Being an Advocate for Your Child


international adoption I am a mother to seven children, three biological and four adopted. I love my children deeply but I have no illusions about “who” they are. I know which ones are prone to misbehave and how they react and I do not usually make excuses for their behavior. When the school calls, I am not the parent that believes their child is always innocent…I typically believe the teacher, principal, or bus driver and then listen to my child’s story and the story of the other children before forming my opinion. Most often I find myself siding with the authority, however today was different.

If you have ever heard of how angry a momma bear gets, then you might understand how angry I became over what I am about to share. I was at a meeting downtown today when I received a call from my daughter telling me that my son had gotten in trouble on the bus for tying his shoe and was moved up to the front seat. He was angry and said he didn’t understand why he would have to sit in the front seat for tying his shoe. Then the bus driver then told him she was taking him back to the school and did just that – dropped him off at the back door of the school and ordered him to get off! He had no idea what he was supposed to do – he doesn’t have a cell phone and he is not really capable of figuring out what he DID need to do. He stood at the back door of the school and waited for a teacher.

In the meantime, my daughters called me and told me what was going on – they would be the first to tell me if he had done something wrong – but they were sticking up for him and were very upset that he had been just dropped off. I called the school and asked to speak to the principal – as I was a 30 minute drive away.

So what does this blog have to do with adoption? My son spent the first eleven and a half years of his life in a less than ideal environment. I have learned through TBRI (Trust Based Relational Intervention) training about what trauma and neglect do to the brain chemistry of children who have experienced trauma. These children usually have cortisol (stress hormone) levels of more than twice what is normal range due to the stress and trauma they endured while they were young. Dr. Karen Purvis, author of the book, The Connected Child calls this the neurochemistry of fear. When these children feel stressed, they react different than others. When yelled at or disciplined in a harsh way, these children will seem defiant. Yet it is not defiance they are acting out of, it is that their brain chemistry is reacting differently due to imbalances of neurochemistry, such as too much cortisol, and not enough dopamine and serotonin. Dopamine is needed for logical and clear thinking and serotonin is needed for calming yourself down.

The science of the brain and how it responds is amazing. Dr. Purvis shares, the bad news is the brain is plastic and changeable but the good news is the brain is plastic and changeable. Translation is that while trauma and abuse can change the brain chemistry and makeup with a negative impact, the good news is with therapy, the right interventions, and a loving family working with the child, the brain chemistry and make up can be changed for the positive!

I share this story to help educate you to the behaviors of children like my son, the child you may have, or be considering adopting that has had trauma, difficult pregnancy, difficult delivery, early hospitalization, abuse or neglect. All of these are identified risk factors in working to change the brains neurochemistry which also impacts logical thinking, ability to trust, ability to learn, ability to touch and be touched as well as how they react to stress. I have taken this opportunity to be an advocate for my child – to educate the school about my son as well as any other child that may have had any of the six risks for experiencing the neurochemistry of fear. I am thrilled the school is open to reading the book, Help for Billy by Heather T. Forbes which addresses better interventions to help challenging children. Being educated about the behaviors and reasons behind it helps me to better understand as well as advocate for my children – I hope you will take the time to do the same!

For more information about MLJ’s international adoption programs, please click here.

Lydia Tarr works as the International Program Director for MLJ Adoptions’ programs in Bulgaria and Ukraine. She is the adoptive mother of four children from Ukraine and was recognized as a 2013 Angel in Adoption by the Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute’s (CCAI) Angels in Adoption Program.