reminder]Have you struggled to understand why your child behaves the way he does? Let us know what questions you still have or encourage others here with hope you have found along the way![/reminder]

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Understanding Brain Development in Children from Trauma

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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.