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)

be available (feelings: part 3) – (adoption)

In part two of this series, I talked about labeling your child’s feelings so they can begin to put together what’s happening inside them, both physical feelings: hunger and sickness; and the feelings such as jealousy and disappointment. Today we are taking the next step, which is talking about those feelings. We can’t define a feeling for our kids, such as anger, and leave our child hanging without support.

How do we support them? The best way to get them to open up to you about how they feel is to spend quality time with your children. When you play with your young ones (see my post play=bonding time), it’s amazing how much they’ll begin to talk when the pressure is lifted.

I want to know everything about my daughter’s day at school, but often asking a million questions gets me nowhere. Yes, I am that mom. The annoying one. I find that when I ask simple questions and then spend time with Payton doing something: coloring, reading, or playing restaurant, she begins to open up, mentioning something that happened at school. I can then take an incident that transpired, like one of her friends moving, and ask how she feels about it. If she doesn’t know, I give her some time, and then tell her how I would feel if my friend moved away. I can also share a personal experience of dealing with a friend leaving, or how I felt when I moved all the time. The same thing can be done with older kids and teens. Spend time doing what they enjoy and they just might surprise you and say something.

As for asking your children questions, it’s okay to inquire, but keep it in check. If you pressure your child too much, you won’t get anything from them. I like to think of it as being a listening investigator, not a talking interrogator.

Find out what your child is feeling, whether they look happy, sad, or angry. Then occasionally ask them why they feel that way. Many of our hurting kids tend to revert to showing anger, even if they feel jealous, lonely, scared, hurt, hungry, or a host of other emotions and internal responses. When we help them identify what’s going on inside of them and then talk about why it’s happening, they can gain the ability to avoid deviating to the anger and rage every time. Wouldn’t it be lovely to hear your child say, “I was embarrassed,” instead of them avoiding you or yelling at you (and you having no idea what just hit)? I know I like it MUCH more. My daughter, Payton, can now identify many of her feelings, and we can often elude anger, rages, avoidance, and yelling. (This is also helped by bonding.)

In Daniel Seigel’s book The Whole-Brain Child, he recommends helping a child connect with their emotions through a story. You begin a story, it can be fictionalized, but similar to something your child is dealing with, and they can finish it. This is also a fantastic way to build their creativity and imagination.

Our positive interactions with our children will help them gain understanding and a comfortability with their feelings. In The Whole-Brain Child Daniel Seigel says, “Parents who speak with their children about their feelings have children who develop emotional intelligence and can understand their own and other people’s feelings more fully.”

Surprisingly, for all the struggles Payton has had, she’s actually very in tune with others. We talk about other’s feelings a lot. If we see a boy who is crying, we talk about why he might be sad or mad. If some girls walk away from a friend at the park, we talk about how that girl might be feeling lonely and what we, or she can do to help. When we watch movies, we discuss different situations, if she’s making a comment that a boy is angry, we talk about why that is.

Payton has always been very aware of the world around her, but now she has a sensitivity to it. She’s empathetic to what others are going through. I believe the greatest example of this is how she is with her brother who has Autism. She is incredibly attuned to what her brother is doing and feeling, many times she notices what he’s feeling or responding to even before we do. She cares for him deeply.

When we show interest in our child’s life, they will open up to us. When we label our child’s feelings and talk about them, they’ll be more in tune with how they feel and it will lessen the avoidance and anger.

If you missed the first two posts in this series here they are:
emotional balance begins with us (feelings: part 1)
name those feelings (feelings: part 2)
just deal with it (feelings: part 4)

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name those feelings (feelings: part 2) – (adoption)

I am well into adulthood and frankly I still have trouble labeling how I’m feeling when things aren’t quite right. Anyone with me on this? I feel that if you haven’t been in psychotherapy on a weekly basis, you might have difficulty nailing what exactly it is that’s making you so gloomy.

Our kids who came from a complicated past and suffer from attachment issues don’t have the words to identify what’s going on inside themselves. It can be almost impossible for our children to pinpoint what exactly they’re feeling and these emotions are both feelings that the body produces: butterflies from anxiousness, tired, hungry, full; and internal feelings: disappointment, jealousy, anger, joy, hope.

They are also afraid of those senses and want to stuff them deep inside. Some of our children may show excessive anger through rages and other types of behavior, but getting them to label what’s causing them to act that way can be more trying than catching a Swallow on a summer day. The great news is that we can help our kids identify what they are feeling. We begin by naming their feelings for them. Following are some ideas on how to help your children.

If we see your daughter dealing with an emotion, say it’s her brother’s birthday and she becomes very distraught, it may seem like she’s just angry, but it’s likely there’s another emotion that’s at the base of that anger.

She may be feeling jealousy that her brother is getting more attention than her.  Talk to her about how she might be feeling. You can be more attentive to her, but remind her of how your family celebrated her last birthday, or that her birthday is coming up. (If your child wasn’t with you for her last birthday, there is this great article about having Birthday Re-Do’s). A girl or boy in this circumstance may be disappointed that they aren’t getting presents, but their sibling is. You can say, “Are you disappointed (use the word “sad” for younger kids) that Joey’s getting presents, but you’re not?” Then go on to talk about her birthday.” For specific instances like this, you can purchase a very small gift for the other child. Because of their background we don’t want to leave them out, even if it is a teachable moment.

If you notice your child acting out and it’s past dinner time, then you give him something to eat and he becomes happy and kind, you can say, “You were hungry weren’t you? It’s not okay to (list behavior), come to me when you feel hungry.” You can also try to explain what hunger feels like. I would save the explaining for another time, when our words aren’t short and concise, our hurting children lose focus. Their brain is capable of understanding, but they have a zillion thoughts going through their head, and your verbose explanation isn’t one of them.

If your child is left standing alone at school, you can say, “ You’re probably feeling lonely, I know I would be. I’m sorry that happened to you.” Reinforce your love for them through actions and words.

Here are some ideas of fun ways you can teach your child to recognize what emotions they are experiencing:

  • Play games at the dinner table. Take turns making faces of certain emotions and have the person across from you guess what it is.
  • Books. We have found two fantastic books that have helped our daughter, Payton, label her feelings. She chooses them from her large selection of books often, and they are FUN!
    • The Way I Feel by Janan Cain
    • Today I Feel Silly & Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis
  • APPS:

It’s also good for your child to see that you have feelings too, that you aren’t perfect and happy all the time, unless you really are. If you’re sad, you can occasionally tell them, although only share why if it’s appropriate.

It can be very difficult to get beyond the rage or sadness to identify what is really at the root, but I encourage you to look for it. If you can help your child label what they feel, you can move on to the next steps which will help them heal.

I leave you with this quote from The Whole-Brain Child, “When Tina explained where [her son’s] feelings were coming from, [her son] began to develop some awareness that let him take control over what was happening in his brain, so he could begin to reframe his experiences and his feelings.”

Check out the first part of this series:
emotional balance begins with us (feelings: part 1)
be available (feelings: part 3)
just deal with it (feelings: part 4)

Look for the follow-up posts in this series next week. You can receive them in your inbox by subscribing in the upper right corner of this page. If you haven’t yet, you can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

emotional balance begins with us (feelings: part 1) – (adoption/foster)

Some of you see the title of this post and scoff, “Well, that’s never going to happen, I guess there’s no hope for me.” Others see it and say, “Of course, that’s why I’m so calm.” And yet others fall in the middle, and I am one of them, or I hope I am. I really don’t want to be a raging lunatic, but there are some moments that bring on a sort of nonsensical state. Not one of us is perfect, so rest assured, that’s not what this post is about.

This begins a four-part series on feelings, given the length it’s probably obvious that I believe feelings and emotions are an important aspect of helping our children heal. Todays post is about our specific role in being a catalyst for our child’s emotional health. We take a significant role in each of the sections I will go over in this series, but we must first look at ourselves.

Our children’s success begins with us. They won’t be able to do this on their own. As a friend of ours once put it, “Parenting is a verb.” It takes action, and part of that action, as scary as it may seem is to look at our own emotional health. We will need to look at our feelings, we’ll need to identify them just as our children need to, and we will need to deal with them, not shove them under the mud caked rug.

In The Whole-Brain Child, Siegel says, “As parents become more aware and emotionally healthy, their children reap the rewards and move toward health as well.”

How do we stay emotionally healthy and keep aware of the feelings we have? Frankly, this is a hard one for me to answer, because I am not good at staying in that “happy place.”

Here are some ideas (add whatever else might help you stay sane and in tune):

  • Alleviate additional stresses. When you have a child with attachment issues, RAD, ODD, or PTSD, every day is filled to the brim with monumental stress. I can’t believe we don’t all die of heart attacks after the first months. So alleviate that extra stress as much as possible.
  • Spend quality time with your spouse. For you singles, spend time with friends who encourage you.
  • Spend time in positive relationships.
  • Pray a LOT.
  • Spend time doing something that fills your bucket, but be sure it’s not at the expense of your family. It’s great to have hobbies, but investing too much time in them can cause your family to crash and burn.
  • Find joy in the small things. You can see my post on Finding Joy here. While the kids are playing in the backyard, I love looking at the sky. It seems so simple, but looking at a blue sky, or one bursting with clouds can make me feel a little better. What makes you feel more peaceful?
  • Be aware of what sucks your energy. I’m not saying to get rid of relationships or jobs, but your family needs all you can give.

~ “When we parent…from an emotionally connected place where we’re aware of the feelings and sensations of our body and emotions, so we can lovingly respond to our children’s needs.” The Whole-Brain Child

Although our children struggle with the emotions and feelings of life, it is important to recognize that we can help them. By being aware of our emotions, and dealing with them in appropriate ways, we can guide our children towards inward understanding and outward empathy.

You can find the second part of this series here:
name those feelings (feelings: part 2)
be available (feelings: part 3)
just deal with it (feelings: part 4)

Some other posts that may help you in this area are:
does your child make you mad?
staying calm in the midst of a storm

Any comments or ideas you have for staying emotionally centered? I would love to hear them!
If you haven’t yet, you can receive any updates from my blog right in your inbox, just visit the upper right corner. You can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter.  See you later this week for the follow up posts to FEELINGS. 🙂

feelings on bio parents

In the beginning of this case it was so difficult to imagine two people losing their child because of Mental Health issues. I was so sad for J’s bio mom, as I saw how sad she was, and I could also see obvious evidence that she wouldn’t be able to care for a child.

But T (bio father) quickly became another story. J has obvious memories of his father’s neglect, whether they be subconscious or existing at another level, we’ll never really know. What we do know is that he has visible reactions to T, which are obvious when they are together, as well as after his visits with him.

I used to feel bad for T, and I suppose part of me still does. He can’t keep track of an ever changing child, whether it be the child’s age, how often he should be burped if drinking a bottle, or what he is now supposed to be eating. He has to be told numerous times where J is at developmentally, and even then he will often revert back in time. This is tragic. Some professionals would say that T isn’t making choices in these areas, that he is at a younger age mentally. I, as well as some Workers who have spent a plethora of time with him, have on occasion seen that he chooses to act like a know-it-all.

Like many other humans in this world, T seems to formulate ideas in his mind and he will not be swayed. He has been heard numerous times saying, “I have lots of books at home.” The Workers respond with, “Well then, read them.”

So, yes, at one time I did feel sorry for T, and lIke I said, part of me still does. But, there is an overwhelming feeling that there is someone else in this equation that didn’t ask for any of this, and right now that little boy is my focus. My focus for now does not lie with T and having oodles of compassion for him. Maybe it will come at the Termination hearing,  I am confident it will, as it did when we went to the Termination hearing for my daughter, Pumpkin’s, biological parents.

A Worker, whose goal is to work closely with the bio parents, recently told me that it was very sad. She was referring to the situation with both of J’s bio parents. I told her that while it is sad, there is an innocent life that needs to be protected and made the priority. She said that she was just speaking of the bio parents. I get where she’s coming from. Yet, I realize that they go so far to reunite bio parents with their children, and I am left to wonder, like many others, where the child’s well-being lies in the midst of reunification procedures. They are often left in the dust while everyone scrambles to help the bio parents.

So, while I am looking forward to the Termination, I also realize there is a more somber side. Two parents may lose custody of their child. It just wasn’t meant to be from the get go, but I am happy to have J in our home. We love him dearly.