Tag Archives: attachment issues

attachment in adoption & foster care: the first things we need to know

attachment in adoption- the first things we need to knowThis is a post I originally wrote in April 2013. Many of you are new here, so I thought I would bring back some of the basics in the following weeks. Hope you enjoy.

*************

In Chris Cleave’s novel Little Bee, he writes Little Bee’s thoughts, “Take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means I survived.” This makes me think of our adopted children who struggle with attachment issues because they have scars. A scar also means they’ve been through a traumatic experience. Our child may not have wounds that mark their skin, but they have scars, usually many, that are revealed in various ways. One of the ways our children deal with their hurt, or scar, is by not attaching to us.

TRUST HAS BEEN CATASTROPHICALLY BROKEN AND THEY ARE EXTREMELY AFRAID TO RELY ON ANYONE.

To help our children with attachment issues, we need to first understand the basics of what it is, and why our children are not forming a bond with us. The website childtrauma.org says, “The attachment bond has several key elements: 1) an attachment bond is an enduring emotional relationship with a specific person; 2) the relationship brings safety, comfort, soothing, and pleasure; 3) loss or threat of loss of the person evokes intense distress.” I believe that attachment issues are on a spectrum. Here’s a graph that explains: attachment issues spectrum No two people are alike, and the same goes for adopted children. Some may not exhibit any signs of an attachment disorder, yet it’s very important to be aware of your child and look for signs that they are struggling in an area. Behaviors that you think are positive; Johan eats everything on his plate at every meal, or Lily is a leader, in charge and always trying to help everyone around her, may be indicative of a much larger problem.

Now to address Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The ever helpful Wikipedia says, “RAD is one of the least researched and most poorly understood disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).” I agree. When we hear the word RAD, a bit, or a whole boat load of fear settles in our heart. Often the stories we’ve heard about RAD are the scariest. We hear about children with RAD setting fires in their home, chasing their parents with a knife, or hurting their siblings. These scenarios are extremely rare, yet so many children are being diagnosed with RAD. (Note that my daughter was diagnosed with RAD.) The Mayo Clinic lists the following scenarios as increasing the chances of a child developing Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD):

  • Living in an orphanage
  • Inexperienced parents
  • Extreme poverty
  • Postpartum depression in the baby’s mother
  • Parents who have a mental illness, anger management problems, or drug or alcohol abuse
  • Forced removal from a neglectful or abusive home
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Prolonged hospitalization
  • Extreme neglect
  • Frequent changes in foster care or caregivers
  • Institutional care

www.attachmentdisorder.com adds a few more to this already lengthy list of causes:

  • Traumatic experience
  • Maternal depression
  • Undiagnosed, painful illness such as colic, ear infections, etc.
  • Lack of attunement between mother and child

Attachment issues are difficult, both for the one suffering, and for the parent who is pouring their life into their child. But, let’s remember how Chris Cleave so eloquently phrased it,

they have scars because they survived.

So, let’s treat our children as survivors, remembering their suffering, but gently guiding them to wholeness and out of pain. Let’s help them heal their scars and bond.

Here are some links to simple strategies that will help get your family on the track to healthy attachment. – rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just apply to infants) – let’s bond already: creating attachment with an adopted child – play = bonding time You can receive each post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. If you’re on a mobile device, this can be done on the web version. You can also follow me on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

is love enough? (adoption/foster)

Is love enough?
Pam Parish, a woman who writes insightful words over at www.pamparish.com,  asked for input on the “love is not enough” idea in a Facebook adoption group. I had quite a lot to say about the subject since I’d heard Nancy Thomas speak on “Love is Not Enough.” I had disagreed with Nancy to a point, and I constantly hear other parents use those words, “Love is not enough.”

Here’s what I shared with Pam (with a few additions), which she posted on her blog: I think it all depends on what a persons definition of LOVE is. Is love putting a roof over a child’s head, providing clothing, toys, entertainment, taking them on vacation, being there for them when they need it?

Or, is it much more than that?

Is it providing consequences to teach them how to live life? Is it holding them when all they’ve done is push you away? Is it living through the ugly and dirty moments when we feel such hate being slung our way? Is it moving on with each day even though we don’t have strength to even look at the dirty dishes in the sink?

I feel it’s all of the above and more.

This is HARD because our children came from HARD. I believe the knowledge of this begins with the original training foster and adoptive parents receive before a child is placed with them. Although we never truly understand what it takes to raise a hurting child until we are living with them day to day, I feel I had a better starting place than many. Because of our training, I was able to empathize with my children and I knew it was going to be HARD.

My love has been enough, but then my definition is probably different than most.

I see where some adoptive parents are coming from, we hear others say, “I would love to adopt, children just need love,” and maybe they don’t realize the amount of “love” a hurting child needs. One mom on the Facebook page said, “Those who look at our family think, ‘Look, all they needed was a family to love them.’ ” But, that family knows how much “love” it has taken to heal their child.

original photo by joeymc86 via freeimages.com

Is love enough? Some might say, no. But does your love include educating yourself and learning about trauma? Love should be all inclusive. As I was working on this post, I received an email from my dad. He had listened to my radio interview, and said, “I know you have developed a relationship with Payton and the two of you are very close. One thing to remember is it is a continual learning process.” I think that process entails love, a love that is willing to try to do the best, and be the best for a child. It includes loving through the process and in the process.

Love is a big word. Our children need a big love and we can do it.

I am rewarded daily for the immense amount of love I’ve poured into both my children. When Payton runs to me after school, yelling, “Mommy!!!” and gives me a big hug, my heart is filled. It used to be that I showed up at her school and she wanted me to leave and didn’t want me to help her with her craft. Now, she WANTS me to sit with her on her classroom floor and read with her. Now she gets slightly jealous if I help other kids in her class, whereas before, she couldn’t care less where I was or what I was doing.

Love is a big word. When children come from trauma, they need a big love to carry them through.

———-

You can receive each post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ in your inbox by subscribing in the upper right corner. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more helpful information and links.

6 things you shouldn’t say to, or in front of, your foster/adopted child

thingsnottosay
You can listen to a recording of this post, just scroll to the bottom of this post.

Sometimes it’s common sense and sometimes it’s not. Despite that common sense we’ve all supposedly been given, I’ve heard some terrible things said in front of, and to, children. Guidance has also been disposed by some professionals that can be detrimental to a child’s healing (I mean completely stop it right in its tracks). Some of the points on this list may seem obvious to you, but I encourage you to read through them, because even parents with the best intentions can say things that are hurtful to a child. This can especially happen when a hurting child is acting out because of what’s going on inside of them. So, here they are:

  1. Don’t talk about how difficult your child is.
    By making statements like, “Ezra is so naughty, you wouldn’t believe what he did today,” “Sarene is such a pistol, she knocked the lamp over again,” “Jared won’t stop hitting, he’s a brat at school.” These statements can make a child feel like they can’t do anything good, especially if 70% of their behavior is negative, it can shine like a negativity rainbow around them. Your child already feels like they can’t do anything right, children will blame themselves for being removed from their birth family, for being in an orphanage, for moving from one foster home to another. They may even feel worthless, so talking about what they aren’t doing right doesn’t help.When your child has negative behavior decide whether there will be a consequence, and leave the behavior there (meaning don’t carry it through to that night or the following days).
    *The reason I say “decide” if there will be a consequence is because there are certain behaviors that shouldn’t have consequences: stashing/hoarding food, sneaking food, getting up in the middle of the night or not staying in bed, wetting the bed, and pottying their pants to name a few. These can all be indicative of an underlying problem, and frankly so are all behaviors.
    Try to find out what is triggering your child, what is causing the problem, try to help them through it, and don’t jump to discipline first.
  2. Abstain from discussing the money you’re getting or not getting for foster care.
    This one seems obvious to me, but obviously it’s not obvious to others, because I’ve heard it, or I wouldn’t list it. Parents forget their children can hear them, even if they’re chatting on the phone or talking to a friend while the kids play. Once, while standing in front of the Department of Human Services a foster mom talked with someone while her foster kids ran around her playing. She said, “I won’t adopt them (the kids who were with her!) unless they increase my stipend. This child needs_____ and that child needs_____ and they won’t increase my stipend to pay for it.”
    If you want to talk about what the state is or isn’t paying you, it’s your right, but discussing it in front of your kids can be hugely problematic. They’ll feel they’re only wanted if you get enough money for them. And, honestly, no matter how little a state pays foster parents, it doesn’t mean children aren’t worth being cared for.
  3. Avoid talking about how easy your life was before them. “Before you came, it was so peaceful here.” “There was no fighting until you came along.” “I’m always exhausted now.”  – Statements like this will make a child feel unwanted and that they cause all the problems. When it’s true that it looks like the hurting child causes an immense amount of strife, we must remember it’s their past causing all the turmoil within them and rising to the surface. – Help yourself and find peaceful moments in your day to have to yourself.
    hurtingpeoplehurtothers
  4. Refrain from telling them: “If you can’t follow the rules, you can’t live here,” or “I guess you don’t want to live here since you can’t follow the rules.”
    Interestingly (I actually have another word for it) this is advice given by some therapists. This gives the impression that a child or teen is judged solely based on their negative behavior. And sorry, but if the only behaviors a child’s been taught are negative, they will have less then desirable behaviors.
    Kids are also going to test you to see if you will stick with them through the bad. They’re going to prove to themselves no one will love them if they do wrong. In my opinion leaving the home is not an option. When you say they can’t live in your home if ____, it gives them an option. An option to miss out on love, possibly for the rest of their life.
  5. Don’t place blame on children by saying things like: “You’re ruining everything.”
    Blame can also come across very strongly through actions and attitudes toward kids. I’ve seen this happen so often, and sometimes it’s perpetrated by therapists. They blame the child, saying, “See what you’re doing to your parents.” When it’s not a contemplated action against them, but rather a protective instinct because adults aren’t safe and are untrustworthy. A hurting child cannot heal themselves. Put blame anywhere else, but on a child. Do you blame your child for anything? Loss of anything, changing anything?
  6. Avoid talking about what the social workers are saying.
    When doing foster care you are surrounded by social workers, they come in and out of your house, you talk to them on the phone, you email, you see them in court and at visits, and there can be a lot to discuss with your spouse, friends and family. But telling your kiddos what was said, or saying it when they can overhear you, can cause major behaviors among other problems. However, if discussions are serious about your foster child being reunited with their family then you need to share this with your child to prepare them.

Remember children are much smarter than many people give them credit for. Although it may seem like they aren’t listening, they are. While they’re playing, watching a movie, or sitting in the backseat, they’re listening.

Also, there are times when our own words, attitudes, and actions cause negative behaviors in our kids. I created this list so you can look at what you’re saying, or when you’re saying it, so you can avoid breakdowns and help your kids heal.

So you know, I’m far from perfect myself. I’ve said some things I regret. We can’t erase the past, but we can apologize and we all have a chance to change what we say from here forward.

———–
You can receive every post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner, and you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter for more helpful information and links to other sources.

hurting children CAN develop empathy (adoption/foster)

empathy

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.

focusonpositive

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.

*******
You can subscribe to every post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ and you can follow me on social media to receive more helpful information and links (this can all be found in the upper right corner). Be sure to share the love, and send this to anyone you feel might benefit.

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

 

liketherapist

*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.

*****
You can receive every post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. You can also follow me on social media to receive more helpful links. Please feel free to share this site with friends who are fostering or who have adopted.

time + time + time (adoption/foster)

healingtakestime

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)

*****
You can subscribe to receive all posts made on Lovin’ Adoptin’. You can also follow me on social media sites to see more helpful links.

the intelligence behind a hurting child (adoption/foster)

littlebee

I talk frequently about our children and their brains, how a hurting child’s brain is less developed than a child who’s had a typical upbringing (love and consistency). I talk about their inability to think logically, and that’s why consequences and reward systems don’t work. However, none of this means that a child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized isn’t smart. I think all of this can be misconstrued and parents can assume their children aren’t intelligent, when that’s very far from the truth.

When Dr. Bruce Perry talks about a traumatized child’s brain being smaller, it means certain areas haven’t developed fully. It doesn’t mean the processing areas aren’t functioning, it means the areas that control the social and emotional haven’t developed fully. A hurting child is aware of what’s happening around them, they are able to manipulate, they can give you directions and street names, but solving A=B issues is very difficult, even impossible for some, hence the logical consequences don’t compute.

In the book Little Bee, two girls have escaped an England prison, where they’d been held as illegal immigrants. Little Bee says to Yevette, “You aren’t dumb, Yevette. All of us who have got this far, all of us who have survived – how can we be dumb? Dumb could not come this far.” It’s so true, and something that parents need to understand about their hurting kids, they aren’t lacking intelligence, it only looks different.

Bryan Post writes, “In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, researcher Mihaly implies it’s no mystery that individuals of genius nature are in fact genius because most have all experienced life-altering trauma. In essence, he explains that in environments of neglect and abuse the child does not receive an equivalent balance of cognitive/social/emotional experience, therefore a neurologic compensation occurs. Whereby what the brain does not get emotionally, it compensates for cognitively, thus a very intelligent child. The catch, though the child may be cognitively advanced perhaps even brilliant, rarely can this be accessed because of the constant emotional hijacking which occurs when the trauma brain gets triggered and takes over.”

For those who don’t enjoy reading about brain development, essentially what Mihaly said is that while our children weren’t developing in the social/emotional area of their brain, the cognitive area had adequate time to mature.

My daughter, Payton, is just one example of this. She had extreme difficulty with controlling behaviors she knew were unacceptable, she wasn’t able to figure out A=B for consequences. [If you do A (behavior) then B (consequence) happens.] Yet, when I spelled out “ice cream” when she was two, she knew what I was spelling, and she could give me directions to the grocery store. She was reading books at age four, and I could go on and on with her knowledge of where she was and how things worked. This happens so many times with kids who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized.

Dr. Bruce Perry has also said, “If you have relational poverty you walk around as a dysregulated person. You’re more vulnerable to trauma…and it’s harder to learn new things.” Perry describes the one who is in relational poverty as a high risk child or one who’s in foster care. Also, just because a child has entered your home or been there for a few months, it doesn’t mean they’re no longer in relational poverty. It takes time for relationships to develop, especially when a child has learned no one can be trusted.

This is also explained well by Joseph LeDoux, “In times of stress, our thinking becomes confused and distorted and our short term memory is suppressed.”

Hurting kids are constantly under stress until they have made significant attachments, even while they’re making attachments they will slip back into a stressed state.

stresssuppressesmemory

On the topic of stress affecting our memory, even I can attest to this. I walked into a Starbucks earlier this week and stood at the counter, it was the first time I’d been at this particular store, but I had ordered this particular drink dozens of times, yet I froze. What was it that I order every time? See, it happens to all of us…I think.

So, there’s a good chance your child is intelligent, it just may be hiding underneath a lot of pain, or you may see it and wonder how your child can be so smart, yet not obey simple rules. I hope this gives you some insight into your child and what’s going on inside of them.

These links may be helpful in learning more about a child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized:

detecting attachment issues
why consequences and rewards don’t work 

You can receive all posts made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner of this page. You can also follow me on social media sites to receive other helpful links.