Monday, July 25, 2011

Will Damaged Children Heal in Adulthood?

On Saturday LT, over at I Was a Foster Kid, wrote about how she thinks that it is possible for children of trauma to eventually heal, although it may not happen until adulthood. She believes that the most damaged and abused kids shouldn't be thought of as lost causes.

Although I admire those who have eternal optimism for kids who have been abused, traumatized and mistreated, I no longer share it.  At one time I did, but as the realities of living with such a child have unfolded, my hopes for the future have faded.  As I've seen my friends (both online and in-person) struggle with their damaged kids, and I've maintained relationships with people who work in the child welfare system, I've learned that the happy endings don't come nearly as often as the adoption recruiters would like people to believe.

I've had a number of my critics opine that the only place that my child is functioning poorly is at home.  As much as certain people might like to believe that, it's patently not true.  My child was sent to a program for emotionally and behaviorally challenged kids, not at our request, but at the insistence of her previous school.  Officials were concerned, because of behaviors they were seeing at school, and it was they who insisted on the mid-year move.

Although from an academic perspective our kid is doing well, there are number of things that still concern me about her future.  My biggest worry is that my child hates to read, and will go to great lengths to avoid it.  Even though she can read, and her teachers tell us that her reading skills are good and her comprehension is nearly at grade level, she will go out of her way to avoid it.  When we are in a situation where there really is "nothing to do" (whether it's a waiting room or down-time at home) she will absolutely refuse to read.  When she's asked to read a passage at school, she complains about it bitterly.

Her lack of interest and willingness to read worries me because it is through reading that one learns and succeeds in higher education.  If our child will not read, she's going to have a difficult time in life.  Even most vocational schools require some reading, and her absolute unwillingness in this area is going to set her up for failure.

The biggest area of concern we have is that our child seems to have virtually no problem-solving skills.  When faced with a problem, whether it be a social problem, a mechanical problem, or a logistical problem, she simply has no idea of how to come up with a solution.  When she's faced with a challenge, and you ask her, "how do you think you can solve this?" she is never able to produce ideas on her own,

Life is about problem-solving.  As an adult, one has to face the daily challenges of finding and maintaining food and shelter, and I fear that her lack of problem-solving abilities will put her at a severe disadvantage in life.  This is especially true because it seems that her only coping skill is to resort to threats, fits of temper, and sometimes violence.  Although her violent episodes have mainly been directed at us, I believe that she will use those same behaviors when she's not in our home.  She's admitted that violence was used to solve problems in her birth family, she now tries to use those same techniques with us, and I have no doubt she will use them in the future.

While she is a minor, it seems our legal system is willing to give her a free pass.  That will no longer be true when she's an adult.  Whether she is hitting us, a future spouse, or her children, the consequences won't be pretty when she becomes a legal adult.

Whether or child heals as an adult obviously will remain to be seen.  What is clear, at least at this point, is that she will face a number of very difficult years in her young adulthood.  If she does not learn to reign in her violent tendencies, she will not be able to continue to live here.  If she doesn't develop a work ethic and some motivation, she will have an incredibly difficult time making a living.  If she doesn't develop some self-control and problem-solving skills, she will not be able to turn whatever income she may have into life's basics such as shelter and food.

We've tried to discuss these concerns with our child, but she's simply not ready to accept that the world doesn't work in the magic way she believes.  She is convinced that, as soon as she turns 18, all the skills and experience she will need to find and build a wonderful life will magically be bestowed upon her.  She is convinced that these things just happen, and that she won't have to go to any great effort to have the perfect life.

In my experience, life is rarely that easy.  In my experience, life is difficult, and one has to work really hard to achieve any level of financial stability.  Once has to exercise a great deal of work ethic and self-control, and it's not always easy.  For a child who lacks a solid work ethic and problem solving skills, I see this as a very difficult, if not impossible, task.

I would very much like to teach my child these skills, but I cannot.  Even if we had a child who was receptive to our instruction, I have no idea how to teach things like problem solving or self-control.  I exercise both on a daily basis, in my personal and professional life, and I've often explained the how and why to my child, but she still fails to grasp even the most basic skills in these areas.

If my child is to heal in adulthood, I think it will only come after the school of hard knocks has made her weary.  I would like to spare her the pain of those ugly lessons, but it seems that her teenage brain has locked onto the idea that we are stupid, and that she knows everything.

So often things happen in our child's life where she is forced to admit that we, her parents, were right.  Even though she's seen this happen time and time again, she's still not willing to accept that when it comes to life, we've done a lot more of it, and we might know something of the way the world works.

Will our child eventually heal?  I don't know.  Certainly for much healing to happen now seems impossible.


  1. Our child reads. However, she does not Remember anything she reads. She does not Learn from reading. She does not even seem to Enjoy reading. She does not seem to Care What she reads. (unless it is difficult or actually requires Thinking, in which case she wanders off.) Right now her 2 favorite genres are Novels she has already read once (Nicholas Sparks)and Package Information.

    Our child has not much activity in the problem-solving department, either. Her plan is to nag me to help her. And to get really pissed off when I walk her through the thinking business. This weekend her plan for going to a garage sale with no money, was to "borrow your money?" Umm, no. She still has as much luck finding things (right in front of her in the fridge, on the counter, wherever) as when she was 5. Maybe a little less screaming, but more arguing. "I looked everywhere, it isn't anywhere!"

    Not sure how it looks for being a functioning adult in 6m 24 days.

    R in SL

  2. People said the same thing about me. I was labeled emotionally disturbed. I, however liked reading. It was my way of getting out. It was being "ordered" to do things that I didn't like. I am now married with 5 children, 4 of which live at home. I pay my bills and solve many problems, daily. As for "damaged" kids. I think those of us who are behaviorial problems do eventually grow out of it. Look me. As for your daughter, express firmly the importance of reading and understanding what she reads. Maybe it's not challenging enough or maybe it's too hard. Have her tested see where she tests at. Maybe she has a learning disability. I repsect this as being your blog, but I must admit I am left feeling sorry for your daughter and all the pressure thats being placed on her. Anyway, good luck.......

  3. I was a stupid stupid stupid child when I was in elementary school, even on up through middle school and part of high school. I didn't read till 4th grade, I didn't write correctly, I had no clue how to solve things and it drove me crazy when people would say 'figure it out' or 'how would you solve it', when I didn't know... If I knew, I wouldn't have gotten up the courage to ask! (I was also very intimidated by people and extremely shy.) The other one I hated was "look it up in the dictionary." I wish I had been a smartass back then to inform people, if I can't spell it, how do you expect me to look it up in the dictionary!?

    My grades were also hit or miss... and while I didn't really act out, I didn't really act at all but was very introverted.

    My grades were either Bs, As, or Ds and Fs. There was no middle ground for me, it was either I could do it or I couldn't. Luckily I had some great teachers and really understanding parents who walked me through things time and time again. Of course, I also had those teachers who were not so kind, and sometimes my parents got annoyed (but rarely). Now, I'm out of college with above 3.0 gpa, graduating with a B.S. degree and a double major, and with a new job in my major living completely independently and on my own.

    I guess my point is, some people take more time to learn things than others - and sometimes those things are also very difficult to teach so that doesn't help either. Also, even though you are trying to teach her these things - she's also at that age where it's nice to dream and hope a little. My childhood was taken away from me when I was younger, and I learned to be an adult (a slightly slow and quiet one) back in middle school due to family events... That probably hurt me more than helped me, because being childish, rebelling, and having that almost silly hope, is kinda apart of development.


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