We knew that all of the holiday bustle and craze could end one of two ways for little M.
Either she would do exceptionally well, and the regression and grieving we experienced after Thanksgiving had helped her to better handle her feelings, and overstimulation.
Or she would be completely overstimulated, and we would be dealing with more regression and overwhelmed feelings for days (or weeks). So far, we have had many moments of excitement and happiness, but also many tears. I know I never post pictures like this, and it is sad, but this is what we are dealing with…very real grief.
There is so much more going on than usual, and lots of changes, and for a little girl who is already so hyper-vigilant, there is just that much more to keep track of, and watch out for.
Over the past weeks, we have been studying up on hyper-vigilance in adopted children, to try and figure out how to better help our little M…
Hyper-vigilance is defined as an advanced state of sensory sensitivity accompanied by an exaggerated intensity of behaviors whose purpose is to detect threats.
Children who are hyper-vigilant tend to also be hyper-aware. Little M can be talking to herself while playing with a puzzle in the next room, and if I make a noise, or say something, she will repeat it. She needs to know where I am at ALL times. Imagine the stress and anxiety it would cause if you could never quite relax, and let your guard completely down. Children with hyper-vigilance will commonly be unable to relax in new or stimulating situations, have a rapid heart beat and and rapid breathing. They will be tense, and on guard, but if you were just to observe their little faces, you would think they were calm and even happy.
Our girl exhibits all of these symptoms. She is intelligent, clever, and bright, and notices even the most minute change in personal appearance, facial expression, or intonation. Little M’s hyper-vigilance (as a result of broken attachments) can cause intense reactions in moments when she is apprehensive or fearful. She is very sensitive to routine changes, or change at all. Even when she is clearly enjoying herself, she is also fighting an inner battle to regulate and control her emotions.
So what do we do to help our girl through this? I would love to hear from other parents on this…any advice is welcome and appreciated. For now we have found that holding, and cuddling work well for little M, and if we are quick to take a break, and remove her from a situation where she is overstimulated, we are able to help her regulate her emotions and calm down more quickly. We practice taking deep breaths when she is calm, so that she knows how to do calm breathing, and so that she sees us modeling being calm.
How do we teach a child who doesn’t understand what we are saying that she is safe, and loved, and doesn’t need to “keep watch?”
How do we teach her that it is our job to worry and protect her, and not hers?