just deal with it (feelings: part 4) – (adoption/foster)

Were you raised by a parent who told you to “just deal with it?” Were you taught to ignore your feelings or that they weren’t important? If we tell our hurting children to just deal with it without giving them a listening ear, and tools for how to handle their feelings, it won’t help your child develop emotionally, and a significant component of our children’s struggles are with their BIG emotions.

Todays post is the last installment of the four-part series on feelings, specifically how to deal with feelings. In the post Be Available (feelings: part 3), I went over talking to your kids about their emotions and feelings, which is the stepping stone for how your child will be able to handle what’s going on inside of them.

Now your child needs assistance with how to handle those BIG feelings. In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Bruce Perry says, “The more anxious someone is the harder it is for him to accurately recall and describe his feelings, thoughts and history. But most critically, when a child is anxious it is much more difficult to form a positive relationship, the true vehicle for all therapeutic change.” Obviously our goal with our children is to form a positive relationship, because if we don’t have a positive relationship with our child, no attachment will take place.

The way to help alleviate the anxiety your child is experiencing is to create a basis of labeling feelings. As they develop a firmer grasp on what specific feelings are, you identify them in your child, yourself, and others. You can then move on and talk about ways to deal with each feeling if needed.

If your child is anxious, you can give him options for calming, such as a stress ball or something he can squeeze in his hand. Drawing is also great to express any emotion (Carol Lozier has a wonderful APP on her website that lets a child do this).

If your child is angry and hitting, you can give her something to hit; a drum or a pillow. You give words at the same time if your child hits you. For more verbal kids, you concisely explain that they shouldn’t hit. For young kids, or ones who don’t have a lot of language, you can say, “Hands off” if they are hitting something inappropriate (a t.v.), or “Be gentle” when that child is hitting you, then redirect them to something they can hit. Telling a child who doesn’t grasp language, “Don’t hit” is counter productive because they only process the last word, “hit.”

A child who is hitting is trying to express a feeling, or something they want to tell you, and I explain this more in detail in The Behavior Battle. If you have a good idea of what your child is feeling and why your child is hitting, go ahead and give her the words, “You’re mad because you had to leave (our friends) house.”

My son, Jeremiah, is four, has Autism and doesn’t talk, but as he’s gained language comprehension, we’ve talked about being mad, sad, and scared. We don’t talk about the more complex feelings such as lonely and frustrated because he wouldn’t understand them yet. (You can use those words with any child who is developing typically.) It has been really cool to see his response when we label how he’s feeling. He will be crying (his go to reaction when he’s angry, frustrated, or scared is to cry or throw himself), and I will name how he might be feeling, “You’re mad because you have to leave your toy here.” He will now stop crying when I get it right! Sometimes he’ll begin crying again, but it’s great that he can calm down, even if it’s short-lived, when he recognizes that I understand how he’s feeling. This is an enormous improvement over what he used to do – just cry.

It’s kind of like when you’re dealing with something and you talk to a friend and they get it, they listen to you vent, and they acknowledge what you’re going through. We can walk away from that interaction and feel better and not so alone.

The same thing has happened with my daughter, Payton, who is farther ahead developmentally. One day she was wailing in the backseat, something hadn’t gone her way. I told her I was disappointed because something hadn’t gone my way in the same situation she was crying about. You know what? She immediately stopped crying because I was empathizing with her, and she noticed how I was handling my disappointment.

Before your child has made some attachments, their response to some of this will be anger, but you still want to listen to them, show them you care, and help them label and deal with their feelings. It’s all part of the attachment process.

Some other ways to deal with big feelings is to have your child take in a deep breath and smell the flowers, and blow hard to put out the candle. There are dozens of APPS for learning about feelings, a few are listed here (but remember you are their greatest teacher). An APP that my daughter likes is Toca Boca band, your child can make a band with different instruments and sounds. This helps a child express feelings.

Don’t allow your kids to express their emotions in hurtful ways, but give them avenues to convey what they need to. Always be available to listen and talk to your children about anything.

Throughout this series have you been able to talk to your kids about their feelings? How did it go? I would love to hear from you!

Check out the other posts in this series:
emotional balance begins with us (feelings: part 1)
name those feelings (feelings: part 2)
be available (feelings: part 3)

it’s your fault mom (adoption/foster)

I apologize in advance to any fathers who are visiting today. This post is about mothers, but feel free to keep reading.

It came out of nowhere, Payton hit me. She was one-year-old, and it was the first time she’d done anything like it. What caused her to lash out at me? I was about to leave the house to take her to visit her bio mom (Payton was in foster care). She had quickly figured out when we were going to those supervised visits, and she was mad because she didn’t want to go.

She continued with this growing animosity toward me, so we thought it best that my husband, Justin, take her to those meetings. This change helped a little but there was still a difference in the way she treated me verses my husband. This attitude against me continued for a few years.

It was heartbreaking! I did everything I could to love my little girl (we adopted her when she was almost two). I was consistent, I hugged her, I played with her, I was fun and tried to be funny, I took her to do special things, we painted and made things with play dough at home, I read to her and picked her up every time she fell, and so much more, yet, I was still blamed for everything.

Mothers are often blamed by adopted and foster kids. Moms are the scapegoats, we get attacked for everything, and everything is our fault. Why? Because we are all born to mothers, and when that mother doesn’t meet a child’s needs our children blame the next one who comes along. Us.

I was blamed for anything the world threw at my daughter. Payton took all of it out on me. If someone made her mad or disappointed her, she faulted me. If she fell down because she tripped on her own feet, she got angry with me. If she dropped a book on her toe, she gave me The Eye. Because the other mother in her life had neglected and abandoned her, I, as her new mother, was the one to find all the fault with. The other woman had hurt her deeply, and I’m a woman, therefore I must be the same; untrustworthy.

I found ways to help my daughter see that I wasn’t the one causing her pain. First, we always worked on bonding. Second, whenever something happened to her, say she crashed into the kitchen table, I pointed at it, and I said, “Bad table. Sorry the table hurt you. Are you okay?” and give her a hug. If she fell off the slide, I pointed at it and said, “Bad slide. That slide did that to you. Are you okay?” and gave a hug. She didn’t realize what had caused the pain she was feeling, and she needed something to blame, and that first response was to turn it on me. I needed to give her the words and direction of what was actually at fault.

We went through several phases with Payton. When she first came to us, she would fall and not make a peep. (You can read about how I handled that here.) Then for a while, she came to me if she was hurt. Then we saw the blame game arise. Someone else would disappoint her, but it always came back to mom. There is something VERY significant there that needs specific attention.

For the most part she no longer blames me. Once in a while when she’s dissatisfied, she will get upset with me, but she isn’t singling me out as much, now she sometimes blames Dad, or even accepts assistance in dealing with the problem (if she can name it). Her overall ability to cope with situations that don’t go her way are drastically improved.

Over the past couple years she has changed her view of who I am to her. I am no longer (at least most of the time) the mother to blame, I am trustworthy. I knew concepts were shifting in her mind when she started putting lotion on like mommy, wore a towel around her head like I do, wanted to wear jewelry because I was. This past summer my greatest joys came when she wanted to hold my hand, and wanted to sit by me in church, and best of all when she wanted me to wear a shirt that matched hers. I finally got that “Mommy” moment so many women take for granted, and so many of us adoptive moms dream of. There was heartache along the way, but the joy at the end was far more than many moms ever get to feel.

I am really lucky that God has protected my heart through those trying years, and the occasional difficult days we have now. My heart is extremely sensitive, and I KNOW that He has put an armor around it. Not so that I can’t pour out love, but so that when my love is not returned, or even despised, I can move forward, trying again. I am not perfect in this area, it still hurts, but I don’t feel some of the intense pain other adoptive parents experience. If you believe in God, I recommend you pray and ask God to protect your heart, because those darts thrown in battle can leave deep scars. I also encourage you to ask God to help you with those scars that have already formed. They can leave a chasm of hurt, blame, resentment, and inadequacy between you and your child.

Consistently taking blame and feeling the arrows of animosity pierce us hurts. We are experiencing the residual effects of what took place in our child’s past. We didn’t sign the dotted line for this part of the party, but we’re here. We can only recognize that it’s really not us that our child is fighting against, but a past that taught them to protect themselves.

Strong attachment is what will help our children move forward and stop the blame game. You can find more posts on attachment below:
attachment in adoption – the first things we need to know
let’s bond already – creating attachment with an adopted child

Have you felt your child places fault where it doesn’t belong? Is that blame placed on you? How do you handle it? Are there any changes you can make to show them that you aren’t the one to blame?