This video is from a program called CALO (Change Academy Lake of the Ozarks) in Missouri. We often see adopted students who had a very rough start to life. They may have had a Mom that used drugs, drank alcohol excessively, was abused while they were in Utero or they may have experienced neglect and under stimulation as a very young child. These early experiences are often PRE verbal and so a traditional therapeutic approach, using cognitive therapy, is often ineffective. What students need to learn to do to feel safe and secure is to first learn how to regulate their own nervous systems. By getting to work with animals (whether they are dogs, horses, cats, or rabbits!) the young person learns that they can self-soothe and feel calm with another creature whose heartbeat and breathing will help them “regulate” their own bodies. We call this “co-regulation”. For a typical child, with a mother who is emotionally stable, nurturing, and attentive, their primary first relationship and practice with attachment and healthy co-regulation is the mother.
If you are an adoptive parent, it is likely that although you were extremely loving to your young adoptive child, the child may have come to you with some attachment issues. This difficulty seems impossible until you realize that for 9 months, the child was in the birth mother’s womb, literally co-regulating together. If the birth mother experienced stress and stress hormones, so did the child. If the mother used drugs, so did the child. So your adoptive child may feel unsafe or emotionally dysregulated at times, through no fault of your own.
As this video explains, often the first real, safe “connection” for a student who has had trauma either in utero or early childhood, may be an animal and not a person. The therapeutic “relationship” with the animal lays the groundwork for learning how to have safe, healthier relationships with other humans.