the orphan’s brain


The article, Orphans’ Lonely Beginnings Reveal How Parents Share a Child’s Brain is circling the web. Reading to the end of this article is so important, as the end gives the hope. Well, some.

It scares me when articles like this are shared, not because it’s a horrible piece, but because I fear adoptive and foster parents will be pushed away and not adopt because of the news it shares.

I tell parents about Dr. Bruce Perry’s studies on neglected, abused, and traumatized children’s brains and how they look differentYet, I always try to share the positives that our hurting children possess. I know families who adopted five, seven, and nine-year-olds and they’re thriving.

Not every child who’s neglected suffers from cognitive delays, or neurological disorders.

If a child misbehaves, it doesn’t always mean they have neurological issues or cognitive delays. Parents can look at behaviors and think their child lacks intelligence, when most often that isn’t the case. A child’s ability to control and manipulate their environment gives light to their cognitive prowess. More information about this can be found in the post, the intelligence behind a hurting child.

We are doing a disservice to orphaned, neglected, and abused children when all we do is share the negative aspects, the daunting studies, the harrowing stories with the rest of the world. I would love for families to share the other side, the stories that turn bad are the ones which circulate the most, they get shared on Facebook and Twitter. People talk about them saying, “See, I told you. Orphans have so many problems.”


I don’t want an adult who hears about his parents car accident, and turns back to them, realizing he loves them, to be the only story. I want to hear stories of children who realized their parents love while they were still in the home.

Yes, there are children with cognitive delays and neurological disorders, but that doesn’t mean all children who’ve been traumatized has them. With help, they can overcome their circumstances.

And, sure, I’m thinking it may be beneficial for some prospective adoptive and foster parents to be aware of this information beforehand, if only to weed out those who wouldn’t be able to handle a child with special needs. Caring for a child with special needs requires special parenting, and some people don’t want to put in the effort to help a child, and some feel they can’t do it even with every ounce of their abilities put in full force.

(I am absolutely an advocate of adopting children with special needs because both my children have been diagnosed with several disorders and disabilities, and my son is cognitively delayed. However, I never want to see children moved into homes where caregivers turn them away because it’s too much.)

If you read the article, Orphan’s Lonely Beginnings in its entirety, you will see Ruckel saying, “I believe that even the brain cells that don’t work as a child…can develop as a grown man.” The articles response to that is, “Scientists have their own version of that idea. They say the brain has a remarkable ability to rewire itself and compensate for things that go wrong during development.”

Ruckel also says, “I’ve become an advocate fighting for other orphans. And I believe that has everything to do with my parents, because I realized what love, what compassion, what affection can do.”

Here are some other links related to a hurting child’s brain:
the intelligence behind a hurting child
rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just to infants)
attachment in adoption

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the lies hurting children believe (adoption/foster)


Do you remember 15-year-old Davion Only, the teen who went to church looking for a family? There’s something to be learned from his story that goes beyond one boys search for a family, the statistic of 100,000 children available for adoption in the U.S., or that the church is viewed by some to be a safe place. There is another core issue here we can’t ignore, and that is ideas children, especially ones who come from traumatic experiences, have.

Davion was born in prison, and was subsequently placed in foster care, he doesn’t know how many places he’s lived. While in care, he had anger issues because his mom was incarcerated, and

he was resentful.

Four months before Davion showed up at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church asking for a family to adopt him, he searched for his birth mom. He found out she’d passed.

With the knowledge of her passing came a shift in his thought process. He resolved not to be angry any longer and let go of his resentment.

In the post what’s on their mindI talk about our kids and what they believe. Our hurting kids can have misconceptions, believe lies that are untrue (both lies told to them and lies they’ve told themselves).

Birth family or previous foster families may have told them they were stupid, bad, ugly, or no one would love them. Or, they could be telling themselves lies, believing they are worthless and unloveable. They could also be resentful of a situation in their life, as in Davion’s case.

In the documentary, Stuck, a woman interviews a 12-year-old boy, Roberson, who’s living in an Ethiopian orphanage. She asks, “What do you know about adoption?” Roberson answers, “If someone doesn’t know you, they’ll be afraid of adopting you.” Six months after the interview he disappeared from the orphanage. He held onto a belief and in the end there was a horrible outcome.

Because of these beliefs, whether true (they’ve been left alone) or not (they’re worthless) very negative attitudes and behaviors can surface.


A child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized can have many misconceptions, but belittling those thoughts won’t help. Kindly reassuring them of the truth will help, but

realize they may hold firmly to what they believe.

In Davion’s case, he made a choice to throw out anger and let go of the resentment, but it’s not that simple for most hurting children. I don’t know how Davion Only is doing now or if the foster family who chose him decided to adopt him. I don’t know if he was able to stick to his decision to throw out his resentment. I honestly hope he’s happy and thriving in his new family (which I also hope is a forever one).

Davion may have been able to overcome the anger he had because someone in his life believed in him and gave him the courage to make a new beginning. He’s a teen who is looking at aging out of the system, so determination may have been a factor in changing his attitude. He may also have a different make-up than your child.

It’s true that we all have different personalities. Those personalities make situations affect each on of us differently. That’s why two children can come out of the same orphanage and one struggles with attachment issues and another doesn’t seem to. Although, I believe all children are affected in some way by institutionalization, neglect, abandonment, and abuse.

If your child has misconceptions (you may be aware of them, or you may not), you may wonder what you can do to support your child. Here are some ideas:

  1. Don’t belittle your child’s thoughts by saying, “You know that’s not true,” or “It’s ridiculous to think that.”
  2. Give your child truths to hold on to. (These are only examples, you may need to tweak them to fit your child’s story or thoughts.)
    • Your birth mom loves you, she just made wrong choices.
    • You are beautiful.
    • The day I met you was one of the best days of my life. I was recently talking to my daughter about the day she came to us. I told her there were three best days of my life, the day I married her dad, the day we met her, and the day we met her brother. The entire time I was telling her, she had the BIGGEST smile, ear to ear. She was thrilled that I thought that much of her. (Although this story’s been shared with her before, it seemed to be new to her that day.)
    • I’m sorry those other families didn’t stick to their promise, but we’re not letting you go. (And if you make this promise, DON’T go back on it.)

3.Find opportunities to show them the truth. (Again, these are examples, look for positive situations to capitalize on.)

    • See how smart you are, you solved that problem.
    • Other kids like you, Isaiah wants you to ride bikes tomorrow.
    • You’re a good kid, you help me set the table, get diapers for your sister when I ask, and don’t complain when we have to run to the grocery store.

4.Be there. Be involved.

    • Engage in activities with your child they enjoy.
    • Talk with them every opportunity you get, but respect them when they want to be quiet.
    • Make kind eye contact as much as possible.
    • If their school requires them to do something like dribble a basketball, and they don’t know how and are frustrated, practice with them (with patience). Well, even if they’re great at dribbling, practice with them. Be together. Be a cohesive family.

Unhealthy beliefs can cause tremendous dissension within our children. We need to be vigilant about reaffirming who they are, show them they’re special and have value.

be physically present

Being physically present will teach your child far more than any words will. Many of them have been told lies, they’ve been given promises that were broken. Your words probably won’t mean anything for a long time (always use words whether they sink in or not – as one day they will), but be sure to pair them with actions to show them you believe in them and love them.

What misconceptions does your child have, or did they have when they came to you? Did they believe lies about themselves?

Some other posts that may be helpful:
the magic word
what’s on their mind?

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7 reasons why time-in NOT time-out (adoption/foster)


Experienced parents often want to share with foster and adoptive parents how to raise their children, they may tell you to put your child in time-out, spank them, and offer a plethora of other solutions. Problem being, a biological child thinks very differently than a child who’s worried about where their next meal will come from, if someone will come when they cry, if that someone who comes will hit or kick them. Raising a hurting child looks different, and that’s okay. Because it looks so different, I am here to give you solutions that do work. So, here are some reasons

why time-in is better than time-out for a hurting child.

1. Sending a hurting child to their room causes them to feel fear.

Many of our children lived in fear before they came to us. They were left alone, or felt lonely before they came to us. They had to provide for themselves, they worried for their life, their safety, their siblings safety. They lived in fear (even infants). Bryan Posts says,

“There are only two primary emotions: love and fear.”

By placing our children in time-out we are sending (unintentionally or not) them back to that fearful place. By keeping them close in a time-in, they don’t feel alone and a need to fight for their safety. Or at least with consistency, they will learn they don’t need to fight, flee, or freeze.

2. Hurting children don’t have the ability to self-regulate.

Hurting children are unable to regulate their emotions, and they need our help. Dr. Bruce Perry says, “When infants and children are incapable of meeting their own needs, they depend upon the external regulation that comes from attentive, caring adults.” When a hurting child is sent away from us to a time-out they are not regulated, and this will send them backwards, healing won’t be taking place. By keeping them close in a time-in we are able to help them regulate their emotions. Or, if they are dysregulated, we can be near them so they can learn we won’t abandon them.

3. Being alone doesn’t heal.

Was your daughter in an orphanage before she came to you? Was your son neglected before you brought him home? Are you doing foster care? Did your child come from foster care? All of these children have been alone. Even infants who went through a tumultuous time in utero can feel alone. Keeping your child near you will aid in the healing process.

“Loneliness is the most significant disability of our time” ~ David Pitonyak

4. A hurting child can’t calm the chaos on their own.

A hurting child’s brain is chaotic and they’re used to the chaos. The trauma your child’s been through has created a brain that looks drastically different than the brain of a child who has been raised with loving and nurturing family members.

A traumatized child tries to recreate that chaos in their real world because the calm makes them uncomfortable.

5. Time-outs don’t build trust.

When we send a child to time-out, they don’t know if they can trust us. A hurting child has difficulty trusting caregivers. Why? Because they have been let down by someone, and those first trust bonds were catastrophically broken. When we keep our child close, they learn that we can be trusted and we won’t send them away for negative behavior.


6. Time-outs don’t build relationships.

Think about a marriage relationship. If a couple is in disagreement about something, it doesn’t usually help if one partner leaves the situation. Neither does it work if the two don’t talk about the issue. In doing so, the problem may go away for a short time, but will surely resurface again.

It’s very similar in your relationship with your kids. Sending them away will not build your relationship, it will put a great big pause button in the middle of it. The Child Trauma website says, “Relationship brings safety, comfort, and soothing.” Relationship is the key element of attachment.

7. The lack of feeling safe makes our kids want to control their    environment.

Your child’s fears stem from their life prior to meeting you. Those fears don’t leave because they have a new family. As I said earlier, trust has been broken, and it will take a long time for trust to build back up. You will need to provide an environment for the assurance of safety and love to grow. What better way to show them they’re safe than having a time-in for negative behavior? Placing them in time-out only capitalizes on their fears of not being safe, and they will then seek control in any area they can.

“When they [traumatized child] sense something is wrong (that the body is stressed), they activate the brain’s alarm systems. These stress-response systems then acts to help the body get what it needs.” – Dr. Bruce Perry


In the post, Why Consequences and Rewards Don’t Work, I give some other ideas on what to do about discipline. I want to reiterate what I said in that post; consequences and rewards won’t make a big difference in your child’s behavior until they have bonded significantly. Yet, it’s still very important to kindly let your children know they aren’t in charge. If your child feels they can do anything they want, they don’t feel safe; boundaries are essential. You can implement some consequences and rewards, which will set a foundation for the future and begin teaching them how to function in a family.

It’s also very important to understand that many times negative behaviors come about because your child is trying to communicate.

Look at what your child is trying to say, are they hungry, tired, frustrated, emotional because something else happened, lonely, wanting one on one attention? Do they have sensory issues? Is their body irritated by their clothing, are the lights bright, is the room noisy, is their chaos? There are so many factors to look at, so try journaling behaviors to see when they happen and what transpired before them. We don’t want to simply discipline our children, we want to find out why they’re acting out. The article How DoYou Support People with Difficult of Challenging Behavior gives great ideas on how to look for the “why” behind a persons behavior.

Time-ins can be accomplished with the child in your lap or if you must complete a task while the child is in time-in, they can be in close proximity. Some of you may question having the child in your lap as a consequence, but as you read above, our children came from different circumstances, so different techniques are used to help them heal. Being in your lap is not a reward, but does keep relationship in play.

I hope this helped explain why time-ins are better than time-out. If someone in your life repeatedly suggests that you put your child in time-out or that your kids need more discipline, feel free to share this with them, maybe it will help them understand your child.

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hurting children CAN develop empathy (adoption/foster)


If your child was diagnosed with RAD, attachment disorder, PTSD, oppositional defiance disorder, or if there weren’t any diagnoses, but your child was neglected or abused, you may feel they won’t develop empathy. Heck, you may have even been told that your child will never show empathy.

It’s not true.

I know I brag about my daughter, Payton, in different posts, but there’s a reason. She was diagnosed with numerous disorders at a very young age, but she has come so far, she surprises us continually. I write about what she’s like to give parents hope. By sharing the attributes Payton possesses,

my hope is that you would see the positives in your children. 

Payton consistently shows empathy for others. She cares when I’m not feeling well (but my health isn’t good, so it’s nothing different when I’m feeling poorly). She regularly shows compassion for her brother, who has Autism. She understands and has empathy for all he is unable to do (for the most part, he is unable to communicate his desires, likes, and needs).

Once in a while there are situations that happen outside our home that really stand out and show her ability to empathize with others. The other day, Payton shared something that happened to her friend at school. The teacher asked Ashley* to get up in front of the class and point to the helicopter in a picture. Ashley pointed to buildings and people, everything EXCEPT the helicopter. Payton said, “Good job,” while the rest of the kids laughed. Throughout the day this took place, she mentioned it a few times, saying she was sad the kids had laughed at her friend.

There is hope that your child will care for others and not be self-consumed.


Focus on any positive behaviors you notice, capitalize on them, talk about it with your child. As I say often, there is so much negative in your child’s life (their mind is consumed with it; anxiety, will these parents leave me, I’m not good enough, I’m bad, I can’t do anything right) we need to

fill it with positives.

What positive things has your child done lately? Have they done anything unexpected? Did you share with them how happy you were to see it?

*Name has been changed to protect privacy.

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your likes DON’T = their likes (adoption/foster)

your likes

Do you have expectations that your child will have similar likes as you, or they will be interested in the same hobbies? It’s natural for a parent to want their child to have these ideals, yet it doesn’t always work that way does it?


When parents have biological kids, they sometimes expect that their child will have the same interests they do. A mom who runs will expect her child to go with her, a dad who likes star-gazing will assume his son will climb mountains and gaze through telescopes. When it comes to adoption, some parents take genetic comparisons out of the picture, but expectations still exist that a child should be interested in the same hobbies as the parent.

Parents can also assume that a girl should like Barbies, playing house, and making memory books, and boys should like playing basketball, watching football, and driving remote control cars. Times are changing, but it still happens.

If a child is adopted as an infant, a parent might think the child will adapt to their likes. If a child is adopted or fostered at an older age, and has been in the home for a few years, the parents may expect the child to alter their interests so they match the parents’. This can happen, but…

we all have our individual preferences for activities and hobbies. 

We can argue whether this all comes down to nature versus nurture, but I definitely think both play a part, as well as a persons own predispositions based on their opinions. For example, I love writing, but I don’t come from a family of authors, nor did my parents try to instill in me a literary upbringing.

I’ve seen immense division enter parent/child relationships when the child doesn’t enjoy the same pursuits as the mother or father.

This can happen in biological relationships, but obviously since you’re here, I’m focusing on the adoption and fostering connection.

When attachment issues are already in play, even more division happens between child and parent when hobbies aren’t enjoyed together, when free time is wrought with animosity. Parents become bitter because they feel the child is acting against them in not wanting to spend time engaging in their activities. Children become resentful because they feel their interests aren’t important to their mom or dad.

We need to appreciate and support our child’s interests.

When we accept a persons interests and likes, we are in essence, bondadjustingaccepting who they are, and they feel loved. If your daughter likes to mountain bike on a dirt course, take her, and focus on the fact that she is involved in something and it makes her happy. If your son likes to play the piano, give him time to practice, and don’t badger him about not playing baseball.

It’s okay to encourage your child to be involved in activities they don’t love, such as the child or teen going on a bike ride with the family even though she doesn’t like to. This teaches the child that the world is not ALL about them, how to be a good friend, and it may expand their interests, (and might get them to MOVE). Yet, there needs to be a give and take, where the parent does something with the child that they may not enjoy. Such as a mother playing catch in the backyard with her son.

Bonding means adjusting, and we need to adjust our parenting expectations to what is reality, and reality is that we’re all different.

Have you held any expectations about what your child’s favored activities and hobbies? What can you do to make your child’s interests more of a priority? My wish is that you would be able to enjoy your time with your kids.
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we’re ALL the lucky ones (adoption/foster)


“She’s so lucky to have you.” Has anyone said this to you? There are certain comments and assumptions adoptive and foster parents don’t want to hear, and this seems to be an important one. But, I’m going to create some controversy. Why is it so wrong for someone to say your child is lucky to be with you?

Adoption comes about through all sorts of avenues. Parents adopt children from other countries, these children have been placed in an orphanage because a parent didn’t want to care for them or couldn’t provide for them. Children are placed in foster care because the parents did not provide a safe environment for them, and the child may then be adopted. And, birth parents choose adoption for their child through domestic adoption.

I would agree that in a perfect world, all these children would be the luckiest if they stayed with their birth family, where they were loved and kept safe. Although, to be honest, that’s really hard for me to say. Why? Because I’m selfish, and I adore my kids and couldn’t imagine my life without them.

The fact remains that our kids aren’t with their birth families, they’re with us. I find it surprising that parents don’t feel their children are lucky or blessed to be with them. In so many instances, it’s better the child is with their foster or adoptive family than with their birth family (hence the need for foster care and adoption).

I’m not belittling the truth that an adopted or foster child has suffered loss. Because of that loss, they are NOT lucky, they are NOT lucky to have gone through trauma (even the removal of child from her birth mother can be traumatic), neglect, or abuse, not at all. Yet, they’ve gone through that fire, and now you’re on the other side, ready to love and support them, and because of that, I think they’re very lucky indeed.

In the adoption and foster community many ideas about children, their feelings, birth parents, etc. circle. Just as negativity is contagious, so are ideas that can be skewed or not thought through.

Children should not be told they’re lucky to be in their adoptive or foster family, but when someone says to you, “Your children are lucky to be with you,” I believe they are saying it out of kindness. Maybe they feel they couldn’t do what you’re doing, as not everyone is made to be a foster or adoptive parent.

The comment, “Your child’s lucky to have you,” can also stem from a persons ability to see where your child would be without you. I know where my kids would be if we hadn’t adopted them, and in those situations they wouldn’t be lucky.

So in reality, are most of our children lucky or blessed to be with us? Yes. Would our children be better off where they were before we adopted them – with an absent parent, abusive parent, in an orphanage, or homeless? No, that’s why we adopted them. So, is your child blessed to have you in their life? Yes. I believe God stepped into their lives to give them a new beginning.

I don’t mean to offend anyone, nor do I mean to say, look how lucky my children are to have me, no, but I do feel we are all blessed to be together. I don’t think people who make those “lucky” or “blessed” comments mean that our children are lucky to have gone through great loss and pain. I think they see a new family, and how it will benefit the child to have a chance at love.

We may want to make a point as an adoptive or foster parent that we’re the lucky ones, and that’s okay. Someone who hasn’t adopted or fostered doesn’t share our perspective of how a child without any blood relation can come in and turn your life upside down (in a good way). They don’t see what a hurting child holds in their hands, and we can share that with others.

But we don’t have to discount that our children are blessed now that they’re with us.

Has anyone said your kids are lucky to be with you? How did you feel about their perspective?

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does your child like their therapist? (adoption/foster)



*These tips are for those who use therapy to help their children, I am not recommending that all parents take their children to a therapist.

In We’re Our Child’s Best Therapist, I wrote about how, well, exactly that, we’re our child’s best therapist. Why? Because we know them best and we are with them more. This doesn’t mean every family who has a therapist on board should chuck them out the window, that’s not what I’m saying. However, it’s imperative to take home what you learn in the therapy office and implement the techniques at home. You can ask your child’s therapist what they suggest you do to follow through.

They may have you ask your child questions in a different way, look for triggers that upset your child, or provide sensory activities for your child. (All of these recommendations are great initiatives even if they aren’t recommended by the therapist.) You are an essential component to your child’s healing, the more you can help your child outside of the therapist’s office, the better they’ll do.

You will also need to use your intuition. Intuition comes in handy throughout all aspects of adoption related issues. Always keep your antennas up when introduced to new advice coming in. Weigh it and decide whether you’re comfortable with what you’re being told (whether you’re reading it in a book, blog, or website, or hearing from a friend, relative, or professional), or what’s being done with your child.

Our experience with an attachment therapist taught me the importance of listening to my Mommy Intuition (Dad’s also have this intuition if they’re involved with their kids). Not all attachment therapists are like the one we met with, but it’s important to be aware of what the therapist is doing with your child. If, at any time you feel they are doing anything harmful (emotionally or physically) you have the right to stop it immediately.

This may be embarrassing for some of you, and you may be in a situation where you think if you wait it out, it will get better. Understand that you are your child’s voice, younger children may not say anything if they’re uncomfortable, or know how to express what they think or feel. If your older child comes from a neglectful or abusive background they may not say anything either.

The therapist we took my daughter to didn’t hurt her physically, but it two visits she made it very clear to Payton that her behavior was her fault, without even getting to know her. She told Payton how horrible she’d been to us. This is true, but Payton wasn’t acting out towards us, being belligerent, controlling, and manipulative because she wanted to, it stemmed from her early childhood, and blaming a child does not heal them.

The second therapy session took it even further. She didn’t physically harm Payton, but it was traumatic for her. I made a HUGE mistake that day. When you have a child that is so out of control, and you’ve worked with dozens of kids and had great success, you’re at a loss for what to do when it comes to your attachment challenged child. What I didn’t realize like so many others is it takes time + consistency + compassion + dedication + so many other ingredients. I thought this attachment therapist could help. I was wrong. There are therapists who can help hurting kids, she just wasn’t the one.

Another therapist, Scott Chaussee, had been available to us through the Department of Human Services. We’d only utilized his services on a couple occasions. (He’s the one who taught us the healing benefits of rocking and helped us with Payton’s sleep issues.) We hadn’t talked to him in a few years, but he called days after that therapy session that went completely wrong. Go ahead and tell me there’s no God and I’ll give you dozens of instances such as this.

Scott wanted to do a brain scan on Payton (Dr. Bruce Perry had trained him – how awesome is that?), and while he was in our home we talked about the attachment therapist. I wanted to get his opinion since he was familiar with attachment and was of the same opinions as Dr. Bruce Perry. In the end, he said that if someone doesn’t like their therapist, adult or child, then he doesn’t see how therapy can take place. He also said he feels play therapy works best for children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

On the first point, I definitely see what Scott is saying. If I was supposed to talk to, open up to, and receive direction from someone I didn’t like, therapy would fail. Scott is right, it’s the same for our kids. If our child doesn’t like going to therapy, what benefit is it? If the relationship between therapist and child is stressed, how will meeting with that therapist help your child heal? I don’t think it will.

You’ll have to be careful and use that intuition I mentioned earlier, because if you have an older child or teen, they may hate therapy, because, well they don’t want to be there. They don’t like talking and it’s hard for them to delve into the past where the pain thrives. You will need to decide whether it’s the child making a ruckus because they don’t want to attend therapy or whether it’s a founded opinion. Listen to your child and validate their opinions, they may not be correct, but they have the right to be heard if they can share them appropriately.

If your child attends sessions alone and they share what’s going on, and red flags are raised, talk to the therapist. Ask your child if they would mind if you attend therapy with them for a while.

It’s also important to remember that older children may have been to therapy while with their bio parents or foster parents. You may not know what that experience was like for them, in fact there’s probably a considerable amount of their past you don’t know.

We can learn about our children, we can help them by listening to them and letting them open up to us (you can read how to do that here). Help your children by listening to your intuition, and be in contact with the therapist at all times.

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time + time + time (adoption/foster)


This world is full of immediate gratification. We can ask Siri and she will answer, we don’t even have to look on the internet. And speaking of the internet, we can look up anything we want, buy anything we want, whenever we want. We have fast food and fast flavored coffee, immediate books on our iPad (yes, I’m an Apple junky), and we can start our car from inside a building. (I don’t have that feature on my car, but I sure do want one.)

Because everything in our society is instant, parents think they’re hurting children should be bonded within months of entering their life. They think their child’s negative behaviors, should stop, they should lull off to a sweet slumber, and they should understand consequences and the rules of the house within a short period of time (and a few months is a relatively short amount of time).

I think of what happened to hurting children like tearing down a garage. We tore ours down to build a larger one and add a level on top, the deconstruction was quick and not too difficult (for big, strong, burly guys anyway). However, the rebuilding process takes a LONG time, it’s detailed, involved, it’s time consuming, and it’s stressful.

For some children, the tearing down process didn’t take long, even infants are greatly affected in a short amount of time by neglect, abuse, and trauma. Children are even affected in utero by what the birth mother does or doesn’t do. Just as a garage demolition doesn’t take long, neither did it take long for our children to be broken down.

And, just as the building up process takes a long time when creating a new deservecommitmentstructure, so does the building up of our children. It takes work, dedication, compassion, and understanding.

None of us want to face a battle and know it won’t end tomorrow. I find it helpful to remember what happened to the hurting child, and where they came from. Their trauma affected them beyond what we can see. So, focus on the positives and keep moving forward, you can do this.

Here are some links to help you out:
why consequences and rewards don’t work
the importance of consistency & routine
detecting attachment issues
rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just apply to infants)

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why consequences & rewards don’t work for hurting children (adoption/foster)


You can listen to a recording of this post, just scroll down to the bottom of this page and don some earbuds. 🙂

“My child doesn’t respond to consequences, I can take away anything and he doesn’t care.” “Rewards mean nothing to my daughter, I can offer an ice cream at McDonald’s or a new Wii game, it doesn’t matter to her.” I hear these stories ALL. THE. TIME. It’s as though all of us who have children who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized live in the same house! Yes, every child is unique, but there are many similarities in hurting kids.

One of the similarities that’s common in hurting children is their response to consequences, discipline, and rewards. At some point in your journey, you may have been encouraged by other parents to read Love and Logic or attend one of their seminars, other parenting advice may be thrown at you, saying, “I promise, this works.” The problem is, there’s a missing link, their child probably didn’t experience trauma, neglect, or abuse, or at least it didn’t have the same affect on their child.

Love and Logic, Have a New Kid by Friday, as well as other parenting books and classes have some great information, but they aren’t the cure-all for a hurting child.

When we were struggling with our daughter’s behaviors a friend of mine (she had adopted domestically) suggested I read Have a New Kid by Friday. She said, “It works. Find something she cares about and remove it if she makes a wrong choice.” I said, “I’ve tried that.” She replied, adamantly, nodding her head, “There’s something.” I read the book anyway, there were some good ideas, very helpful ones for children who aren’t hurting. But, why don’t consequences and reward systems work for kids who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized?

Because many adopted and foster children don’t care about the material world around them.

Often they don’t have a favorite toy, stuffed animal, or blanket when they’re young, they aren’t connected to anything, so removing it doesn’t make any difference to them. Neither are rewards important enough for them to turn off their strong emotions and behaviors for them.

The logic part of Love and Logic doesn’t work because hurting kids don’t think logically, their brain isn’t calm enough or reasonable enough to do so.

Their brain looks different than a child’s who has been loved and cared for since their birth. This DOES NOT mean they aren’t intelligent, oh no, most children who’ve been through trauma are very smart (all about that in another post), but logical they are not. Not until they’ve made significant attachments.

These kiddos are constantly in fight or flight mode. There are three responses that children have to trauma – fight, flight, and dissociation. When looking at the trauma response in adults, Putnam says, “Among the constellation of symptoms associated with the trauma response in adults is dissociation. Dissociation is simply disengaging from stimuli in the external world and attending to an ‘internal’ world. Daydreaming, fantasy, depersonalization, and derealization are all examples of dissociation.” Putnam goes on to explain what happens to a soldier during battle and how dissociation can take affect, and he concludes, “It is this very ability to dissociate which can keep soldiers alive.”

It is much the same for our children. They have connected to the world around them; what’s going on, where they are, and who is present, not a person or item. They were in life preserving mode before they came to us, and it’s going to take a lengthy amount of time to learn that their new parents and caretakers can be trusted.

It will take more than a few months to learn they don’t have to fight, flee, or dissociate from their life any longer. I’m not encouraging you to throw out all consequences or rewards, we need to use them to lay a foundation for their future. Your child still needs to know they can’t get away with hitting, tearing apart the house, or yelling.

Some ways to begin to curb your child’s behaviors are through time-ins.

Time-ins are time with you, if your child is small enough, that means sitting on your lap, preferably while rocking (make sure you are safe and not harming your child). If your child is bigger, you can have your child sit in a chair near you. You can also have your child do something with you, preferably not something fun if this is being utilized as a consequence.

Using natural consequences lays that foundation I mentioned earlier. An example of this is if your daughter draws on the couch with a marker, she can’t use markers or crayons for a set period of time. (I don’t recommend using natural consequences with food related instances.) Remember that you may not see a difference in your child’s behavior, they have to make attachments, then their brain will calm down and heal so they can think logically and care about those around them.

When you have a child who’s come from a neglectful or abusive situation, your parenting techniques need to be tweaked.

Dozens of times I’ve seen parents of older biological children say, “My other kids turned out great, what’s the problem? It can’t be me, because I did it right four times.” What they don’t see is that parenting a hurting child and one who’s been loved consistently is vastly different. Parents think they can implement the same techniques they used with their biological children with their hurting children and it will all turn out the same. Sadly, they’re wrong.

Hurting kids come with a whole different set of rules, and many of those rules are difficult for us to understand. One big one is that it takes time. Lots of time. Are you willing to be patient with your children? Are you willing to show them love, read on this website about how to parent your child, and be consistent?

  • A child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized will react differently than a child who has been loved consistently to consequences, discipline, and rewards.
  • Hurting children aren’t connected to the material items around them, so removing them won’t make a big difference immediately. You can use these discipline techniques, but understand you are laying a foundation for later.
  • A hurting child’s brain looks different than a child’s who has been loved and cared for consistently.
  • A hurting child doesn’t think logically because their brain isn’t calm. This doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent!
  • Often dissociating is what kept our children alive in their neglectful, abusive environment, and this will carry over to their new environment – your home. It will take time for them to heal.
  • Use time-ins when behavior is unacceptable. CHOOSE your battles. Use consequences and rewards to lay a foundation.
  • Parenting techniques for hurting children need to be modified.


Be sure to check out my CONTENTS page for more posts on how to help your foster and adopted children and your family.
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give negativity a noose (adoption/foster)

original photo by anitab0000 via
original photo by anitab0000 via

You can view the first post in this series: negativity is contagious

You know who had a right to be negative, angry, opposing, and downright contrary? The Giving Tree. You know, the children’s book by Shel Silverstein? The Giving Tree is just that; giving. His owner, however, is selfish and takes everything he can from the tree to make his life better. The tree gives freely, never denying a request or complaining about its loss. In the end only a stump remains, and the boy comes back old and weathered, and sits to rest on the tree’s trunk. In the end, both were happy.

If we are to be like the Giving Tree, it doesn’t mean that we allow our hurting kids to pummel us into the ground, there are consequences for inappropriate actions, there are times when we say no, there are boundaries, consistency, and routine, but in the end it’s relationships that are of utmost importance.

“The capacity to care, share, listen, value, and be empathetic – to be compassionate – develops from being cared for, shared with, listened to, valued, and nurtured.” ~ Dr. Bruce Perry

If you are consistently sucked into a world that is negative, it’s nearly impossible to care, share, listen, value, and nurture regularly. If you have a hurting child who isn’t attaching and bonding, it’s because they didn’t receive that reciprocal, caring relationship Bruce Perry is talking about. It’s now up to us to step in where others dropped the nurturing, and to do so we need to stay out of Negative No No Land.

To do so, we need to know where negativity comes from:

  • Negative attitudes can develop because parents tire of the horrible behaviors, the lying, the potty training issues, the control. They want it to change, and they want it to happen now. When it doesn’t, they become pessimistic, and that pessimism can stop our child’s progress.
  • Negative outlooks expand when we fail to see our child’s possibilities. Jon Acuff said, “Fictional regret often cripples us from factual action.” I would like to change the second word in that phrase so it applies even more to parenting a hurting child, “Fictional [worry] often cripples us from factual action.” When we worry and feel negative about what our child’s future (even their tomorrow) looks like, we forget to live in the moment. And, this moment is the one that will help your child move toward healing; the hug you’re not giving, the praise you’re not sharing, the play you’re not engaging in, the interest you’re not showing because negativity is taking away moments you could be using to help your child heal.
  • Negative mindsets grow when we’re in community with others who constantly complain about their life. This can be people who speak disapprovingly about everyone and everything around them or a community of adoptive/foster parents who complain about their children. I do see a place for groups of parents who’ve adopted or are fostering. I think it’s great to have a place to vent our troubles, but with Facebook and places like Cafemom, it’s become all too easy to get sucked in and focus only on the unfavorable qualities of our loved ones and others.
  • Negativity can come from our own guilt, thinking we don’t do enough for our hurting child. Some parents constantly question whether they’re doing the right things with their child who struggles. (To put your mind a little more at ease, take a look at this: We Are Our Childs Best Therapist.
  • Negativity can creep in through others perceptions of us. A family that has a hurting child functions differently than the typical family. Friends and relatives don’t understand why you live the way you do. You are excluded, questioned, and sometimes scorned.


Negativity can come from anywhere and everywhere; as an avalanche of boulders or as pecking stones. In turn it can cause us to be negative, and the way you feel as a parent is always projected onto your child.

Our negativity about our children affects:

  • The way we feel about them.
  • The expectations and hopes we have for them.
  • Our ability to empathize with them.
  • What we say to them.
  • What we say about them.

As Dr. Bruce Perry said, our kids need US to be the catalyst for positive change. Our children CAN heal, but not without our help, and we can’t offer them all of us (think Giving Tree and remember why you adopted in the first place) if we are full of negativity.

The question now is what do we do? Well, I struggle with negativity, so I feel less than qualified to tell you what needs to be done. However, I can share with you what helps me have a more positive perspective.

#1, and MOST important: When dealing with a child’s Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), attachment issues, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mood disorder, and my son’s Autism, I had to focus on the positives in my children.
Find the good qualities in your child. Is your son a good artist or ball player? Does your daughter like to be around you? What’s one thing your child does without a fight? Does your daughter do great with younger children? Find that positive attribute, even if it’s only one, and focus on it.

  • Remember where your children came from. Dr. Bruce Perry also says that by age four, your brain is 85% the size it is when you’re an adult. How much did our child’s early life affect their brain? Significantly. ADD LINKS How long will it take for our children to heal and form healthy relationships? More than a few months, more than a year.
  • Praise your children when they’re doing well. Be specific and tell the truth.
  • Focus on any progress your child has made. Think in small increments if needed. Did your son clear his plate off the table today? Did your daughter unplug her curling iron before leaving the bathroom?
  • Find joy in your everyday life. That post is a must read if you feel there’s no joy to be found. We don’t have the same struggles, but I’ve found it difficult to find the joy too, my friend.
  • If there is something you wish you were doing with your child, but you’re not, do it. Then throw away all the guilt.
  • Forget about all the negativity and misconceptions coming from family and friends. This is your family and they’ve never lived your life.

There, that should make you feel better! Actually, what would make you feel better is some hot chocolate, a good book, and a warm bath, but I can’t hand that to you over a blog, or as my father-in-law would say, the World Wide Web.

I hope this helps you see where negativity can come from, how it invades our existence, and how it affects our kids.

Do you see areas of your life that are full of negativity? Maybe just a little? What can you do to change your view?

If you would like to see more posts like this, be sure to check out all posts on the Content page. If you would like to receive each post made here on Lovin’ Adoptin’ you can subscribe on the right side of this page near the top. For more helpful information and links, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Have a great day, evening, afternoon, or morning wherever you are!