Making a Timeline

Posted by admin on June 6, 2013

I don't remember where I got the idea to create a timeline for my son. I think it was born from all of those books on attachment, and the MAPP classes about Life books. I had the idea in my head for a long time before I was able to make it a reality. I wanted to sit down with my son and make the timeline together. He came to me at age 10 after 8 years with his bio parents and 2 years in foster care. I thought we should sit together and create the timeline out of all of the documents I have and all of the information in his brain.

I had that idea in my head for probably a year without acting on it-- we were struggling to get through every day life, and the idea of adding that kind of stress on top of it was too much.

And then one day, over a year ago, we had a Really. Bad. Day. The kind of day where we both ended up questioning how and why we became a family. And the next day- I had a meeting at his school. So as much as I wanted to just go to bed-- I really needed to pull out old files and review information to take to the meeting. And in the process- the timeline was born.

I used regular looseleaf, lined paper. I taped several sheets together so that there were no margins at the top or bottom. Every 12 lines I drew a thick black line with a sharpie, and labeled those lines his birthdays. In between his birthdays, I filled in everything that I knew. I included doctor's office visits, emergency room visits, CPS reports, a house fire, and every single move. For the time after he moved in with me, I filled in important events like weddings he attended, vacations he went on, the time he broke his wrist ice skating, Adoption Day, summer camp, etc.

At the bottom, I colored in the margin. From the day he was born until 4 months after his 8th birthday-- I colored in brown. That was the time he spent with his birth family. Then 2 lines are colored in red for foster family #1. Then 4 months in green with foster family #2, 5 months in purple with foster family #3, another full year in green back with foster family #2, and then finally his time with me-- in yellow. Yellow is my favorite color.

I was immediately struck by how small the yellow portion was in comparison to the rest.

That alone gave me an immediate visual reminder to be patient. There was maybe 3 feet of time before me, and only a foot of time since he knew me. No wonder he kept regressing to that time before. No wonder he still had trouble trusting me, no wonder he still behaved as if there would never be enough food or love or attention-- that was still 3/4 of his life!!!

The visual was HUGE for me.

Remember, I did all of this while he was asleep. When I was done, I marvelled at it, and then hung it on our dining room wall and went to bed.

The next day, I chose not to talk about it. He spent quite a while studying it, and I let him know I would answer any questions he had, or talk to him if he wanted me to. He told me I was very good at timelines, and left it at that.

That was over a year ago.

We have referred to it several times. Once, during a REALLY rough patch, we were able to look over at the timeline and say, "Hey, do you remember when you went into foster care for the first time? Because it was 6 years ago this week." He didn't really remember-- but he did know that his emotions that week were heightened beyond reason, and having a documented reason for that was very reassuring.

I have taken it down twice-- once to bring to the psychiatrist, and once when I was hosting a party at our house. Both times my son specifically asked me to hang it back up where it was before-- right in the middle of the dining room, where we all see it every day.

I have continued to update it with our current travels and life events, and I continue to color the bottom in yellow to represent his time with me. The yellow time is still much smaller than the rest of the time. That alone is a daily reminder to me of where this child came from and why he struggles so much to let me love him.


Overall, it has been one of the best therapeutic tools we have used-- not only for him, but for me and for everyone else we want to understand him. We have shared it with family members, his psychiatrist, and his in home service providers-- all of whom "know" his history-- but all of whom have benefited from seeing it in a visual way. The picture I am sharing is intentionally blurry, because there is a lot of very personal information shared-- but I hope it gives you the idea, and please feel free to send me a message if you have any questions about how this worked for us.

- Sarah M

Comments Welcome

Posted by Mary Themom on
I like this idea! I have a very detailed timeline for my kids (came to us at 11 and 13, now 18 and 19) that includes medications, moves, hospitalizations, school suspensions, birth of siblings, diagnoses... a VERY comprehensive document that takes up 65+ pages for each child (

However, we were just talking about this in therapy last week, that she needed a brief timeline (mostly moves which is ALOT!! because biomom was heavy on the flight part of fight/flight/freeze). I like this idea as a graphic way to present it to my daughter - especially the colors for who she lives with! She's now lived away from biofamily for 1/2 her lifetime and lived with us for only 1/3.

Posted by crystal Miller on
Incredible Idea!!!
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