For many families, the arrival of a child is met with eager anticipation. Welling with joy and excitement, these parents’ lives and actions toward their child manifest a deep awareness that children truly are a gift from God (Psalm 127:3)! Cradled gently, touched adoringly and nurtured sacrificially, the child learns to see himself through the mirror of his parents’ eyes. “I am precious,” “I am safe,” and “I am loved” become the song of his heart. Ultimately, his inheritance of faith will be in knowing that he is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14) and deeply loved by a compassionate and merciful Heavenly Father. As a strong and secure attachment is created with loving parents, this child will be well prepared to develop trust and create healthy relationships as he begins to explore the world, as well as to “attach” in faith to the loving God who created him in His image. His earliest moments of life become the foundation for what he will come to know and believe about himself, his parents, his world and his God!
Researchers have documented the profound and lasting effects that early care or the lack thereof have on the development of trust (“I am safe”), self-worth (“I am precious”) and self-efficacy (“I am heard”). In addition, developmental researchers widely acknowledge that the formative early days dramatically influence attachment relationships and also have dramatic and lasting effects on brain development and brain chemistry. Tragically, many of the children that we love and serve came into an unwelcoming world and started life amidst very difficult circumstances. Disease, abandonment, hunger, mental illness, stress, substance abuse and a host of other risk factors may have conspired to create an environment where these children’s needs were unmet, contributing to the abuse, neglect and trauma that they experienced. These heartbreaking early harms and losses often hold our children back from developing in healthy or optimal ways and too often prevent them from developing trust and understanding just how precious they truly are.
For some of our children, their “histories” are known, at least in part. For many others, however, their “histories” are unknown, even though we know there is a high likelihood that their past involves some degree of harm, deprivation or loss. Whether it is abuse, neglect or some other known harm, or whether it is the likelihood of a difficult or stressful pregnancy, difficult labor or birth, early medical trauma or a ruptured attachment to an early caregiver, the impacts for our children can be significant. You’ve heard it said, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” Unfortunately, it is often what we don’t know (and may never know) that is in fact hurting our children, and therefore hurting us as well. As a result, adoptive and foster parents must be particularly insightful about the reality of their child’s history and the lingering effects it can have.
So what do we do in light of this? First and foremost we must be willing to approach our children with genuine compassion, both for their histories as well as the challenges they are still facing. As we lead our children along the journey toward healing, this compassion must always be our touchstone. That is not to say that our children do not need appropriate levels and expressions of structure and correction—they most certainly do. But we must never forget that our children need this structure and correction expressed compassionately, in ways they can understand and in ways that promote lasting healing and connection.
*Excerpt from Chapter 2 of Created To Connect: A Christian’s Guide to The Connected Child. This study guide companion to The Connected Child can be downloaded for free. Printed copies of the study guide are also available for purchase.
For additional reading on the all-important subject of compassion see Amy Monroe’s article, Compassion is the Answer. What’s the Question?