the nitty gritty: if you DON’T want your foster or adopted child to thrive, DON’T read this

the nitty gritty- if you DON'T want your foster or adopted child to thrive DON'T read this
I don’t suggest reading this if you don’t want your family to change. This will ruffle feathers, they’ll go flying, but this is so important if you want your family to do well, if you want your child to heal and your family thrive. I’ve avoided writing this because I don’t want people to get mad and run, but if I don’t write it, families may falter, and that’s not my desire. All of the time I spend on Lovin’ Adoptin’ and speaking is with a goal to help families. I’ve tackled dozens of other topics on adoption and foster care, on how to help traumatized children do well, but this one topic I’ve avoided because it’s not popular, and frankly, I don’t think families want to hear it.

Why don’t they want to hear it? Because it requires hard work, it requires change, it requires selflessness. What is it that I’m talking about? Being with your family, being present whenever you’re needed. I’m talking about putting your desires aside and focusing on those of your family,

specifically the needs of your traumatized child.

I know there are many parents out there who feel they aren’t taking care of themselves, and the focus in adoption groups and adoption and foster care related articles is to take time for yourself. While it’s important to take time for yourself, there needs to be balance. I’ve written about that, however, today my focus is on both parents.

One family sticks out in my mind when I think of this topic. This family, I’ll call them Sweney, ranted about how their daughter, Adia, who they adopted from another country (where she was deeply traumatized multiple times), wasn’t bonding with them. They couldn’t understand it, they felt like they’d done all they could to meet her needs, yet she was unhappy. Problem number one, they blamed her. I’ll talk about blaming more in depth another time, but this family placed all responsibility on this girls shoulders, they expected far too much of her and didn’t go the distance on their end.

How is it that they didn’t go the distance on their end? Her actions, none of them violent or defiling by the way, were screaming that she wanted attention and time. The little attention and time they gave her wasn’t rewarded, so they did less. They wondered why she wasn’t happy, wasn’t obedient, wasn’t appreciative. What was her problem?

It wasn’t her problem, it’s not something she needed to fix. We shouldn’t say, she isn’t bonding. Does she really have a mental choice? I don’t think so. Sure older children can make the choice at some point, sometimes, to be kind to their adoptive or foster parents, however, can they make the choice to bond? Ponder this question for a bit if you will.
hurting children can't heal themselves

First, for young Adia, not nearly enough time was given for her to overcome her grief and pain. Second, what was the family doing to help her heal? Were they giving her opportunities in America? Yes. Were they providing a nice room, toys, clothes, and good food? Yes. But, is that enough? You can read more about the question that circles adoption and foster communities about love being enough here.

While you can follow all the advice I’ve written here on this website, if you don’t have a key piece, you’ll have a really hard time bonding with your child.

That key piece is being a unit, one that’s dedicated to your child who’s been neglected, abused, disappointed, abandoned. That’s what this family was missing.

Here’s what their family was like. Dad golfed any chance he got; weekends, holidays, afternoons. When football, hokey, soccer, or leaf picking was on, he was watching. When he was asked to watch the children, he sat in his recliner watching…you guessed it, sports. Is watching sports wrong? No! Is watching sports and ignoring your family okay? No. Is it okay to miss a game or two? Probably not for some. Could they incorporate their children into watching the sports, make it a family event? Maybe.

Now to Mrs. Sweney, she was a runner. She ran every morning for a couple hours, and she was involved in the activities she was interested in. I can give her some slack here, as this was all she did. She took care of the kids, she cooked, cleaned, and even did the yard work. She was the responsible parent. I don’t mean to knock on the husband of this family, but he really needed to step up and do something.

Although Mrs. Sweney did everything, she wasn’t an affectionate mother, and she lacked consistency and expectations. But then, I don’t blame her so much when I think of all she was carrying, her husband acted like one of her children.

The Sweney’s decided to send Adia to a group home because she wasn’t bonding. Wonder why. The day they were to drop her off, mom drove her, and Dad had something “more important to do.” At the end of Adia’s stay, Mom and Dad were invited to join her for a week. While there, Dad went hunting. The last thing Dad needed was time away.

Sending Adia off wasn’t what they needed to do. They needed to make their family a priority, especially their adopted daughter. Mom and Dad need to be a team and invest in their child. Their time needed to be spent together.

There’s a period of time after adopting or after a foster child joins your family when families need to put complete focus on that child.

It requires parents to put aside their hobbies and interests and converge on what the traumatized child needs. It’s not easy, but it’s so rewarding when you see what pain a child’s been through and the light on the other side.

I can’t tell you the joy I’ve felt when my daughter healed and wanted to dress like me, wear jewelry that looked like mine, wanted ME to walk her to class, while she held her head high, proud of ME, her mom. Or when she wants me to hug her and hold her when she’s sad, when she’s upset at me but can turn it around quickly and talk about what’s going on. The joy when she wants me to volunteer in her class and doesn’t yell that she wants me to go away. Joy, pure joy, but it takes work to get there. You can also see an article I wrote about how our children were tore down quickly, but it takes time to build them back up.

*Sports isn’t the addiction for everyone, I encourage you to look at your life and see what might be taking the focus away from your kids. Is it yard work, cooking, pinterest, volunteering outside the home, work?

*I’m not saying anything the Sweney family did was wrong on its own, but when it’s combined it can be detrimental to the family, especially to the traumatized child.

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rocking: a simple first step to bonding, and it doesn’t just apply to infants (review – adoption/foster care)

Rocking_ a simple first step to bonding
(This post originally appeared on Lovin’ Adoptin’ in May 2013. I feel with all the new visitors I’d share again, plus a little reminder never hurt any of us, right?)

Have you found that discipline and having consequences for negative behavior doesn’t work with your hurting child? As one mom phrased it, “They don’t care.” So, our first goal is to focus on creating a bond. As you work on making connections with your child, be sure to keep in mind that this is a process. Our children’s previous circumstances have played a major role in re-wiring their brains, and it will take time and consistency to help them see us as safe adults, who they can trust.

Before we can implement directional techniques with our children, we have to begin working on the bonding process. Reason being, if our children are not attached to anyone, they will not change their behavior. This is why, until a certain point in the bonding continuum, consequences and discipline mean nothing. Simply put, our children who have attachment issues don’t care.

It’s also extremely important to remember that bonding will take time,

so will your child’s awareness that their negative behavior isn’t acceptable. Your child will take steps forward, and steps back. At first the steps forward will be much smaller than those going in reverse, but always look at those advances because those are what will keep you going.

Part of the reason our children are so difficult is because they are strong, and they’re extremely intelligent. In Chris Cleave’s book, Little Bee, he sums it up so simply.

“You are not 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.”

Our children don’t want to change, and how well does it work to manipulate someones behavior when they are against it? It’s a no go. Their brain has literally been wired to distrust, and to protect themselves at all costs. We will have to change the patterns in their brain so they can bond with us, then we can help them with their negative behaviors. Bruce Perry has done some research that has scientifically proven that when a child is neglected, or has been through trauma, connections are not made in their developing brain. The neurotransmitters are not connected. A neglected/traumatized child’s brain looks different than a child’s who has been loved and accepted. This brain connectivity begins in-utero!

Rocking (rhythmic movement) has been proven to connect these neurotransmitters.

Brain scans were taken of children prior to rocking and afterwards, and the results were visible. Physical healing takes place when a child is rocked.

When we implemented rocking with our daughter we were surprised by the results. Prior to rocking, Payton had major sleep issues, not all of them were solved by rocking, but many were. It was a tremendous first step. You can see a previous post about how rocking helped us here. Before we began rocking, Payton would yell at me without thinking. She had a temper and was unable to control herself. After only a couple days of rocking, she yelled at me, caught herself, and began talking to me nicely.   This was a tremendous turn around, one that I had never witnessed with her. We still had behavior issues to work through, but many were taken care of with rocking.

You might be thinking, “Rock your child and they’ll begin to bond? But what if my child isn’t an infant, I have a seven-year-old.” The answer to the first question is, yes! The answer to the second is found in an amazing story I heard about a nine-year-old by who was not attached to either of his adoptive parents. He had been in their home for more than four years, and he had a disdain for his adoptive mother, and could barely tolerate his adoptive father. A therapist recommend the dad begin rocking the boy daily for a minimum of fifteen minutes per day. He did this, and the boy allowed him to do so. After rocking for a while, the young child began to make eye contact with his mom, which had never happened before. He finally allowed his mom to rock him and he bonded with both of them.

Try rocking your child by holding them facing you, it is recommended that they be rocked a minimum of fifteen minutes per day. You want rocking to be a positive time together, remember the goal is attachment. If you have a child that throws tantrums and fights you on everything, you can try Paradoxical Parenting to get them to rock. If you can tell that your child is completely uncomfortable rocking, you can begin with Floortime and Parallel Play which I lay out in my post, Tips on Bonding with an Adopted or Foster Child, and move to rocking as your child feels more comfortable with you.

rocking chairsYou can also begin by rocking your child for two minutes, then add a minute every day. If you have an older child that understands rewards, you can tell them they will get a small reward for rocking. I wouldn’t recommend candy, as I try to stay away from connecting food to behavior, whether removing it because of negative behavior, or rewarding with it because of positive behavior. I say small reward because you will have to continue it every time you rock for a while. Maybe they can play an educational iPad game when they’re done, or they can pick out a stuffed animal to sleep with. Also remember that for some of our children even rewards don’t matter. I can’t tell you how many “special” things our daughter has lost over the years. Until our daughter made a connection with us, rewards and consequences didn’t have the outcome we were looking for.

The study done on bonding wasn’t specific to rocking, but to rhythmic movement. Although, it is my opinion and the opinion of others that rocking makes a quicker connection between a parent and child – you are holding them close, you have bodily contact, you can make eye contact if your child will let you, and you are doing it together – there are other ways to get rhythmic movement into your child’s daily routine. You can use a trampoline, they even have smaller indoor ones (both of our kids LOVE the trampoline), swinging (you can even use aboy swinginghammock and rock together), or swimming. Friends of ours adopted their daughter from foster care when she was twelve-months-old and once they started her with horseback riding lessons, she never stopped.  Her family believes this is the rhythmic movement she craves and has helped her deal with issues that arise in her life.

I hope you can try rocking, and until your child is able to rock with you, or is far too large to rock, try rhythmic movement of any kind (can be combined with rocking). Let me know how it works, I would love to hear about it!

*Note: I shared the link about our children’s hurting brains looking different. This does not mean our children aren’t intelligent. It can actually mean that our children do possess a great intelligence, you can read more about it in, The Intelligence Behind a Hurting Child.

Following are some more posts related to attachment:
attachment in adoption and foster children: the first things we need to know

tips on bonding with an adopted or foster 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, you can do this on the web version. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for more helpful information and links.