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My husband and I are petitioning for guardianship over our nephew. His mother (my husband's sister) is not stable. She has issues with mental health and has had problems with addiction for many years. Sadly our nephew has experienced and seen more than any child should see. Additionally, he has an underlying health condition that requires a lot of medical attention.

I'm wondering if parents/guardians of pre-teens or of children who have experienced emotional trauma could provide some advice on things I should do to prepare or helpful resources I should read/look into. We will of course be providing safety, security, and a loving home. Aside from keeping on top of his medical care and schooling, I will be advocating for ongoing counseling and I'm prepared to find him tutors, after school programs, and the like. But are there other resources that would be helpful for us as guardians? Note, we have a toddler so having a preteen will be new for us.

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  • Hi! Welcome to the site. I think this question is sufficiently scoped to fit this site, but it's a bit on the border of too broad for some people I think. You might want to tighten it up just a little - see the faq and the help center for a bit more on what questions fit here best. Like I said, I think it's okay as is, but a tighter question will get better and more specific answers. Thanks, and welcome!
    – Joe
    Jul 12 '20 at 16:26
  • @Joe Thanks for the feedback and links. I will try to tighten this up a bit and see if that helps.
    – Afrodeezy
    Jul 13 '20 at 15:27
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I'm not a parent with trauma but I was a child who was never rescued from my abusive home.

I disagree with the idea that faith is the most important thing, but that could be because the trauma I experienced was religious. Religion often makes children of trauma feel gaslit because we're supposed to be healing through it but we don't feel any better so it makes us feel that something is wrong with us. This can even lead to more anger and resentment (because isn't god supposed to save us if we pray). It can also go the opposite direction with us being too trusting and falling into cults in a desperate attempt to find meaning and answers.

So it's much more important to try to build a trusting relationship with the child and help them learn how to develop a strong sense of self so they can think critically and not do things just for the sense of connection they lacked in childhood. The child might initially mistrust you so it's important to give them space and also never assume you know what happened. If they say something didn't happen, trust them.

My mom thinks I have repressed memories of being raped and refuses to believe I was only abused emotionally and physically. It's extremely damaging to not have the horror you went through be enough for adults around you.

I'd get family counseling as soon as possible, but never treat therapy like a punishment or something for crazy people. I waited way too long to get help because my stepdad would institutionalize me for standing up to him and say I was going to end up crazy like my mother. Mental healthcare is something everyone needs and if you're in it too it models that it's not something they have to do alone. Also expect some emotional outbursts as they heal, especially if you get into EMDR therapy (which was extremely beneficial to me). Think of it as growing pains. Emotional abuse freezes us in our developmental stages so when we start growing again it's going to hurt. But the more we work at it, the easier it becomes.

It's also important not to coddle too much. They need to have some leeway and understanding but it's incredibly easy to grow personality disorders from childhood trauma. Abused children learn how to manipulate adults to survive. Make it clear that they don't need to do that anymore.

But remember that you're doing a good thing. Nobody would take me in or believe me when I was growing up so now I have trouble trusting people. You're providing a safe foundation and a place to come back to which is so important.

EDIT: forgot to say that hobbies are so important. I don't mean sports. I mean artistic hobbies, especially ones that have them socialize. Theatre saved my life, so did writing. It's important to give them that outlet. But let them direct the activity. If they say they're not ready then they'll resent it and it'll have the opposite effect. Never shame them for their interests even if you think they're a waste of time. And support groups with other teens like them can also be incredibly helpful.

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I’m assuming that he’s in states custody and you & your husband are wanting him in your custody. Would you guys be the “foster” parents? If so, there should be free services for him.

I would most definitely consult a professional before making that decision. This could turn out to be something that you guys regret later down the road. It sounds like you guys have the best of intentions and thought through this, but it also sounds like you guys aren’t aware of how this kindness of yours could backfire on you. After all you are dealing with family.

I would approach this with the family is going to get help not just him, bcz in reality you are all going to need help and my guess is you and your husband could use it as well. I only know of a couple people in my lifetime and I’m 55 now that didn’t have some type of trauma growing up. If you approach this with his nephew is going to get help it could make him feel like there’s something wrong with him and this could cause him a lot of emotional problems. Nobody wants to feel that they are crazy or a burden.

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    I'm sorry for what you experienced, and we appreciate the effort you put in to writing this. However this isn't a good answer; most of it is your personal story. That would be OK, but you don't draw many lessons from it that would be of use to the original poster, except "get professional help" and "get religion". However religion is a very personal thing, and many people would regard it as inappropriate in this context. Jul 25 at 22:14
  • Bonnie, welcome and thanks for sharing. However, we need answers to focus on the question and be more on point. I won’t simply remove your personal story right now, but please think hard about what will help the asker and what is just tangential. The tour and the help center, especially How to Answer, should also help you edit your post.
    – Stephie
    Jul 26 at 8:27
  • Bonnie - I have made a very simple edit to remove all anecdotal content that did not answer the question, to help you avoid further downvotes. After reading the guidance Stephie pointed you to, you may wish to edit further or remove the post entirely.
    – Rory Alsop
    Jul 27 at 10:33
  • As you asked for it: parenting.stackexchange.com/help/deleting-account. I would also again encourage you to take the tour and browse through the help center. Maybe Why can people edit my posts? How does editing work? will explain more.
    – Stephie
    Jul 28 at 15:36

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