therapeutic parents need breaks, but balance is key (adoption & foster care)

therapeutic parents need breaks - balance is key
Being a therapeutic parent is hard. It’s wearing. It’s tiring. It’s work. All. The. Time.  It’s benefits in the end are rewarding beyond compare, but when you’re in the day to day it can be draining.

Although my husband and I have come out of the most difficult parts of therapeutic parenting with our daughter, we still have to parent in a different way than a person would with a typical child. We also have an Autistic child, and that takes constant therapeutic parenting and I struggle with health issues, so I’m tired, and you probably are too.

Speaking of being tired, my husband, Justin, and I have been staying up way too late this summer. It’s usually midnight or later by the time we get in bed, and we don’t function well when we turn in this late. Often the culprit of our late nights is something needing accomplished around the house, but sometimes it’s simply staying up, just because.

Yesterday I was exhausted, pretty normal for me, but it was excessive. I’d been awake most of the previous night with shooting knee pains. Justin made a comment about me being tired and added, “We’re staying up too late every night.” My reply? “You know why I stay up so late? I like the peace and quiet. I’m trying to soak in the time when nothing’s going on.” He said, “I know, so am I.”

We LOVE our kids! They’re our life. (No I don’t know what we’ll do when they grow up! But heck, since my son has nonverbal Autism he may be living with us forever, so I don’t have to worry.) But there is so much going on, there’s a lot of stress in our life and Autism only plays a small part, and when everything’s done at the end of the day, we enjoy sitting down together and reading or watching HGTV or Last Comic Standing on the iPad. Yes, we are boring! Boring is good, boring is relaxing.

When I dove into the foster care and adoption world I saw parents who spent so much time away from their hurting kids. Parents who spent a couple hours exercising every morning, took their kids to school, and filled up their afternoons and evenings with events. I knew dads who, when asked to watch the kids, only sat in front of the t.v. watching sports, and on weekends when the family could be together, they went golfing or spent time with the guys.

I was furious. Yes, I judged, and maybe part of me still does. When a child is battling with their past, fighting to survive on the inside, they need family. They need attention, they need one-on-one time, and they need considerable amounts of it, so much that it can’t be measured. I hurt for these kids. Children who wouldn’t conform to a families routines (jogging, biking, sports, t.v. time, golf time) were sent off to group homes where they were supposed to be “fixed”.

I’m not trying to get into a discussion about whether sending a child to a group home is appropriate, my focus is what parents are pouring themselves into, selfish desires, or their hurting children.

I’ve always been reticent to tell parents they need to have “me” time, time for themselves, doing something that fills them up instead of taking away. I’m hesitant to say this because people can take it overboard and do as many parents I’ve witnessed, they can dive into themselves to avoid what’s really going on with their hurting child.

special children need special parenting

They can spend so much time filling themselves that they avoid the needs of their children, not the physical needs, but the emotional connectedness that a traumatized child yearns so desperately for.

As a therapeutic parent, you do need to fill your “bucket,” because what you do every day, every moment is wearing. But balance is key, and it’s not so easy to find.

I try to find my solace, usually reading a book outside. It’s something I can even enjoy at times when the kids are around. I also love writing, so working on Lovin’ Adoptin’ works in aiding in my “refresh” time, I really don’t consider it work. Justin and I have also focused on having more date nights, it’s hard to do when your life is busy. There used to be so many nights when we would cancel on our babysitter (who we ended up paying for the night just because we felt bad), because of our daughter’s behaviors or I was too exhausted from the day. Those days are fading, especially because Payton’s behavior has improved tremendously, and we have a date night about twice a month.

I’ve been there, where I’m so exhausted, not just from health issues, or from working with an Autistic child, but from pouring out love and getting nothing in return. Therapeutic parenting is all-inclusive, it invades every moment of your life, and to be able to fill your child, you need to help yourself.

What can you do for yourself that you enjoy? Is there something that would make you feel better? Is it having coffee with a friend who you can talk to openly? Is it working out at the gym or riding your bike? Is it taking an occasional weekend away? Is it simply reading in a favorite spot?

Do you find it hard to treat yourself? Do you find that there isn’t enough time? What do you do that doesn’t take away too much time, but fills you up? Maybe some other parents reading here would benefit from your ideas.


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foster care today & a look at Lisa Ling’s report on foster care for the Oprah Winfrey Network

foster care today
Foster Care. It dredges up memories for me, it heaves horrible statistics, it heals children, it hurts children, it gives them hope, it scars them for life, it’s temporary, or it’s supposed to be.

As part of Our America with Lisa Ling, the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN) focused on foster care the past couple weeks. I wish I could have seen the entirety of the episodes, but we don’t get the OWN. I first read about the series in this Huffington Post article.

I got teary eyed watching as the social worker walked out of the police station with an infant car seat. No child should have to wait hours in a police station for someone to come get them, and that someone isn’t even family.

Yet, there are far more hellish atrocities happening to children all over our country today.

I became emotional as the baby was carried out of the police station because I remembered how my sweet Payton sat in the Department of Human Services (DHS) building with a social worker as they waited for a foster family to pick her up. We weren’t that family, she lived in four homes before coming to us. It’s hard to recall her waiting there, waiting for a family, someone, just

someone to care for her.

I hopped over to the OWN and found another short clip that’s part of Lisa Ling’s report, Giving Back to the Foster System.

It interests me that in this video Ling says infants are the most difficult to place. It’s been my experience, in hearing from many other potential foster parents, that they want an infant placed with them. Most often they want a child who is under two-years-old. There are some exceptions, but it’s the most common, but I guess that isn’t so in Los Angeles where this documentary takes place. Maybe it’s a good thing in the end, it must mean that older children (older, as in three-years or over) are not being overlooked as much.

The family Ling interviewed is better than me, when Ling asks, “Do you ever think about not only the last twenty-four hours, but what ultimately led to [the baby’s] parents losing custody?” The foster father replies, “We don’t judge, we focus on providing the best care she can have. And, then from there, we help with their reunification. Our goal is always to help the families get their babies back.”

What’s the hard part for me in his equation? Well Ling’s question was specifically asking if he thinks about what led to this child’s removal. Umm, for me, YES, I think about what led to my children’s removal. It’s not a constant, far from it, and the farther I’m removed from the foster care scene, the more it slips back into the recesses of my mind. But, I write about adoption, I remember what my daughter’s been through because of her past, I write about what other children are going through because of trauma, so I do think about it.

I took the best care of Payton and Jeremiah as I could before we adopted them (and afterwards too), we worked with the Department and did exactly what we were asked by taking them to visits with their bio parents as they worked on reunification. It was painful. Because we didn’t see bonding, care, a shared love, it was impossible for me to say, “I want reunification to take place.”

Here are some statistics on foster care. The most recent numbers to be found were for the year 2012.

On any given day, there are approximately 397,000 children in out-of-home care in the United States. (childrensrights.org)

Here are shocking numbers from the Children’s Bureau AFCARS report:

  • 397,122 children were in foster care at a given time in 2012
  • 101,666: Number of children waiting to be adopted.
  • 7: The average age of children in foster care.
  • 23,822: Number of children who go to a group home each year.
  • 34,179: Number of children who go to an institution each year.
  • 93,094: Number of children adopted from foster care in 2012.
  • 23% or an average of 85,846 children spend 30 months or more in foster care.
    foster care statistics

That last statistic (23% of foster children will spend 30 months or more in the system) bothers me the most, all though they all poke holes at my heart. I thought there was supposed to be an Expedited Permanency Plan. I’ve asked this of friends across the nation, who have children in their care for several months, while the officials do nothing to move toward termination. This wasn’t our case, but then the system in our county was changing drastically as we stepped out after Jeremiah’s adoption was complete.

I know there is an Expedited Permanency Plan for Colorado, which was enacted in 2002. In short, the House Bill made a ruling that children have permanency by the age of six, whether it be with the biological family, relatives, or adoption by a non-relative. They did this to reduce the risk of a child being emotionally damaged by not having close connections with a caregiver.

The Expedited Permanency Plan House Bill says, “…almost all children are now achieving permanency within the 18 months time frame required nationally as determined by the Adoption and Safe Families Act.” I strongly disagree with this statement, as you can see the numbers; 23% of children placed in foster care spend 30 or more months there.

In the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, it says, “…States to initiate court proceedings to free a child for adoption once that child had been waiting in foster care for at least 15 of the most recent 22 months, unless there was an exception.” It also says, “Required States to initiate termination of parental rights proceedings after the child has been in foster care 15 of the previous 22 months, except if not in the best interest of the child, or if the child is in the care of a relative.”

This means the 30+ months children are spending in foster care is far beyond the set standard of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997. Why seventeen years later are we still falling extremely short of the target for permanency? It shouldn’t surprise me, but it still angers me.

When we’re considering a nation of 318,400,000 (am I the only one bewildered by that number?), the foster care numbers aren’t extremely high, but they are rising, more rapidly, even when considering population growth.
change the foster care systemWhat can we do to help children in foster care? If we know of children who are languishing in foster care, we can talk to their case worker, and if she/he won’t listen, their supervisor. We can write letters to government officials. You can find the number for the commissioner over foster care in your county and talk with them.

Most importantly, you can become a foster parent. Quality foster parents are needed in every county, some more desperately than others. Sometimes counties don’t have foster homes to place children in so they’re placed hours away (and for older children this means not only loss of family and friends, but a different school).

You can help foster children by donating items to your local Child Protective Services. They will take new clothing, and sometimes gently used items such as books, bikes, and toys. As school approaches consider putting together backpacks full of school supplies for foster children.

Some of the ideas in my post, 8 Ways to Help Foster Youth Who are Aging Out of the System, are applicable to any foster children. Go check it out, and share with others.

Another post on foster care:
4 reasons why the foster system is STILL failing

What are some other ways you can help foster children?

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lies are like flies and multiplying quickly: why adopted and foster children lie

the lies are like flies and multiplying quickly- why adopted and foster children lie
“Caitlyn did it, not me.” “This kid ran past me, grabbed my backpack and…” “The car in front of me slammed on their brakes…” “The teacher never told me the assignment was due.”

It seems like every adoptive, foster, and even biological family deals with lying. In fact,

lying is the biggest struggle for many parents.

I think the reason many moms and dads are so disgusted by lying is because of their past experiences with lying. Whether it be their parents came down hard on them if they lied, or they were constantly accused of lying when they weren’t, or they’ve faced lying boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses. It can put a harsh taste in someone’s mouth when so much shame, guilt, and negativity surround an issue, in this case it’s lying.

Janna’s* previous dealings with lying were mostly in her home growing up. Her mother despised lying and made Janna feel so humiliated when she said something misleading. Yet, if Janna had told the truth in the few instances she was caught telling falsehoods, she would have been in trouble anyway. There wasn’t much leniency for bad behavior in her home growing up, but with lying the big hammer came crashing down. Her parents made her feel despicable if she did lie, and even when she told the truth, they often didn’t believe her. Now Janna’s a foster mom, and

she sees herself reacting in the same manner her parents did.

What’s a person to do? They can deal with it, both the feeling they have toward their parents and those they feel about themselves. But, most of the time it’s passed on and they do the same with their children if they aren’t particularly careful to avoid those emotions of shame, guilt, and being unworthy.

Once we acknowledge that we may have issues with lying that are being transferred to our children, or simply making the issues bigger than they are, we can move forward to understand and help our kids.

I first heard this concept from Bryan Post, and that is, there are two basic human feelings, love and fear. Lying doesn’t come from a place of love, so it stems from fear. Bryan Post says, “…there is the fear of rejection, they fear of being caught, the fear of abandonment, the fear of abuse, etc…The sooner you can grasp this concept, the quicker you will see your child’s behaviors begin to transform.” Post also says, “In fact, brain researcher, Joseph LeDoux, tells us that in times of stress, our thinking becomes confused and distracted and our short-term memory does not work effectively.” (OH, that’s my problem!)
lying based in fear

  • Think through the situations when your child has lied. Can you connect it in any way to fear? Remembering what Post said about fear of rejection, fear of being caught, fear of abandonment, the fear of abuse.

Remember too, our children had another life before they came to us. We don’t know how honesty was treated in their previous home or how lying was dealt with.

Pam Parish touches on this in her soon to be released book, Ready or Not**, a book for prospective and current adoptive and foster families. I am privileged to have received an early release copy and I can tell you, you’ve got to get one! In Ready or Not, Pam says,

“At it’s core lying is a survival tactic…The risk a child who has been abused and abandoned takes when telling the truth and admitting that they’ve done something wrong is that they will be abused, abandoned, shamed, or rejected.”

You may not have a story similar to Janna’s, but you probably feel frustrations rise when your child repeatedly lies. Bryan Post says, “Just as your child’s lying is driven by his stress and fear, the actual lie itself triggers stress and fear within you, thus driving your own negative behavior.”

It can be tempting to come down harder on a child who won’t fall in line, which in turn makes the lying worse.

If there are issues with lying, it can be helpful to focus on less consequences (or none) when your child tells the TRUTH.

I encourage parent to tell their child, “If you tell me the truth, you won’t get in trouble,” if it’s a minor infraction (e.g. lost homework, a broken toy, a missing book). Or, if it’s a lie on a larger scale (e.g. something happened to the car, they’re in trouble with the law, they didn’t come home until 2am), I suggest saying, “You won’t be in nearly as much trouble if you tell me the truth.”

Younger children may not always have a fear base for telling a lie, they’re simply testing boundaries and rules. They’ve discovered this idea of trying to fool the adults and they’ll test it to see if it works.

I hope you can see how your child doesn’t lie because they don’t like you or they’re a horrible kid. Your child lies because of fear, and young kids sometimes do because they’re testing life. No fun, but it makes it much easier to deal with.

If you can stay calm and without much reaction to the lie, they can learn to trust you.

What do you think about the relation between lying and fear? Have you dealt with lying in an unconventional way? What did you do and how did it work?

*Names changed to protect privacy
**Pam Parish’s book, Ready or Not, is out and available. It’s a pivotal book that I highly recommend foster and adoptive parents read.

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6 reasons to hug

6 reasons to hug
Have you ever received a hug from someone and felt better afterwards? Have you ever been one to dole out a hug and feel the hugee relax in your arms? There’s something about a hug that changes our chemistry.

In the movie Temple Grandin, Temple creates a machine that basically hugs her, she says something like this about the device, “Getting a hug connects something in the brain, you can feel it, and when I’m in my squeeze machine, I feel better.”

Whether your child is biological, adopted, foster, or has Autism, hugs are beneficial for everyone. Here’s why:

  1. Hugs calm us. If you’ve ever felt stressed when you were embraced by someone, it’s possible that anxiety lessened. This is especially true if you have a connection with the person giving the hug. There are times when I’ve been hugged during a tumultuous time and that hug made everything that was overwhelming me seem less important.
  2. Hugs create feelings of acceptance. When you embrace someone it usually means you like them. (Okay, there are exceptions, but it’s generally the rule.) Our hurting children deal with intense feelings of rejection. Even when they join a family who loves them dearly, they wonder constantly if they’ll be accepted. Do they like who I am? Do they think I’m dirty, because my last foster home didn’t let me wear deodorant? I look different than them, they can’t possibly love me like their other children. The questions continue and expand. When we hug our children (begin appropriately, because you don’t know your child’s complete history), we are showing them we accept who they are and love them. We hold nothing back when we hug someone. It’s complete acceptance.
  3. Hugs make us feel safe. When you put your arms around your child they feel safe. They may not recognize it at first, but eventually they will recognize that you’ll keep them out of harms way. When we went to our only counseling session with Payton, the therapist saw how she hugged me and she made a declaration, “See how she’s hugging you. She’s placing her arms above yours (I was sitting, Payton was standing), which means she thinks she’s in control of the relationship.” When you hug someone next time, notice where their arms are. I wouldn’t say what this therapist said is true 100% of the time, but often it is. When we place our arms around a child (usually above their arms), it communicates that we are taking care of them. When we hug a friend, it’s kind of like a figure eight, 50/50, one arm above, one arm below. If a husband is hugging a wife, his arms are usually on top, not in a controlling way (or I hope not), but in a protective way. We want our children to feel safe, so we hug them, showing them we will protect them.
    For children with Autism, their world may be spinning because of sensory issues, a hug may center them and make them feel safe. If they’re in a new environment they may feel more secure with you close by. Just because a child with Autism doesn’t seem like they care about your proximity, they do.
    Of course, there are some Autistic kids who don’t want to be hugged. In that case you can put your arm around their shoulder, try different approaches to see what works. Never stop trying. One month your child may hate hugs, the next they may accept them and want more.
    the simple act of hugging
  4. Hugs encourage. Even the strongest individual, whether it be a hurting child or mature adult, when confronted with daunting circumstances, can be greatly encourage by the simple gesture of an arm around the shoulders. It communicates on a neurological and emotional level, it truly is going to be okay, and even if it isn’t, they’re going to be okay. A hug makes us feel like we can do it.
  5. Hugs heal our children. For the child who’s come from trauma, it’s especially important to give out hugs regularly. If you wonder how important hugs are, consider what Dr. Mercola says, “…consider that children who aren’t hugged have delays in walking, talking, and reading.”
  6. Hugs help us grow. Family therapist Virginia Satir said, “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”

Have you ever felt better after a hug? When you’ve hugged your child have you ever seen it make a difference in their demeanor?

Hug your children today. Hug your spouse today. Hug a friend today.

You can receive every 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. Have a great day!

when words are triggers (adoption/foster)

words can be triggers
Risa’s daughter, Ashley, screamed every time she said, “Sit down.” It didn’t matter if it was dinner time, snack time, bed time, or movie time, Ashley broke down.

The question could be asked, is this simply defiance? If it’s in several areas, it could be, but if a child’s experienced trauma, their behavior won’t fall in line as some would expect. There will be defiance from a traumatized child.

In Ashely’s case, the breakdown usually takes place when certain statements are made, like, “Sit down.” If Ashely were able to define how she’s feeling, Risa could ask her what’s going on. Chances are she’s done this, and she’s not getting a response. There a few reasons for this. Either Ashley’s too young to verbalize how she feels or she can’t put it in words because she doesn’t understand. Or, she has repressed the memories that are triggering the fear of the words, “sit down.” Or, those memories are too frightening and she does everything she can to bury them, therefore she’s not able to talk about them.

It’s impossible to know everything that happened to our children before they came to us.

We don’t know if they were with their birth mother at all times, if all of the workers in the orphanage were kind, if Grandpa yelled, if their birth father was abusive, if their mother left them with strangers. So, we don’t know what happened to Ashely before she arrived at Risa’s home. Maybe someone screamed, “Sit down!” before they abused her. Maybe those words surrounded something that happened to her brother. Maybe those words are the culmination of all the fear she experienced in her former home.

If your child is responding similar to Ashley, there are some steps you can take to help them work through this fear.

First, use other directives instead of those trigger words. Risa knows that the words, “sit down” create fear. Whether Ashley shows fear in her face when they’re said or not, something is brought up in her mind that causes anxiety in her. We don’t want Ashley to feel this way, we want to build trust, so Risa would use other words like, “Have a seat,” “It’s time to eat,” or, “Pop a squat.” Whichever works.

Second, try to find out what happened to trigger that fear response. Above I listed a few reasons why Ashely may not be able to express her feelings. Maybe your child is doing the same as Ashely, so here are links to some posts that will help you create trust with your child so they can open up to you.

tips on bonding with an adopted or foster child

These posts will help your child open up to you:
emotional balance begins with us (feelings: part 1)
name those feelings (feelings: part 2)
be available (feelings: part 3)
just deal with it (feelings: part 4)

Third, remember that your child’s been through trauma, whether they’re an infant, a toddler who lived in a foster home in a foreign country, a child who was “well taken care of” in an orphanage, or a child who had great foster parents before joining your family. All of these children have been removed from their birth mom or birth family, all of them experienced trauma. And with all of them, we don’t know the WHOLE story.

Although we don’t know the whole story and need to have compassion, we still need to have expectations and consistency. Ashley has a meltdown each time Risa asks her to do something. Notice, Risa isn’t supposed to say, “You don’t need to sit to eat dinner, you can walk around and do whatever you want.” She still has expectations. These expectations need to fit reasonably within what your child can actually do, but they need to be present. Risa also needs to be consistent by following through with what she says.

Does your child break down at certain times? Have you been able to nail down the cause? Do these tips help you make a plan to reach your child and reduce anxiety? I love comments, so please share your thoughts.

I hope to see you next week. You can receive every post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for more helpful information and links. Feel free to share this with anyone who would benefit. Have a great day!

8 ways to help foster youth who are aging out of the system

8 ways to help foster youth who are aging out of the system
Last week I shared this article, We Are Abandoning Children in Foster Care, from CNN on my Twitter page. The article gives some shocking numbers, one of those being the

23,439 foster teens who aged out of foster care in 2012.

The reality that children are kicked out on their eighteenth birthday is made even more poignant when you read, Happy Birthday! Welcome to Homelessness. In this article, Pam Parish shows us what it’s like for teens who are no longer wards of the state. Not all of them have loving foster families who will act as their forever families.

In response to the tweet, We Are Abandoning Children in Foster Care, one of my followers asked if I knew of ten practical things anyone could do to help correct the problem. She asked for ten, but I only came up with eight, I think these eight will keep you fairly busy 🙂 :

  1. Adopt. Although these teens are eighteen and aging out of the system (meaning they will no longer be in a foster home), it doesn’t mean they don’t need, and deserve a family. If done through the state, the adoption should be free or very minimal.
  2. Become a surrogate family. Get to know a teen and be available to them as a family would. Support them in every way a forever family would.
  3. Support Connections Homes. Connections Homes is an organization founded by Pam Parish (a trustworthy friend of mine). Pam says, “Through our family’s journey, we’ve discovered a burning passion in our hearts for youth and young adults who have no one to belong to.”
    The goal of Connections Homes is to provide connection for those foster teens who no longer have a place to call “home”. You can support Connections Homes in many ways, so be sure to check out their wonderful organization.
    Pam says, “Every child should be able to launch out in life knowing that they have a seat at a Thanksgiving table somewhere. Knowing that if they get sick, get a promotion at work or fall in love, there’s someone there who will celebrate and care for them in those critical moments.”
    Their biggest need right now is financial support to train families who will be the lifelong connections for these kids.
  4. We are not equipped to go through this world aloneBe a mentor. Children and teens need to know that /someone/ cares for them, by being a mentor you can be a consistent support in a child’s life.
  5. Provide respite. Through your local Department of Human Services you can find out which foster families don’t plan on caring for a teen past their eighteenth birthday. You can provide respite care for this family, get to know the teen, and be a family they can depend upon beyond their time in foster care.
  6. Become a tutor, which could turn into a mentoring situation. Encourage teens to graduate from high school and continue on to work in a field they enjoy or get a college degree.
  7. Provide a job. You can provide on the job training to a foster teen who might otherwise be ostracized because of their label. A teen coming from foster care may not have had good parent role models and will need  assistance. Maybe you can provide this to them.
  8. Donate a car. In the article, Cars Donated to Foster Youth, Bree Boyce says, “…One of the greatest challenges [foster youth who age out of the system] face is transportation to work and school.” In Boyce’s article, she reports on The Riley Diversity Leadership Institute who partnered with The South Carolina Foster Parent Association to provide three vehicles to foster teens. The program, On the Road Again is a program which, “…provides donated cars to foster care youth who are at least 18 but not yet 21 years old, actively employed, pursuing a GED or engaged in a post high school educational program.” If you have the means, you can easily donate a car to a foster child wherever you live, or you can start an organization like this in your area.

where do you fitIn the article, Helping Children in Care Succeed, Fares Bounajm says, “Without stability, these youth [who are aging out of foster care] can face chronic unemployment, unplanned parenthood, homelessness, inadequately treated mental health issues and incarceration among other problems.”

*After posting this a friend shared with me about the organization, Salina’s Hope Foundation. Be sure to take a look at the amazing work they’re doing in Arizona.

I hope this gives you some ideas on how to support foster youth. Please feel free to share with others.

Do you have other ideas on how to help teens who are aging out of the system?

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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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