the lies our children believe (adoption/foster)

liesbelieved

It’s difficult to see through the anger, the hate, the attitudes. If our children have created coping mechanisms, it can be almost impossible to see through the smiles, the laughing, and the efforts they make to see us happy. What can’t we see through all of this? The lies our children believe; lies about themselves, the world, and others.

The experiences our children had before they came to us taught them that they are unloveable, unworthy, that they can’t do anything right. They learned that the world is a scary place, that they’d have to protect themselves because no one else would. They learned that adults aren’t trustworthy.

This makes it difficult when they come into our home because these lies that are circulating in their head don’t go away. There are no magic words to fix what they believe. (You can see here what I wrote about how we consistently tell our children truths: you’re beautiful, you’re smart, I love you, but it’s our actions that will make the most difference in the end.) Eventually our kids will see that we care about them and we’re dedicated to them, but it’s not a quick and easy fix. Why? Because these core beliefs have become a foundation for them.

I was talking with a friend yesterday who has cared for some hurting teens. She said that every time she told one of the girls, “I love you,” the girl would become very angry. The girl became angry because she hadn’t been loved by anyone. Sometimes parents think that if they just show the child love (as in affection and caring for them) the child will accept what the parent gives, and that doesn’t happen with many hurting kids.

The birth mother who was supposed to love this girl didn’t, or had no idea how to show it, and this young woman believed she was unloveable because of it. Because my friend was the next mother figure to enter this girls life, she was blamed. This girl probably thought, “How could anybody love me?! I’m unloveable! I don’t even like myself!” (You can read more about how and why hurting children blame their foster/adoptive mom HERE.)

Even those of us who haven’t experienced neglect, abuse, and trauma have lies we believe about ourselves, the world, and others. Can you imagine (or maybe you’ve experienced it yourself) if your foundational views of love and acceptance were rocked and broken at the core? How long would it take for someones love to change how you feel about yourself? Would it be easy to transform those thoughts?

There is absolutely hope for our children to accept our love, there is hope that they will feel better about themselves, but it’s important that we see how they view life. They don’t enter our home and put on a new pair of glasses and see the world through our eyes, it will take time and consistency on our part. Show your children you accept them no matter what they do, no matter what they say. Don’t avoid them and instill what they already believe about themselves, that they are unworthy. See their pain and work through it with them. (This doesn’t mean we don’t have consequences for behaviors, but it does mean that we have empathy for them.)

What lies do your children believe about themselves? How can you help them see the truth of who they are?

we are our child’s best therapist

“After a hard days work, you don’t want to come home and be the therapist.” This statement was made by the father of an Autistic boy after a new therapy office specific to helping children with Autism opened up in our semi-small town.  This dad wanted the work to be done by therapists, but he was missing the bigger picture. We, the parents, are our child’s best therapist.

wearetherapists

Whether your child has Autism, attachment issues, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, PTSD, or any other disorder, we are the ones who know our child best and the ones who spend more time with them than a therapist does (or at least in my opinion, we should be). This means we have more opportunities than a therapist would.

If you have chosen therapy for your child, being present for any sessions will help you transfer what happens in that one hour at the therapist office to your home life. Pay close attention to what the therapist does and how she talks to your child. Talk to the therapist and ask questions, see what they notice in your child or in what your child does, and ask yourself if you see it the same way.

(If your child has attachment issues, not Autism, hang on, because I’ll get to that in a minute.) My son, Jeremiah, has Autism, so he has therapists who work with him at school. Although I don’t see those therapists (occupational, speech, developmental, etc.) every week, I make sure to keep communicating with them through emails, through the teachers, and occasional face to face conversations. This helps me know what they’re doing at school, so I can be working on the same strategies at home.

Jeremiah has outside therapies as well, he has speech, which we take him to, and a developmental therapist comes to our home. Either my husband or I are present for both of these sessions, and it has enabled us to incorporate consistency throughout the week. We’re able to take what they do in one hour, and multiply it exponentially in Jeremiah’s daily life. (That is if he cooperates, but I don’t stop trying – I might just be as persistent as my kids, they’re fabulous teachers.)

My daughter, Payton, has struggled with attachment issues, but she doesn’t attend therapy. We tried it for a couple sessions with a well known attachment therapist and it didn’t go well. Actually, that’s an enormous understatement, it went horribly wrong. I’m not recommending you avoid therapy for your child’s attachment issues, PTSD, ODD, mood disorder, or whatever they may struggle with, but the same holds true to what I said earlier. You are your child’s best therapist.

Taking a child to therapy once or twice a week and then hoping that’s enough won’t work. Our children need us constantly. How do you do that? You may think that would be overwhelming and that you don’t have time to maintain regular life and do therapy with your child. I understand! So what did we do? We have worked therapy into our lives so it became part of what we do every day, and now we hardly notice we’re doing it.

What does it look like? Well, I wouldn’t be able to write out everything we do, because it would take too long. Some of the therapy we do with our kids is so embedded in our lives that it’s difficult to weed out what we do that’s different from other families, because it’s normal for us, but I can try to list some.

Autism related in-home therapy:

  • Consistency in routine.
  • Using short sentences when telling Jeremiah to do something. Instead of saying, “Get off the table,” we say, “Get down.” While at the same time removing him from the table. We did this with EVERYTHING until he knew what we meant (meaning he followed our direction without us physically moving him), we then added more words to the sentence.
  • Using PECS (Picture Exchange Communication System). Using one word when eating, having snack, going somewhere until he understood what that word meant, then added more to make short sentences.
  • Using hand over hand for teaching how to do things.
  • Using floortime to help Jeremiah learn how to interact.

In-home therapy related to issues stemming from neglect, abuse, and trauma:

  • Consistency in routine.
  • Consistency in what we say and what we do.
  • Consistency with guidelines across all settings.
  • One on one, face to face time interacting.
  • Talking through situations and discussing (in short) what a better choice would have been, if there was a wrong one made.
  • Talk about feelings, naming feelings, and teaching how to handle them.

As I said, I haven’t even listed a small percentage of what we do at home, but this gives you an idea of what I mean by “therapy in-home.” These strategies do come easier as we develop ways to meld them into our lives. For us, most of it doesn’t seem like therapy, it’s our way of life. We don’t have the pressure that many parents feel of thinking we need to take our child to another therapist or another session. Yes, those can be beneficial in some instances, especially with Autism, but implementing what the therapists do in our home has helped our children make significant improvements because it’s consistent throughout all of their environments, and we spend more time with our children than any therapist can.

Some other helpful articles:
why consequences & rewards don’t work

be big picture positive

PUMPKINPATCHcollage

We went to the pumpkin patch on Saturday, and we all had a good time! It’s not too often that family fun outings go really well. Last year we attempted the pumpkin patch and were disappointed when our trampoline LOVING son decided he hated the big orange bouncy thingy. Right, that was a shocker. To back up our original dismay, Jeremiah also decided that he didn’t want anything to do with the gigantic slide, which was odd because he also loves slides.

Last year Payton wasn’t doing as well, and as with most kids with her issues, we left with her screaming and crying, while I struggled to drag her (well I felt like it  anyway) to the car. She wanted more. We had dropped an astronomical amount of cash, you wouldn’t even believe how much if I told you. She had jumped on the big bouncy thingy, gone down the slide numerous times, traversed the maze, picked out a pumpkin, and pet some animals. There was more to do if we wanted to fork over even more green, and Payton wasn’t happy that she didn’t get to do everything.

This year we wondered what would take place. Would Jeremiah jump, get on the slide, or whine and cry the whole time while we tried to spend time together as a family outside the house? Would Payton leave crying and screaming that she never got to do anything, refusing to walk through the parking lot?

None of that happened!!! I was so glad we braved the unknown, and frankly kind of scary, because we had a positive pumpkin patch experience this time around. Hurray! The prices weren’t as insane as they were the year before, Jeremiah JUMPED on the orange bouncy thingy, he really liked the slide, and he doodled on his ever present magna-doodle while we searched for the perfect pumpkins. Payton did quite a bit, but not everything, and she was good with it. We all left with smiles on our faces, and without sweat and tears dripping down our cheeks.

All this to say, we must focus on the positive moments in our lives. Whether regular life gets in the way; relatives, broken washers, friends, and crazy schedules, or the extras, like Autism, and attachment issues. There are so many things that can get us down, depressed, and feeling irritated, focusing on good times and progress will help us get through it all.

Happy pumpkin picking everyone!

putting the HOPE in HOPEless (adoption/foster)

You may wonder why I write this blog, why you should listen to yet another person who thinks they have an answer to helping hurting, traumatized kids. Why am I here? Because of what my daughter has come through, the great progress she has made.

I try not to flag my faith here. My faith in Jesus plays a pivotal role in my life, and sometimes it’s difficult to avoid talking about it. I don’t wave it in front of my readers because I want to welcome EVERY adopter, every foster parent, every parent of an Autistic child. I don’t want someone to read that I am a Christ follower and feel they will be judged or that what I say doesn’t apply to them, because that couldn’t be further from the truth. I welcome everyone here.

Why did I just go on a rabbit trail about my faith? Because I cannot attribute my daughters healing to anything other than God giving us wisdom in how to help her. I can’t credit the progress my son has made to anyone but God. Did He send down divine miracles that culminated in instant healing? Well, we’ve witnessed several miracles in our journey from fostering to adopting and beyond, but no, when it came to their psychological and physical selves, it was a process. A process that took our hard work and dedication. Sometimes God sent the answers quickly, and other times we were banging our heads, falling on our knees, asking Him to show us what to do. And He did! That’s the awesome part, the journey to healing.

I’ve mentioned my daughters diagnoses before, but for the purpose of helping you see where we’ve been, here they are: Reactive Attachment Disorder (please see my opinion of that HERE), PTSD, Oppositional Defiance Disorder, Failure to Thrive (emotionally), and mood disorder.

We’ve had monumental success with our daughter, Payton, despite this LONG list of diagnoses. We have a really amazing daughter! We always have, but many times it was difficult to see her positive qualities amongst the screaming, raging, defiant, controlling behaviors. We had glimpses of how wonderful, sweet, thoughtful, and smart she was, but in the beginning they were viewed through a window thick with grime, and as we moved forward the grime fell off (well, we actually scrubbed it off with massive amounts of elbow grease). We now have several weeks at a time when we experience life with a sweet, cheerful girl.

Payton is thoughtful of others, she goes out of her way to share food (which is a big deal for a child who’s had food issues) and toys with others. She’s a mini therapist with her younger brother, Jeremiah, who has Autism. She pushes him on the swing, she gives him what he needs, she notices the little things he says and does that are new and exciting (a word or a movement). She does all of this of her own volition. She has empathy for others when they are sick or hurt, or just feeling down. She’s very intelligent and enjoys learning new concepts, in fact her favorite free-time activity is teaching and reading to her animals. She’s a really special girl, and I love spending time with her.

There was a stretch when I looked forward to the times when she went to her Grandma’s daycare for an afternoon, but now those times are extremely rare, I want her around. She plays well on her own, we have interesting conversations, and I like doing things with her. We have truly seen a turn around in her behavior, attitude, and her psychological makeup.

I’m not sharing this to brag, I’m telling you so you can have HOPE. Your child CAN overcome. You won’t be battling this forever. Does this mean it’s easy to get where we are? No, it takes hard work and dedication. However I’m here writing this blog to help you do exactly what we did. My hope is to help you help your child.

Recently, one of my readers was discouraged by my post on detecting attachment issues, she thought her son was getting better and attaching, but when she read the list, she wasn’t so sure.

My response to her was that our kids can heal from much of what they suffer from, but there are some behaviors, attitudes, and emotions they may carry with them the rest of their lives. Although their brain can heal, they will have certain personality traits that stick around because their early life was so formative.

For example, my daughter will probably always be hypervigilant. Her early life taught her to watch out for herself and take care of herself because no one else would. She will always be aware of her surroundings and others, but now the worry is gone from her demeanor. Payton has leadership qualities (notice I say, “leadership,” not “controlling behavior”). She has a need to be in control of other kids. This works well with her brother who has Autism, because she mothers him and is helpful, but it can create problems with friends. I think as she gets older, this will become less of a problem as she learns how society functions, and we’ve already seen some great improvement in this area. We need to focus on funneling her desire to be in charge in positive directions. These are a couple of the traits that may stay with our kids. If they’re truly healing, you will see most of the others fade drastically, or completely disappear.

Besides those formative months and years, we also have to consider their biological beginning. That beginning can influence them inutero or through their biological parents genetic makeup.

There is great HOPE for our children. If we put effort in, there is a gorgeous rainbow at the end of our long road. It’s not a fix that will happen over night, but it can happen. God did not make us so we can’t change. God didn’t bring our children out of hardship so they could be miserable for the rest of their lives. He gives us HOPE. We have fallen, and if we are worth being picked up, then so are our children.

when your adopted child doesn’t fit seamlessly into your life, what will you do? (adoption/foster)

To this day Dimitri’s bones ache when the winter cold settles in. As that chill cloaks him, memories of a frozen Uzbekistan scene play through his mind like a horror film. His father laying on the concrete floor of an abandoned building, drunk, and nearly dead. He’d wrapped a thread bare blanket around his sister, but her little feet protruded from underneath. His other sister sat watching those who must brave the harsh winds pass on the street, fur Ushanka hats, coats, and boots layered their bodies, warding off the sting of ice. Then it had come time for him to scrounge up something for dinner, but the chances were slim, they hadn’t eaten in two days.

Stories like this one are plentiful in the adoption community, whether a child came from Russia, Africa, or America, they all have their stories. They may not be exactly the same, but they all contain great heartache.

What is a child to do with that pain? Do they know how to be a well-behaved daughter or a perfect sibling? Will they fit seamlessly into their adoptive family within one year of meeting them? What about a child who hasn’t attached within two years? I don’t believe children are given enough opportunity to get past the anguish they have been through, and brought with them.

As I have said many times, our hurting children have developed a new way of living because of their previous environment. You may see different stages of behavior and say, “He wasn’t like this before.” When our children come to us, they may be quiet and reserved, as time passes they may try to be controlling because they have a need to dominate situations or they feel everything will fall apart if they don’t. (Their previous life did, so why wouldn’t this one?) Then you may see outbursts of anger and a complete breakdown of behavior – this can be a sign that they’re beginning to get comfortable and they are SCARED. Our hurting children want to replicate the chaos in their brain because it makes them comfortable if their outside environment duplicates what’s inside. So we can see that our hurting children exhibit behaviors for a reason.

In the past week I’ve mentioned the Reuters investigation The Child Exchange a few times. Why? Because it’s shocking. But shocking as it is, I feel the thoughts the adoptive parents have expressed there are more common than we want to think.

I believe part of the problem stems from our society. We are living in a “me” world. (Don’t worry, I live in the same “me” centered universe too.) Soon after we adopted our daughter, my mom said to me, “When you and your brother were little, I didn’t have date nights or weekend getaways.” True, they didn’t. But truer still is the fact that mothers can do a better job raising their kids if they can have some time away (especially if you have hurting adopted children – but always be careful how much you leave your kids and /who/ you leave them with).

This mindset, the one that says we need date nights or a break, can be taken too far. I say, everything in moderation. We can begin feeling that life is about us, and if you have a child who’s difficult, it can turn into ideas such as, “This is not what I signed up for,” or, “This child is taking too much of my time.”  Parents can even place the needs of their biological children above their adopted ones.

In The Child Exchange, Gary Barnes said he gave his adopted daughter, Anna, to another family because he lacked the finances to provide therapy, and that therapy would have been inconvenient. First, I wonder why therapeutic parenting couldn’t have been done in the home. (That’s why I do what I do – I want to help parents care for their children in the home. Yes, sometimes outside therapy is needed, but a majority of an adoptive parents success is accomplished in-home.)

My second problem with his statement was the inconvenient part. Really?? (By the way, this couple did not have other children.) It was too inconvenient for them to provide therapy for their hurting daughter? I am simply flabbergasted.

Third, they didn’t have the finances? I wonder if they’d had a biological child who went missing, what they would have done to get that child back safe in their arms. What assets, time, and effort would they have put into finding that child? It should be the same for an adopted child, because they are essentially lost without our help. They need us to move heaven and earth for them, they must be treated as our children because that’s what they are. If we don’t treat them as such, I can guarantee they know it, and their actions will speak volumes against us. This is a LIFE, and I can’t stress how important it is to put our child’s needs first.

Other adoptive families give reasons why they can no longer care for their child; he puts spaghetti in his pockets (well, he has food issues, and was probably starving before he came to you), she hides in the closet and won’t come out (really, is that the worst she throws at you?), she sneaks out her window (kids who are just being kids do that too). What I’m saying is, look at your child’s behaviors and decide that you can handle them, because that’s how you’ll make it through. If we begin to believe that we can’t handle our child’s behavior, that they’re too wild, too whatever, we slide down the slope of self-preservation too quickly. You can make it through this. There are hundreds of thousands of teens who are doing well and have bonded with their adoptive families. It takes a parent who is dedicated to doing everything they can to help their child, and a commitment that communicates, “I am never going anywhere and neither are you.”

When my husband was in ministry many moons ago, we went to a counselor, Louis McBurney (he has since passed), and his greatest question for us was, “And then what?” If you think something is so horrible, ask yourself that question. If your child hordes food in his room (there are solutions for this behavior that help), and you are angry and at your end, ask yourself, “And then what?” This means, what will be the outcome if your son stashes food in his room? The answer: The room will begin to smell. And then what? Answer: We might get mice! And then what? Answer: Well, I guess I could have him clean it. Yep. And that behavior of his will continue until you get to the bottom of his fear regarding food. (And the answer is NOT locking the fridge and cupboards.)

The point here is that often it’s not as bad as we perceive it to be. We are tired, we are worn down and worn out. But when we think clearly (and follow advice from this blog – insert smiley face), we can see that our problems can be overcome.

Believe me, I am not immune to problems. Besides having a child with multiple diagnoses stemming from her early neglect, I have a son with Autism. Autism can be extremely difficult, and one aspect that makes it such is my son is constantly changing. There is always an obstacle to overcome.

We are constantly having to problem solve; how do we potty train a child who doesn’t talk or use sign language, or understand the words, “Come and tell me when you have to go potty.” What do we do when he’s suddenly frightened by his room, but we can’t communicate through words that it’s safe, how do we take care of his sensory needs when we can’t go outside and swing?

If you have a hurting child, problem solving is part of your daily life, and the issues our children present can be solved. I know this post isn’t encouraging, but I desperately want to see families staying together because I care immensely about adopted children. They have been through hell and deserve to have a wonderful life. I also care about you, the parent, and I know that if you don’t follow through with your commitment to your child, you will ridicule yourself and the guilt will pester you. You won’t feel better if you don’t do all you can. And you CAN do it!

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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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. 🙂

the magic word (adoption/foster)

What’s the magic word? Well, truth be told, there isn’t one. Sure, “please” and “thank you” are magic words that might get you what you want, but when it comes to parents trying to convince their adopted children that they will never leave, there is no magic word. Parents try to tell their children, “I won’t leave you,” “I’ll always be here,” but do those words sink in? We wait for them to, but it never seems to go beyond that top crust where it washes off in the bath.

Our children’s experiences have taught them so much more than what our words ever can, and those first experiences shape their mind, literally. Maybe your child was left with strangers, or the one they trusted most beat them, or their mother deposited them on the steps in the freezing cold. The stories can be listed by the thousands, but they all have at least one common thread, and that is, they learned their mother/primary caregiver couldn’t be trusted. Whether that mother knew better or not, it’s what our child perceived from their experience.

As a writer I constantly hear the words, “Show, don’t tell.” We are supposed to show our readers, especially in fiction, what is happening, not tell them. The same thing goes for us as we help our kids form attachments. Our words will mean nothing to them, we have to SHOW them with actions that we’re there and will never leave. A great time to do this is at bedtime. They will SEE that you are present. It won’t be your words (which they have difficulty believing), it will be your actions showing them day after day that you are present.

We still use our words every day, we don’t leave them out, we just have to pair our actions with them. As I’ve said many times on this blog, my daughter has made significant bonds with us, yet she still has a hard time believing us, and we  make great efforts to stick to what we say. It’s still lingering though, this inability to completely trust that mom and dad know what they’re talking about.

Most children pop out of the womb thinking their mom and dad know everything, but our kids find this nearly impossible. Is that because they weren’t able to trust their first caregiver?

Because it’s difficult for my daughter to believe everything I say, I make sure and kindly point it out whenever I’m proved right. It’s not an ego thing, it’s that I want my daughter to see that she can believe in her Mommy. Last month I needed to take my daughter to the dentist, and prior to leaving we had a discussion about this fluoride they put on the kids teeth. I knew that she could eat afterwards, but she wasn’t supposed to brush her teeth that day. Payton believed that she wasn’t able to eat or brush her teeth after the fluoride treatment, and no matter what I said, she wouldn’t believe me. In the end, guess who was right? I made a point to kindly say, “See, I was right.” I’m sure the hygienist thought I had an ego complex the size of Texas, but I just needed to point out to my daughter AGAIN that she could believe me, and I could be trusted.

As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words. We must have actions to pair with those words. One overwhelming concern our children have is that they can’t trust anyone. We can help them by being there for them, listening to their worries, and being present at a time that matters most to them; bed time. They are laying there awake, their mind is wandering more than ever, they don’t have anything to distract their brain. It’s dark, they’re lonely, and they are scared. No matter how old your child is, be sure that you meet them where they are. If you sense that they don’t want to be alone, one way to begin proving that you are committed is to be there for them at night. (See the links at the bottom of this page for helpful tips to use at bedtime.)

I would also encourage you to find other ways where you can physically show your child that you are trustworthy. Some ideas include keeping consistency between what you say and do (stick to your word as much as possible). Being calm when they are out of control, or have negative behaviors can help them see that you are different from the other adults in their life. Sharing with them how you keep them safe will produce a feeling of security for them. Hold hands if they are willing. Give hugs consistently. Have family time with every member of the family. Sit down for meals as a family.

If we continually pair our actions with our words, our children will eventually trust those words. They will recognize that they can trust us because we’ve proven ourselves. Remember that those first months and years of life transformed their brain, and they are on guard against all outside influences. They are protecting themselves. Really, it’s quite amazing if you think about it.

You may find these posts helpful in showing your child you will be there for them when they need you:
the lies hurting children believe
why “good nights” are illusive (sleep issues part 1)
no really, good night (sleep issues part 2)

How will you work to have continuity between your words and your actions? How will you SHOW your child he/she can trust you beyond using your words?

If you have more ideas about how to instill trust in your children, please share them. I’d love to hear from you!

make this school year exceptional (adoption/foster)

This article originally appeared in Adoption Today magazine.

Make This School Year Exceptional
by Tracy Dee Whitt

The kids have enjoyed swinging, swimming pools, sidewalk chalk, and scrumptious mud pies, but now it’s time to think about school. Some kids are excited about the new year and some are wary and worried.

My daughter, Payton, is a mixture of both. She has looked forward to kindergarten since she began uttering her first words, it has seemed to constantly be on her mind. Yet, despite the excitement, there is always trepidation when she enters a new situation; a new Sunday school class, another year of preschool, or Vacation Bible School. The jitters are fairly pointless, as she walks in with her fingers in her mouth, barely moving her feet forward, but when she is among the new kids, it all flitters away because she soon has friends, who she just met, following her every move.

I still have to pay attention to her worries and concerns, because in her mind they are real. We try to prepare her as best as we can. In the past months we’ve talked with her about what the new year, at a new school, will bring. At Kindergarten Roundup we found out class time would be vastly different from what we told her. Whoops. There are now so many requirements for teachers, they don’t have time for recess, indoor playtime, or snack. You’re most likely responding just as I did, “What?”

We made sure to share this with Payton right away so she wouldn’t go through the summer imagining something different. Many children like to know what’s happening in their world, and this is especially true for adopted children, and kids with attachment issues. The more you can prepare them for, the better it will go for them.

As school approaches, you will also want to consider what you want to share with your child’s teacher. Does your child have any behavior issues that you need to notify them about before school begins? Is your child ahead or behind academically? Do certain situations set your child off? If there is any information that will help your child succeed and the teacher to keep her hair intact, consider taking some time communicating this with them. Most teachers will be open to hearing what you have to say, will be willing to work with you, and will be happy you care about your child’s education.

Our daughter, Payton, had a very difficult time in preschool. Part of the issue was that she wanted to be in control. She would rush through her work and begin helping other kids with theirs. Most days she is a blessing at home in how she helps with her brother, who has Autism, but this proactive spirit of hers proved as a detriment in a school setting.

There were other behavior issues, many stemming from inconsistency in discipline between home and school. She was getting away with far too much in class, and most of the time it corresponded with having free time. She knew she would be warned several times without consequences, which reinforced the idea that she could manipulate her environment, and by the time consequences were put in place, she was out of control.

“After all, one of the defining elements of a traumatic experience…is a complete loss of control and a sense of utter powerlessness. As a result, regaining control is an important aspect of coping with traumatic stress.” Dr. Bruce Perry

We waited far too long before sitting down with the teachers to discuss what our daughter would need to succeed. We thought we had explained enough, but months later it was evident we hadn’t.

This idea of communicating with your child’s teacher applies to any parent of any kids, but it’s particularly important if you have a child who has behavior issues. We went to Payton’s preschool teachers with a printout they could keep and refer to. We laid out where she had come from, and what her life had looked like, they knew she had been adopted from foster care, but I don’t believe they understood the logistics of it all.

We didn’t write out all the specifics, just letting them know that your child was in an orphanage or foster care, and that they experienced neglect, abuse, and trauma is enough. On the paper we wrote what her triggers were, what behaviors might pop up, why she acted and reacted that way, and then we listed what to do about it.

I then asked the teachers to focus on what Payton did well, because there is so much negative in our kid’s lives. You can give the teacher specifics on what your child does well, where they can see them shine. At the end I wrote in bold letters, “If we are all on the same page, her behavior will get better!” You can add a little smile emoticon there if you’d like. Then welcome their questions, but try not to be offended by what they ask, as this may be something completely new to them.

I would suggest letting the teachers know that you want to hear about how your child is doing in class. Don’t wait for parent/teacher conferences to come around, continually keep yourself updated. Ask them how your child is doing at least on a biweekly basis. If you always get the same answer, “He’s doing fine/good/great,” ask pointed questions occasionally. How is he doing with the other children? What are her interactions like? How is she doing in (subjects she struggles in)? Does he listen to instructions?

You can consider volunteering in the classroom. If your child doesn’t tolerate you spending time in their class, dropping in periodically will help you get a feel for how he or she is doing.

We had a meeting with my son’s preschool teachers, aids, and therapists last year. One of them said, “When a parent is involved in their child’s education, the child is worked with more [in school].” Right or wrong, everyone around the table agreed, and they are all truly amazing educators. It’s sad that this is true in many instances, but now you know how it works in some school settings.

As my daughter has healed from her past trauma, we have found it less critical to share information with teachers. I was relieved this summer when I dropped Payton off at Vacation Bible School and didn’t need to go through her behaviors and worry about what she would do when I left. I didn’t pester the teachers when I picked her up, I knew that things had gone fairly well. Because school is every day, for most of the year, I will still need to talk to the teacher about things to look for, but the list has dwindled significantly from last years. You can decide what to share, and maybe as the year moves forward you will find more transparency is best for everyone.

Communicate with your child’s teacher so they will be better equipped to teach your child, communicate with your child so he or she is prepared for change in the coming school year. Everyone will benefit from knowing what to expect and what to do in given situations. May you and your children have a great school year!

How have you made a school year improve? I’d love to hear your ideas.
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