Blog// LGBT Adoptive Parents

Trauma-Informed Parenting for Adoptees

Trauma-informed parenting is an approach to raising children that recognizes and responds to the impact of traumatic experiences on a child's development, behavior, and overall well-being. For parenting adoptees, this approach is rooted in an understanding of how the adoption process and experience may impact adoptees, and the trauma often rooted in adoption. 

In all types of adoption, whether international adoption or adoption through foster care, even domestic, infant adoption, most adoptees will have experienced trauma. In fact, the research shows that most trauma occurs pre-adoption placement for adoptees. In considering adoption and its potential impacts on adoptees, research suggests that the separation from one's initial attachment figure and biological connection, typically the birth mother, whether occurring at birth or later, can be regarded as a form of trauma. Whether or not the adoptee has conscious memories of this separation and loss, it is still stored in the body as trauma, which is why many adoptees experience preverbal, developmental trauma.(1) 

Experiences of trauma can shape a child's brain development, emotional regulation, and interpersonal relationships, so having an understanding of the potential trauma experienced by adoptees is vital. Here are some key principles and practices of trauma-informed parenting for adoptees:

  • Understanding Trauma: Trauma-informed parents educate themselves about the effects of trauma on children's development and behavior. They recognize that traumatic experiences can have long-lasting impacts on a child's physical, emotional, and psychological health. This means that adoptive parents have the responsibility of educating themselves on the potential trauma interlaced in adoption, the experiences of adoptees and are open to self-reflection and continued learning about adoption. 
  • Creating Safety and Stability: Trauma-informed parenting prioritizes creating a safe and predictable environment for children. This includes establishing routines, setting clear boundaries, and providing consistent and nurturing care. This is incredibly important for helping adoptees foster healthy, secure attachment which is directly influenced by early childhood trauma. 
  • Building Trusting Relationships: Trauma-informed parents focus on building trusting and supportive relationships with their children. They emphasize empathy, validation, and active listening to help children feel heard, understood, and emotionally supported. While all children need this, adoptees, specifically transracial adoptees will need parents who are willing to empathize and empower them to own their unique story and experience. 
  • Promoting Emotional Regulation: Trauma-informed parenting teaches children coping skills and emotional regulation techniques to manage difficult feelings and reactions. Individuals that have experienced trauma may struggle with emotional regulation. Providing opportunities for adoptees to learn how to self-regulate is incredibly important and counselors or therapists are great resources to assist in this. 
  • Encouraging Expression and Validation: Trauma-informed parents create opportunities for children to express their feelings and experiences in a safe and non-judgmental environment. They validate children's emotions and experiences, helping them feel understood and accepted. This means acknowledging and holding space for both the positive and negative feelings adoptees may have about their adoption and their story. Adoption is multifaceted and nuanced, and adoptees may have a wide range of feelings surrounding their adoption, affirming all their feelings is necessary. 
  • Fostering Empowerment and Choice: Trauma-informed parenting empowers children by giving them a sense of control and autonomy over their lives. Parents involve children in decision-making processes and respect their preferences and boundaries, especially regarding conversations surrounding their adoption
  • Addressing Triggers: Trauma-informed parents are aware of potential triggers or reminders of past traumatic experiences that may cause distress for their children. They provide support and comfort during these moments and help children develop coping strategies to manage triggers. This also means that adoptive parents have the responsibility to be intentional about creating safe spaces for their adoptees which requires cutting out unsafe environments and even individuals that may be triggering. 
  • Seeking Support and Resources: Trauma-informed parents recognize the importance of seeking support for themselves and their children. This may involve accessing therapy, other adoptive families, or mental health services to address trauma-related issues and build resilience. Studies indicate that adoptees face an increased susceptibility to certain mental health conditions, therefore prioritizing mental health and psychosocial support is critical. 

Overall, trauma-informed adoptive parenting emphasizes empathy, compassion, and understanding as essential components of supporting children who have experienced adoption trauma. By providing a safe and nurturing environment, parents help their adoptees thrive in their overall development and relationships.

By: Ramya Gruneisen

(1): Brodzinsky D, Gunnar M, Palacios J. Adoption and trauma: Risks, recovery, and the lived experience of adoption. Child Abuse Negl. 2022 Aug;130(Pt 2):105309. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2021.105309. Epub 2021 Sep 17. PMID: 34544593; PMCID: PMC8926933.

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