Guest Blog Post: Addressing Difficult Behaviors

By Denise Rice, LCSW, ACSW, LAC

What are Behaviors?
All behavior meets a need and has a function. Let me say that again, there is a function and a purpose to every behavior! A behavior is an external expression (communication) of our internal emotions. Sometimes, we as adults forget that how we behave is our way of communicating how we feel, just as it is for our kids. It is how we often communicate our emotions, positive or negative. When children experience trauma, their most pressing need is survival. Many behaviors we would label as “bad,” “maladaptive,” or “inappropriate” were necessary at one point for the child’s survival; and let’s be honest, our children and teens are master survivors.

We need to reframe our thinking about behavior. Especially when it comes to understanding trauma. If you want to really practice a trauma sensitive or trauma responsive type of parenting it is critical that you see the behavior of your child or teen through a trauma informed lens. Rather than seeing the behavior as negative and hostile, we need to see it as a highly functional survival skill that kept our kids alive in their previous environments and now that behavior isn’t working as well in the current situation. What parents and caregivers are tasked with is how to decipher the message underneath the child’s behavior. What is your child telling you they need through their behavior?

If hiding, stealing, or stashing food away was the only way your child ate when their parent went on a drug or alcohol bender, that behavior has become a survival skill. However, if the same child is hiding, stealing, and hoarding food under their bed and in their closet in your home that same survival skill is now described as “inappropriate” or “disruptive.” This behavior is getting in the way of this child being successful in a different situation or connecting with you because it drives you crazy and is considered “disrespectful;” but, these behaviors that kept your kids alive before, will not simply disappear after a few days, weeks, or sometimes months or years after being placed in your home.

Keep reminding yourself that often the behavior isn’t about you. It may feel like the behavior is aimed at you, but remember that the child is behaving the only way they know how, and when our brains are stressed, we regress. We regress to previous behaviors that may have disappeared for some time. I know that it is extremely difficult to not take some of the behaviors personally. Especially if you are not taking care of yourself and your own stress is impacting the healing relationship with your child. Continue reading

A Whirlwind of Change and Possibilities: Embracing the Adoption Journey

By Ben Lusz, Director of Events and Volunteers

The world is your oyster, enjoy the possibilities.

Matt and I were in our late 20s and invited to a wedding. It gave Matt an opportunity to meet my childhood friends, and for me to catch up on their travels and see who was building a family. The nuptials happened, and everyone moved onto the important part…the reception. During this reception, instead of joining our friends on the dance floor doing the chicken dance, we found ourselves hanging out with their children. Then that moment happened when Matt I looked at each other and decided our life of freedom and no children may not be our long-term plan…parenthood was on the way; we were expecting.

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Making Connections for Youth in Foster Care

By Courtney Lake, Development and Communications Coordinator

Aging out of foster care is a terrifying reality that more than 20,000 youth face every year. Not only do these 18 year-olds lack a family, many enter the real world without the skills to make it on their own, and worse, without a single connection to look to for guidance and support.

In 2015, NPR shared Jasmine Uqdah’s story. A bright teen, Jasmine aged out of the foster care system with a plan. She was accepted to college and was motivated to succeed. But like so many youth who age out of the foster care system, the odds were stacked against her and there was no one around to guide her.

“Uqdah says that trying to balance school, a part-time job, money, and life all on her own became overwhelming. So she dropped out after two semesters — already more than $15,000 in debt — and took a second job as a meat slicer at a Detroit market.”

No young person should have to take on the world alone like Jasmine did. In her own words:

“Every 18- and 19-year-old thinks they’re ready, but you’re not. You’re not ready for shutoff notices. You’re not ready for eviction notices. You’re not ready for car repossessions.”

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It’s National Adoption Month! Do you want to adopt? This is how!

By Jessica Hartwig, Adoption Recruitment Specialist

Today more than 427,000 children are waiting in foster care in the United States; more than 111,000 of them are available to be adopted. Each year more than 20,000 of those waiting children will “age out” of care, putting them at greater risk of homelessness, underemployment, health challenges, and great emotional loss throughout their entire lives.

Because of these staggering numbers, November is recognized as National Adoption Awareness Month in the United States.  In 1995, President Bill Clinton expanded National Adoption Awareness Week to the entire month of November.  As of 2016, National Adoption Awareness Month has been celebrated for 21 years! Child welfare advocates and U.S. leaders celebrate National Adoption Awareness Month to pay tribute to the thousands of adoptive families who make sacrifices and open their homes to youth living in the nation’s foster care system.

Many people choose to begin pursuing adoption during National Adoption Awareness Month. If you are ready to begin your adoption journey, read on!

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Holiday Survival Tips

By Amanda Purvis, COPARC Project Director

If you are parenting children, you know that the holidays tend to be one of the most amazing times of the year, and one of the most difficult times of the year, all at once: the sugar, the cold, the lack of normalcy, the relatives, the travel. It’s all wonderful and terrible, sometimes in the same breath. Here are some great survival tips to make it through the holidays with both caregivers and children feeling celebrated and cherished.

Remember that what fires together wires together. Often when working with parents who are parenting kids from trauma, they explain what they think they alone have experienced – the phenomenon that their child creates, the child that “sabotages” the good days. Have you gone through this? Your child has been so excited about their birthday, or another special day, only to completely “ruin” the day with non-stop temper tantrums and meltdowns?

Remember that stress hormones are the same; whether it is “good” stress or “bad” stress, the body releases the same hormones. As a result, the brain does what it normally does when those are released (picture child in a puddle in the middle of all their presents, spent with excitatory neurotransmitters and the bliss of it all- but it looks like disrespect and manipulation). So if your child is acting more like the day they got in trouble at school, and it’s Christmas morning, remember that most often, they are not trying to sabotage the day, but that they just don’t know what else to do with their brains and bodies.

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Heading Back to School

By Amanda Purvis, COPARC Project Director

Well, it happened. Summer is almost over. School emails keep dinging in my inbox. School fees have been paid; boxed lunches, uniforms, all of the #2 sharpened pencils and Crayola 24-count crayons, they’ve been bought.

And now it’s time to make that decision that we as parents of kids from hard places struggle with making every single year at this time. What do we say to the new teacher? Anything? Everything? Some where in between? As a parent, I am looking for the right combination of words to fill this teacher with deep levels of understanding on developmental trauma and its effects on the brain, compassion that will carry them through some tough days, and huge levels of thanksgiving, because teachers are heroes.

So here is a note to all the teachers who will help us parent our children from trauma, from all of us parents, foster parents, kin parents, adoptive parents, and all of the other beautiful ways we find ourselves parenting these amazing kids. Here’s to you teachers!

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Adopting a Sibling Group

By Amanda Purvis, COPARC Project Director

My husband and I have been foster parents for over five years. We have had 14 children come into our home, forced to believe that we could keep them safer. Our first placement was an emergency placement of twin two-year-old boys. We had been waiting for them for over a week; each attempt that the authorities made to bring the children in, their biological mom would evade their attempts, finding another secret place to lay her babies down each night.

On the night they arrived on our little purple front porch it was after midnight. I remember going out to the social worker’s car to help her carry in one of the sleeping boys. We laid them down in their new beds and were whispering above the hum of the hall fan, trying to glean any information we could from this overworked and underpaid fresh graduate student who had found herself as a safety net between hurting and  hurt, lost and found, breaking and broken. I could tell she was new to this. As she was slipping out our front door, into the crisp cool night air that is fall in Colorado, the crickets were chirping as if they didn’t know that our lives had just changed forever, and the breeze was blowing as if it didn’t know that two little boys had just fallen asleep in a stranger’s home, whom they’d never met, but were too exhausted to be afraid of any longer. I looked into the social worker’s eyes, and said, “Who is who?” And she looked down at the grey Trex decking on our front porch kicking at a lady bug that was making its way up the step she was leaning on. She looked back, a little bit ashamed and a little bit angry, she said, “We don’t know. Mom wouldn’t tell us anything.” And so began our journey of helping siblings and families stay together.

Those two little boys didn’t stay in our home long, but our journey will never be remembered without their sweet little faces, big brown eyes, and hearts of loss. Our next placement was our now 8-year-old son, D. He came to us at almost three years old; we were his seventh, and final home. Our next call came about four months later. We said yes to a newborn little boy. Little did we know on that day that we were also saying yes to his almost two-year-old sister as well. Two years later we adopted them both: a brother and sister, almost exactly two years apart. It still marks one of the saddest and happiest days of my life. Bitter-sweet doesn’t do it justice. Adopting a sibling group was something we were open to for sure. What I didn’t realize was how much I would learn about my self, attachment, and what it means to be a part of a family.


When Laila moved in with us she was almost two years old. She had been in four foster homes in the past year that she had been in care. When her younger brother Noah, who came to us from birth turned two, I had a really hard time for a few months. I realized that how I had treated Laila at two was so, so different than how I was treating Noah.

Laila came to us with a lot of “learned” behaviors that I was sure I could change in her, with my parenting methods (isn’t that funny?!). But when Noah turned two I realized that much of those behaviors Laila had exhibited were actually probably more nature than nurture, and that they were just made this way. I remember I would make Laila climb the stairs from the garage to the main level after we would exit the car. Usually my arms were full of Noah and groceries, and purses, and cups. And she would cry and cry.

I set Noah down at the bottom of the stairs the day he turned two, and I couldn’t imagine leaving him there to climb those steps on his own.

When Noah refused to eat tomatoes, I took him to the doctor and had him tested for an allergy; he had one.  I think I remember finally, out of exasperation, beginning to hide
tomatoes in Laila’s stuff when she was his age. When I found out Noah was allergic to tomatoes, it dawned on me, I bet Laila is too!

Sib pic 1When you parent siblings, you get a bigger peak into genetics. Something I didn’t have with any of the other children I had parented at that point. I was so glad that we were able to keep them together, but I did have to look myself in the mirror and own that I had messed up with Laila. My bond wasn’t as healthy with her when she moved in and so I treated her unfairly, and I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I have apologized to her since then. Luckily she’s seven now, and just laughs and hugs me when I tell her with tear-filled eyes that I am sorry I didn’t carry her up the steps, and that I made her eat tomatoes. She rolls her eyes, kisses my cheek, and begs for another bedtime story.

I love that she and Noah have each other, but I also love that they see all of the kids in our house as their siblings. We are many colors and shapes here, and when someone asks us at the grocery store, “Are any of them siblings?” They all respond, from their pure and true hearts, “We all are!” And I love that the most.

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