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I recently read the book “The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D. It’s a great read and offered important lessons for me as an individual. I forget that just being alive comes with stress regardless of whether my life is brimming with privilege or not. And as a foster parent the book had an amplified importance. 

It’s funny, as a high school principal I have read and studied a lot about chronic stress and the impact on the developing brain. Regardless, reviewing this material now that I am a foster parent was just as important as if I had never studied this stuff in the first place. As I read this already familiar information with the perspective of my foster care experience, I gained new insight that was not available when I had studied these topics prior.

Given that most of the children in foster care as well as some of their birth parents have experienced toxic stress or have high ACE scores, studying (or in my case re-studying) the effects of these experiences gives critical context to the behaviors we encounter when interacting with birth parents and foster kids. It was natural to take behaviors personally until I studied and realized that the perceived attacks against me were textbook symptoms of these adverse childhood experiences. 

This may sound obvious, but reviewing the detailed side-effects of toxic stress on a regular basis as a foster parent can ground our recent experiences in this important context. This helped me gain distance from my self-involved view of heated interactions and allowed me to be a more valuable asset to my foster child and her mom. 

I will not summarize the research here as it is important for the reader to research and learn the material in depth, but I cannot recommend highly enough taking some time to read and re-read about this area of brain science. Doing so empowered me to find love and provide care where I had previously felt resentful for being attacked in my role as a foster parent.