it doesn't matter how young

Sunday, June 12, 2011

One of my very favorite parts of Summit VII was sitting under Dr. Karyn Purvis for a too-short breakout session. I want her to be my mama. (My second mama of course - my first mama is too awesome to give up.) She is gentle yet tough and has spent her career dedicating herself to helping 'children from hard places' heal. As well as helping the parents help these children heal. We are very excited to be planning to attend an Empowered to Connect conference in September which is two days of training and encouragement for parents, professionals, and church leaders who are committed to helping children from hard places.

One of the biggest learning curves that we had when approaching foster care/adoption was our impression that because we wanted children younger than 3 that the impact of the abuse and neglect they had experienced would be less. We thought that transitions as such a young age would be quickly forgotten and not as big of a deal as for older children. We were dismayed to learn this is actually the opposite of the truth. The younger a child is when the trauma occurs in their life, the more devastating the consequences. The common psychiatric wisdom is that by age 4, our brains, personality, emotions, etc. are developed basically for good. (Not that people can't change after age 4, but it will take much longer and far more work if it happens at all.) So the abuse and neglect that our children experienced, even at their very young ages, has actually caused their brains to develop abnormally. By therapeutically parenting them, we are literally helping to rewire their brains.

Dr. Purvis spoke about the 'still face research' that has been done on infants. The particular experiment that I've attached a video of was done by Dr. Edward Tronick on babies of 12 months with secure attachments. It's fascinating stuff:

Dr. Purvis really focused on a similar experiment done on five month old babies. (I can't find anything online for this right off hand, so I'll try my best to summarize it correctly.) In this particular research project, the babies were exposed to a stranger instead of their mother. The stranger exhibited the 'still face' for them for two minutes. Fifteen months later, the babies were brought back in and shown a series of photos of different people. When the stranger's face was displayed, the babies turned their face away from that photo. They still negatively remembered that person, even though the person was a stranger in the first session, and none of the babies had been exposed to him or her since. Fifteen months later.

We are just beginning to understand the full effects of our children's past on their lives. We are humbled by the strength and resiliency of our children. We are humbled by the challenges that lie before us in learning to parent our children. We are grateful for people like Mr. B's therapist and Dr. Karyn Purvis who are dedicating their time and careers to helping parents like us who just want our children 'from hard places' to heal.

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