Tag Archives: Dr. Bruce Perry

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

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tips on bonding with an adopted or foster child

tips on bonding with an adopted or foster child
When our daughter, Payton, came to us, she was young, but she was completely broken. Naive people have said to us, “It’s a good thing she was so young when she came to you, she won’t be affected by what happened.”

 

That’s the generally held consensus isn’t it? If a child is removed from a neglectful or abusive situation soon enough, it won’t affect them. Wrong. Sure it’s better for them, the hope is that it doesn’t take them as long to heal, but they are impacted as much, or possibly more than an older child.

In Bruce Perry’s book, The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, he says, “The fact that the brain develops sequentially – and also so rapidly in the first years of life – explains why extremely young children are at such great risk of suffering lasting effects of trauma: their brains are still developing. The same miraculous plasticity that allows young brains to quickly learn love and language, unfortunately, also makes them highly susceptible to negative experiences as well.”
myth- young children aren't afffected by abuse and neglect

Payton had emotionally shut herself down because of the neglect and trauma she suffered. She would bang her head on the floor, or on a piece of furniture, but no sound escaped her lips. Never having been around a child with a traumatic past, this shocked me. She had learned early on that no one responded when she cried, so why put forth the effort?

We didn’t have any specific training in how to deal with this or many other issues that came our way, so I did what came naturally. Every time she fell, or bumped against something, I picked her up, held her against me, and said, “It’s okay, Mama’s here.” (At the time she was in foster care. Her bio mom called herself Mommy, so I referred to myself as “Mama.”) After a couple months of consistently showing her that I would rescue her when she was hurt, Payton began following me around the house! It was more of a curiosity thing, she was making a basic connection that someone cared. True bonding would take years to develop, but we had a base to begin from, and I was excited!

During this same time, I was on the floor with her a lot. How did I do this? In my years of parenting a child with attachment issues (actually she was diagnosed with RAD, you can see my opinions on that here) and one with Autism, I have come to see the benefits of a small house. I’m in close proximity to my kids. (If you don’t have a smaller home, you can use baby gates to keep your kids close.) My husband and I also drastically changed our daily routines. Our focus was on our new little girl, who needed as much of us as she could get.

I spent as much time as I could on my daughter’s level.

She hadn’t learned the basics of play, not even as an infant would. It took a long time for her to learn to play, and even longer to use her imagination. But, she had noticed I was there. She moved from following me around to mimicking me (I have a photo of her at eighteen-months loading the washing machine), and eventually moving on to sitting on my lap, etc.

This technique can also be called “Floortime.” I implemented this (in a way) with my daughter before I heard about Stanley Greenspan’s Floortime. We were introduced to Floortime much later when my son was diagnosed with Autism. The approach is not specific to Autism, and can be extremely helpful in the bonding between a child with attachment issues and a parent or caregiver. 

“Floortime meets children where they are and builds upon their strengths and abilities through interacting and creating a warm relationship. It challenges them to go further and to develop who they are rather than what their diagnosis says.” www.stanleygreenspan.com

The Developmental Therapist who works with our son uses a mixture of Floortime and other therapies, which I’ve discovered are a foundational component to bonding. We have to return to this cornerstone of Floortime because many of our children don’t know how to play, no one taught them how. Sometimes their brains can’t calm down enough to engage in free or imaginative play.

One reason I really love Floortime is because, as quoted above, “…it meets children where they are and builds upon their strengths and abilities through interacting and creating a warm relationship.” Why is this so great? Let’s look at key elements in the statement above.

  1. “…it meets children where they are.” – Our hurting children are not at their actual developmental age. We have to meet them where they are so they can climb the ladder of social, emotional, and physical development. There’s no time limit, there is no rush when looking at the developmental age of our hurting children, it will take time. And always remember bonding takes precedence over development in any other area.
  2. “…[it] builds upon their strengths and abilities.” – This is encouragement that our children need. They are constantly bombarded by negative, both from the outside and from within.
  3. “…through interacting and creating a warm relationship.” – What could be better? This is what our ultimate goal is for our children with attachment issues. We want them interacting with us (by the way, that begins with constant effort on our end), and we want to create a warm relationship. Some of you who have a child that struggles day to day may not think a warm relationship is possible, but it is! Your connection with each of your children will look different, but you will be amazed at the gem you find beneath the hurt, anger, and fear your child is holding onto.

Now that we have seen the benefits of Floortime, let’s find out how to do it. There will be a progression of steps. After you feel your child is comfortable with one of the steps, move to the next one. How will you know your child is ready for the next step? They will share smiles, engage you by handing you a toy, open discussions with you, they might make eye contact for the first time, or for longer periods than they have before. If you move on and you notice they are moving away from you or avoiding you, return to the previous step and work through it some more.

At any of the stages you can begin touching your child on the back or arm. See how they respond. If they squirm away, try again the next day. Don’t force it, but don’t avoid it either.

Step 1: PARALLEL PLAY

You will begin by sitting next to your child and engaging in parallel play. (This can also be done with older children, which I will touch on in a moment.) “Parallel play is a form of play where children play adjacent to each other, but do not try to influence one another’s behavior…the children do not play together, but alongside each other.” www.wikipedia.org For our purposes, this will be done between an adult caregiver or parent and a child. We’re going back to those fundamentals they never learned and have difficulty with.
Sit next to your child and engage in a similar activity. Don’t talk, only mimic what your child is doing with your own toy/book/body. It may feel goofy at first, but trust me, it works! If your child is pretending to drive a car, do the same with your own. If your child is looking at a book, sit quietly next to her reading one of her books. This will lay a foundation to build on. Be sure that you are engaging in something they have found interest in. You will do this every day if at all possible. The more you work on it, the faster bonding will come. I would begin with short sessions, around ten to fifteen minutes.

  • Older Children (including teens): It’s the same concept as above, but obviously they will be more advanced. If your child enjoys coloring or drawing, sit next to her and do the same with your own paper. Whatever they enjoy doing, do it sitting next to them. Get involved with them at a basic level, being quiet, and letting yourselves exist in the same space.

Step 2: INTEREST PLAY

Next you will begin talking about what you are doing with your child. If your child has a difficult time looking at your face, bring toys to the bridge of your nose, so your child will look at your eyes. If your child looks at you say, “Thank you for looking at me,” in an excited voice. For a very young child who is beginning to talk, you describe what you are doing: “I’m driving the car. You’re driving the car.” Praise a child of any age when they do well (be real, they’ll know if you’re lying). Don’t say anything negative at this time.
“Play is the work of children. It consists of those activities performed for self-amusement that have behavioral, social, and psychomotor rewards. It is child-directed, and the rewards come from within the individual child; it is enjoyable and spontaneous.”www.healthofchildren.com

  • Older Children (including teens): Talk about what you are doing with them. You can ask them some questions, but keep those few and brief.

Step 3: INTERACTIVE PLAY

Now you can begin interacting more, andJustin & Jeremiah 2012exchanging in play. You can begin to play with their toy with them. You can read a book to them, invite them to sit in your lap to read a book or sing a song. If you have a girl that’s interested in doing your hair (come on Dad :)), take turns playing salon. This is a great opportunity for your child to practice taking turns, caring for someone, and appropriate gentle touch is always positive.

  • Older Child (including teens): If you have a child that likes sports, you can play ball together. This exchange is a great back and forth play, your child is facing you, and they may also open up more and want to talk. Embrace what your child likes. Involve yourself by interacting and being interested.

These are some pivotal steps that will help your child bond with you. “[By using Floortime and] staying within [their] focus, you are helping [them] practice basic thinking skills: engagement, interaction, symbolic thinking and logical thinking. To master these skills requires using all these senses, emotions, and motor skills…”www.stanleygreenspan.com

When raising children with attachment issues (and for me, having an added child with Autism) it can get quite discouraging. You try something, it doesn’t work, so you try again, and again it fails. Keep trying. I have often put something on that back burner for a long time because I tried dozens of times and failed. Then one day I would try it again, and suddenly it would work! Be persistent and eventually your child will be ready for that hug, or respond to that “thank you,” or whatever you might be wanting your child to do to show connection.

You can bookmark this post to refer back to as you work on bonding. You can also 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 a web version. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.

emotional age vs. chronological age (adoption/foster)

emotioanl age vs chronological age
Evan lay in his room, screaming and pounding his fists on the floor, his feet slammed against his door. His mom, Talia, looked out the window, sure her neighbors could hear everything and imagined what they were thinking.

She couldn’t believe he was behaving this way, he was eight-years-old and acting worse than a toddler, the rages were catastrophic. Evan joined their family through adoption nine months ago and she’d expected him to grow out of this stage, especially with the constant love they all showed him, the toys, bed, nice room, good food, sport activities, and so much more. Hadn’t he bonded yet?

Why was it all taking so long?

Evan did well in school, he’d caught up so quickly because they’d worked with him. There were battles with that too, but nothing like these setbacks when Evan didn’t feel he was in charge.

Talia was noticing the gap between Evan’s emotional age and his chronological age.

Talia was expecting Evan’s emotional age to be in line with his chronological age, and that won’t happen when a child’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized. This image (courtesy of Dr. Bruce Perry and his studies) shows how significantly smaller the size of the traumatized child’s brain is versus the child who wasn’t traumatized. (If you’re a frequent reader here, you’re tired of hearing this – the size of their brain doesn’t mean it can’t grow, learn, and excel. It doesn’t mean your child can’t hear you, understand how you feel, or that they aren’t aware of the world around them.)

Because of trauma, your child’s age will not determine their abilities in any area. If a child is six-years-old, you can’t expect their emotional state to be equal to their age. You may have behaviors that range from infantile to age appropriate.

Even though there are gaps between your child’s emotional, mental, physical, and chronological age, you can still meet them where they are in each area. Your child may be very smart and able to do seventh grade algebra at age ten, so meet him where he is academically. His emotional state may not be that of a ten-year-old, but that doesn’t mean you can’t give him educational opportunities.

Your ten-year-old may exhibit behaviors of a three-year-old, so emotionally you would meet him where he needs it. You can hold him and rock him to help meet his need at that three-year-old level.
grow your child where they're succeeding

Meeting your child where they are can be done through Floortime, which is explained further at The Greenspan Floortime Approach. “Floortime meets children where they are and builds upon their strengths and abilities through interacting and creating a warm relationship. It challenges them to go further and to develop who they are…” I love every point in this statement about Floortime. In my post, Let’s Bond Already – Creating Attachment with an Adopted Child, I explain each of these points in more detail and give ideas on how to use this technique with older children.

As your child heals and bonds, his chronological and emotional age will become more equal,

you’ll see the gap between the two begin to close. Your child may always be more attuned to their world than a typical child, they may be able to tell you how to get across town to your friend’s house, or surprise you with their ability to recall events. This is because they were forced to protect themselves and possibly siblings when they were with their bio family. Their brain was catapulted into survival mode, and it’s possible part of it will always be there, overly conscious of their world. It’ll subside quite a bit as they move farther from the trauma, and are cared for by loving parents, but you can view this as something that will benefit them in the future.

As your child heals, they will have times of regression. Triggers will send them back to what they experienced before joining your family. Triggers are moments, experiences, memories, or events that remind them of a part of their traumatic experience. Your child will also exhibit negative behaviors and emotional regression when they feel out of control, which reminds them of their past.

In Dr. Bruce Perry’s book he shares the story of Sandy who witnessed her mother’s murder. When Sandy went to her foster home, she would loss it completely at certain times during the day. It took the family a while to figure out what the trigger was, but finally, after paying very close attention, they found Sandy had a meltdown every time she saw milk. The milk was a trigger because when her mother lay on the floor after being stabbed, Sandy tried giving her milk. That wasn’t the only trigger for her, but it gives you an idea of why our hurting children regress and in turn their emotional state deteriorates.

A child who experiences trauma such as Sandy did may be able to communicate well, and function fairly well within the family, but her emotional state will be compromised greatly when a trigger presents itself. She may start blubbering, not be understood, unable to communicate any feelings or thoughts.

In the beginning of this post Talia asked questions pertaining to how much they’d given Evan, how long it was taking him to bond, and how long it would take his behavior to be permanently changed. Here are some posts relating to those issues Talia is struggling with, and maybe the same questions you are asking about your child:

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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 

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