attachment in adoption & foster care: the first things we need to know

attachment in adoption- the first things we need to knowThis is a post I originally wrote in April 2013. Many of you are new here, so I thought I would bring back some of the basics in the following weeks. Hope you enjoy.

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In Chris Cleave’s novel Little Bee, he writes Little Bee’s thoughts, “Take it from me, a scar does not form on the dying. A scar means I survived.” This makes me think of our adopted children who struggle with attachment issues because they have scars. A scar also means they’ve been through a traumatic experience. Our child may not have wounds that mark their skin, but they have scars, usually many, that are revealed in various ways. One of the ways our children deal with their hurt, or scar, is by not attaching to us.

TRUST HAS BEEN CATASTROPHICALLY BROKEN AND THEY ARE EXTREMELY AFRAID TO RELY ON ANYONE.

To help our children with attachment issues, we need to first understand the basics of what it is, and why our children are not forming a bond with us. The website childtrauma.org says, “The attachment bond has several key elements: 1) an attachment bond is an enduring emotional relationship with a specific person; 2) the relationship brings safety, comfort, soothing, and pleasure; 3) loss or threat of loss of the person evokes intense distress.” I believe that attachment issues are on a spectrum. Here’s a graph that explains: attachment issues spectrum No two people are alike, and the same goes for adopted children. Some may not exhibit any signs of an attachment disorder, yet it’s very important to be aware of your child and look for signs that they are struggling in an area. Behaviors that you think are positive; Johan eats everything on his plate at every meal, or Lily is a leader, in charge and always trying to help everyone around her, may be indicative of a much larger problem.

Now to address Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD). The ever helpful Wikipedia says, “RAD is one of the least researched and most poorly understood disorder in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM).” I agree. When we hear the word RAD, a bit, or a whole boat load of fear settles in our heart. Often the stories we’ve heard about RAD are the scariest. We hear about children with RAD setting fires in their home, chasing their parents with a knife, or hurting their siblings. These scenarios are extremely rare, yet so many children are being diagnosed with RAD. (Note that my daughter was diagnosed with RAD.) The Mayo Clinic lists the following scenarios as increasing the chances of a child developing Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD):

  • Living in an orphanage
  • Inexperienced parents
  • Extreme poverty
  • Postpartum depression in the baby’s mother
  • Parents who have a mental illness, anger management problems, or drug or alcohol abuse
  • Forced removal from a neglectful or abusive home
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse
  • Prolonged hospitalization
  • Extreme neglect
  • Frequent changes in foster care or caregivers
  • Institutional care

www.attachmentdisorder.com adds a few more to this already lengthy list of causes:

  • Traumatic experience
  • Maternal depression
  • Undiagnosed, painful illness such as colic, ear infections, etc.
  • Lack of attunement between mother and child

Attachment issues are difficult, both for the one suffering, and for the parent who is pouring their life into their child. But, let’s remember how Chris Cleave so eloquently phrased it,

they have scars because they survived.

So, let’s treat our children as survivors, remembering their suffering, but gently guiding them to wholeness and out of pain. Let’s help them heal their scars and bond.

Here are some links to simple strategies that will help get your family on the track to healthy attachment. – rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just apply to infants) – let’s bond already: creating attachment with an adopted child – play = bonding time You can receive each post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. If you’re on a mobile device, this can be done on the web version. You can also follow me on FacebookTwitter, and Pinterest.

is love enough? (adoption/foster)

Is love enough?
Pam Parish, a woman who writes insightful words over at www.pamparish.com,  asked for input on the “love is not enough” idea in a Facebook adoption group. I had quite a lot to say about the subject since I’d heard Nancy Thomas speak on “Love is Not Enough.” I had disagreed with Nancy to a point, and I constantly hear other parents use those words, “Love is not enough.”

Here’s what I shared with Pam (with a few additions), which she posted on her blog: I think it all depends on what a persons definition of LOVE is. Is love putting a roof over a child’s head, providing clothing, toys, entertainment, taking them on vacation, being there for them when they need it?

Or, is it much more than that?

Is it providing consequences to teach them how to live life? Is it holding them when all they’ve done is push you away? Is it living through the ugly and dirty moments when we feel such hate being slung our way? Is it moving on with each day even though we don’t have strength to even look at the dirty dishes in the sink?

I feel it’s all of the above and more.

This is HARD because our children came from HARD. I believe the knowledge of this begins with the original training foster and adoptive parents receive before a child is placed with them. Although we never truly understand what it takes to raise a hurting child until we are living with them day to day, I feel I had a better starting place than many. Because of our training, I was able to empathize with my children and I knew it was going to be HARD.

My love has been enough, but then my definition is probably different than most.

I see where some adoptive parents are coming from, we hear others say, “I would love to adopt, children just need love,” and maybe they don’t realize the amount of “love” a hurting child needs. One mom on the Facebook page said, “Those who look at our family think, ‘Look, all they needed was a family to love them.’ ” But, that family knows how much “love” it has taken to heal their child.

original photo by joeymc86 via freeimages.com

Is love enough? Some might say, no. But does your love include educating yourself and learning about trauma? Love should be all inclusive. As I was working on this post, I received an email from my dad. He had listened to my radio interview, and said, “I know you have developed a relationship with Payton and the two of you are very close. One thing to remember is it is a continual learning process.” I think that process entails love, a love that is willing to try to do the best, and be the best for a child. It includes loving through the process and in the process.

Love is a big word. Our children need a big love and we can do it.

I am rewarded daily for the immense amount of love I’ve poured into both my children. When Payton runs to me after school, yelling, “Mommy!!!” and gives me a big hug, my heart is filled. It used to be that I showed up at her school and she wanted me to leave and didn’t want me to help her with her craft. Now, she WANTS me to sit with her on her classroom floor and read with her. Now she gets slightly jealous if I help other kids in her class, whereas before, she couldn’t care less where I was or what I was doing.

Love is a big word. When children come from trauma, they need a big love to carry them through.

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6 things you shouldn’t say to, or in front of, your foster/adopted child

thingsnottosay
You can listen to a recording of this post, just scroll to the bottom of this post.

Sometimes it’s common sense and sometimes it’s not. Despite that common sense we’ve all supposedly been given, I’ve heard some terrible things said in front of, and to, children. Guidance has also been disposed by some professionals that can be detrimental to a child’s healing (I mean completely stop it right in its tracks). Some of the points on this list may seem obvious to you, but I encourage you to read through them, because even parents with the best intentions can say things that are hurtful to a child. This can especially happen when a hurting child is acting out because of what’s going on inside of them. So, here they are:

  1. Don’t talk about how difficult your child is.
    By making statements like, “Ezra is so naughty, you wouldn’t believe what he did today,” “Sarene is such a pistol, she knocked the lamp over again,” “Jared won’t stop hitting, he’s a brat at school.” These statements can make a child feel like they can’t do anything good, especially if 70% of their behavior is negative, it can shine like a negativity rainbow around them. Your child already feels like they can’t do anything right, children will blame themselves for being removed from their birth family, for being in an orphanage, for moving from one foster home to another. They may even feel worthless, so talking about what they aren’t doing right doesn’t help.When your child has negative behavior decide whether there will be a consequence, and leave the behavior there (meaning don’t carry it through to that night or the following days).
    *The reason I say “decide” if there will be a consequence is because there are certain behaviors that shouldn’t have consequences: stashing/hoarding food, sneaking food, getting up in the middle of the night or not staying in bed, wetting the bed, and pottying their pants to name a few. These can all be indicative of an underlying problem, and frankly so are all behaviors.
    Try to find out what is triggering your child, what is causing the problem, try to help them through it, and don’t jump to discipline first.
  2. Abstain from discussing the money you’re getting or not getting for foster care.
    This one seems obvious to me, but obviously it’s not obvious to others, because I’ve heard it, or I wouldn’t list it. Parents forget their children can hear them, even if they’re chatting on the phone or talking to a friend while the kids play. Once, while standing in front of the Department of Human Services a foster mom talked with someone while her foster kids ran around her playing. She said, “I won’t adopt them (the kids who were with her!) unless they increase my stipend. This child needs_____ and that child needs_____ and they won’t increase my stipend to pay for it.”
    If you want to talk about what the state is or isn’t paying you, it’s your right, but discussing it in front of your kids can be hugely problematic. They’ll feel they’re only wanted if you get enough money for them. And, honestly, no matter how little a state pays foster parents, it doesn’t mean children aren’t worth being cared for.
  3. Avoid talking about how easy your life was before them. “Before you came, it was so peaceful here.” “There was no fighting until you came along.” “I’m always exhausted now.”  – Statements like this will make a child feel unwanted and that they cause all the problems. When it’s true that it looks like the hurting child causes an immense amount of strife, we must remember it’s their past causing all the turmoil within them and rising to the surface. – Help yourself and find peaceful moments in your day to have to yourself.
    hurtingpeoplehurtothers
  4. Refrain from telling them: “If you can’t follow the rules, you can’t live here,” or “I guess you don’t want to live here since you can’t follow the rules.”
    Interestingly (I actually have another word for it) this is advice given by some therapists. This gives the impression that a child or teen is judged solely based on their negative behavior. And sorry, but if the only behaviors a child’s been taught are negative, they will have less then desirable behaviors.
    Kids are also going to test you to see if you will stick with them through the bad. They’re going to prove to themselves no one will love them if they do wrong. In my opinion leaving the home is not an option. When you say they can’t live in your home if ____, it gives them an option. An option to miss out on love, possibly for the rest of their life.
  5. Don’t place blame on children by saying things like: “You’re ruining everything.”
    Blame can also come across very strongly through actions and attitudes toward kids. I’ve seen this happen so often, and sometimes it’s perpetrated by therapists. They blame the child, saying, “See what you’re doing to your parents.” When it’s not a contemplated action against them, but rather a protective instinct because adults aren’t safe and are untrustworthy. A hurting child cannot heal themselves. Put blame anywhere else, but on a child. Do you blame your child for anything? Loss of anything, changing anything?
  6. Avoid talking about what the social workers are saying.
    When doing foster care you are surrounded by social workers, they come in and out of your house, you talk to them on the phone, you email, you see them in court and at visits, and there can be a lot to discuss with your spouse, friends and family. But telling your kiddos what was said, or saying it when they can overhear you, can cause major behaviors among other problems. However, if discussions are serious about your foster child being reunited with their family then you need to share this with your child to prepare them.

Remember children are much smarter than many people give them credit for. Although it may seem like they aren’t listening, they are. While they’re playing, watching a movie, or sitting in the backseat, they’re listening.

Also, there are times when our own words, attitudes, and actions cause negative behaviors in our kids. I created this list so you can look at what you’re saying, or when you’re saying it, so you can avoid breakdowns and help your kids heal.

So you know, I’m far from perfect myself. I’ve said some things I regret. We can’t erase the past, but we can apologize and we all have a chance to change what we say from here forward.

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does your child like their therapist? (adoption/foster)

 

liketherapist

*These tips are for those who use therapy to help their children, I am not recommending that all parents take their children to a therapist.

In We’re Our Child’s Best Therapist, I wrote about how, well, exactly that, we’re our child’s best therapist. Why? Because we know them best and we are with them more. This doesn’t mean every family who has a therapist on board should chuck them out the window, that’s not what I’m saying. However, it’s imperative to take home what you learn in the therapy office and implement the techniques at home. You can ask your child’s therapist what they suggest you do to follow through.

They may have you ask your child questions in a different way, look for triggers that upset your child, or provide sensory activities for your child. (All of these recommendations are great initiatives even if they aren’t recommended by the therapist.) You are an essential component to your child’s healing, the more you can help your child outside of the therapist’s office, the better they’ll do.

You will also need to use your intuition. Intuition comes in handy throughout all aspects of adoption related issues. Always keep your antennas up when introduced to new advice coming in. Weigh it and decide whether you’re comfortable with what you’re being told (whether you’re reading it in a book, blog, or website, or hearing from a friend, relative, or professional), or what’s being done with your child.

Our experience with an attachment therapist taught me the importance of listening to my Mommy Intuition (Dad’s also have this intuition if they’re involved with their kids). Not all attachment therapists are like the one we met with, but it’s important to be aware of what the therapist is doing with your child. If, at any time you feel they are doing anything harmful (emotionally or physically) you have the right to stop it immediately.

This may be embarrassing for some of you, and you may be in a situation where you think if you wait it out, it will get better. Understand that you are your child’s voice, younger children may not say anything if they’re uncomfortable, or know how to express what they think or feel. If your older child comes from a neglectful or abusive background they may not say anything either.

The therapist we took my daughter to didn’t hurt her physically, but it two visits she made it very clear to Payton that her behavior was her fault, without even getting to know her. She told Payton how horrible she’d been to us. This is true, but Payton wasn’t acting out towards us, being belligerent, controlling, and manipulative because she wanted to, it stemmed from her early childhood, and blaming a child does not heal them.

The second therapy session took it even further. She didn’t physically harm Payton, but it was traumatic for her. I made a HUGE mistake that day. When you have a child that is so out of control, and you’ve worked with dozens of kids and had great success, you’re at a loss for what to do when it comes to your attachment challenged child. What I didn’t realize like so many others is it takes time + consistency + compassion + dedication + so many other ingredients. I thought this attachment therapist could help. I was wrong. There are therapists who can help hurting kids, she just wasn’t the one.

Another therapist, Scott Chaussee, had been available to us through the Department of Human Services. We’d only utilized his services on a couple occasions. (He’s the one who taught us the healing benefits of rocking and helped us with Payton’s sleep issues.) We hadn’t talked to him in a few years, but he called days after that therapy session that went completely wrong. Go ahead and tell me there’s no God and I’ll give you dozens of instances such as this.

Scott wanted to do a brain scan on Payton (Dr. Bruce Perry had trained him – how awesome is that?), and while he was in our home we talked about the attachment therapist. I wanted to get his opinion since he was familiar with attachment and was of the same opinions as Dr. Bruce Perry. In the end, he said that if someone doesn’t like their therapist, adult or child, then he doesn’t see how therapy can take place. He also said he feels play therapy works best for children who come from traumatic backgrounds.

On the first point, I definitely see what Scott is saying. If I was supposed to talk to, open up to, and receive direction from someone I didn’t like, therapy would fail. Scott is right, it’s the same for our kids. If our child doesn’t like going to therapy, what benefit is it? If the relationship between therapist and child is stressed, how will meeting with that therapist help your child heal? I don’t think it will.

You’ll have to be careful and use that intuition I mentioned earlier, because if you have an older child or teen, they may hate therapy, because, well they don’t want to be there. They don’t like talking and it’s hard for them to delve into the past where the pain thrives. You will need to decide whether it’s the child making a ruckus because they don’t want to attend therapy or whether it’s a founded opinion. Listen to your child and validate their opinions, they may not be correct, but they have the right to be heard if they can share them appropriately.

If your child attends sessions alone and they share what’s going on, and red flags are raised, talk to the therapist. Ask your child if they would mind if you attend therapy with them for a while.

It’s also important to remember that older children may have been to therapy while with their bio parents or foster parents. You may not know what that experience was like for them, in fact there’s probably a considerable amount of their past you don’t know.

We can learn about our children, we can help them by listening to them and letting them open up to us (you can read how to do that here). Help your children by listening to your intuition, and be in contact with the therapist at all times.

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time + time + time (adoption/foster)

healingtakestime

This world is full of immediate gratification. We can ask Siri and she will answer, we don’t even have to look on the internet. And speaking of the internet, we can look up anything we want, buy anything we want, whenever we want. We have fast food and fast flavored coffee, immediate books on our iPad (yes, I’m an Apple junky), and we can start our car from inside a building. (I don’t have that feature on my car, but I sure do want one.)

Because everything in our society is instant, parents think they’re hurting children should be bonded within months of entering their life. They think their child’s negative behaviors, should stop, they should lull off to a sweet slumber, and they should understand consequences and the rules of the house within a short period of time (and a few months is a relatively short amount of time).

I think of what happened to hurting children like tearing down a garage. We tore ours down to build a larger one and add a level on top, the deconstruction was quick and not too difficult (for big, strong, burly guys anyway). However, the rebuilding process takes a LONG time, it’s detailed, involved, it’s time consuming, and it’s stressful.

For some children, the tearing down process didn’t take long, even infants are greatly affected in a short amount of time by neglect, abuse, and trauma. Children are even affected in utero by what the birth mother does or doesn’t do. Just as a garage demolition doesn’t take long, neither did it take long for our children to be broken down.

And, just as the building up process takes a long time when creating a new deservecommitmentstructure, so does the building up of our children. It takes work, dedication, compassion, and understanding.

None of us want to face a battle and know it won’t end tomorrow. I find it helpful to remember what happened to the hurting child, and where they came from. Their trauma affected them beyond what we can see. So, focus on the positives and keep moving forward, you can do this.

Here are some links to help you out:
why consequences and rewards don’t work
the importance of consistency & routine
detecting attachment issues
rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just apply to infants)

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the intelligence behind a hurting child (adoption/foster)

littlebee

I talk frequently about our children and their brains, how a hurting child’s brain is less developed than a child who’s had a typical upbringing (love and consistency). I talk about their inability to think logically, and that’s why consequences and reward systems don’t work. However, none of this means that a child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized isn’t smart. I think all of this can be misconstrued and parents can assume their children aren’t intelligent, when that’s very far from the truth.

When Dr. Bruce Perry talks about a traumatized child’s brain being smaller, it means certain areas haven’t developed fully. It doesn’t mean the processing areas aren’t functioning, it means the areas that control the social and emotional haven’t developed fully. A hurting child is aware of what’s happening around them, they are able to manipulate, they can give you directions and street names, but solving A=B issues is very difficult, even impossible for some, hence the logical consequences don’t compute.

In the book Little Bee, two girls have escaped an England prison, where they’d been held as illegal immigrants. Little Bee says to Yevette, “You aren’t dumb, Yevette. All of us who have got this far, all of us who have survived – how can we be dumb? Dumb could not come this far.” It’s so true, and something that parents need to understand about their hurting kids, they aren’t lacking intelligence, it only looks different.

Bryan Post writes, “In his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, researcher Mihaly implies it’s no mystery that individuals of genius nature are in fact genius because most have all experienced life-altering trauma. In essence, he explains that in environments of neglect and abuse the child does not receive an equivalent balance of cognitive/social/emotional experience, therefore a neurologic compensation occurs. Whereby what the brain does not get emotionally, it compensates for cognitively, thus a very intelligent child. The catch, though the child may be cognitively advanced perhaps even brilliant, rarely can this be accessed because of the constant emotional hijacking which occurs when the trauma brain gets triggered and takes over.”

For those who don’t enjoy reading about brain development, essentially what Mihaly said is that while our children weren’t developing in the social/emotional area of their brain, the cognitive area had adequate time to mature.

My daughter, Payton, is just one example of this. She had extreme difficulty with controlling behaviors she knew were unacceptable, she wasn’t able to figure out A=B for consequences. [If you do A (behavior) then B (consequence) happens.] Yet, when I spelled out “ice cream” when she was two, she knew what I was spelling, and she could give me directions to the grocery store. She was reading books at age four, and I could go on and on with her knowledge of where she was and how things worked. This happens so many times with kids who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized.

Dr. Bruce Perry has also said, “If you have relational poverty you walk around as a dysregulated person. You’re more vulnerable to trauma…and it’s harder to learn new things.” Perry describes the one who is in relational poverty as a high risk child or one who’s in foster care. Also, just because a child has entered your home or been there for a few months, it doesn’t mean they’re no longer in relational poverty. It takes time for relationships to develop, especially when a child has learned no one can be trusted.

This is also explained well by Joseph LeDoux, “In times of stress, our thinking becomes confused and distorted and our short term memory is suppressed.”

Hurting kids are constantly under stress until they have made significant attachments, even while they’re making attachments they will slip back into a stressed state.

stresssuppressesmemory

On the topic of stress affecting our memory, even I can attest to this. I walked into a Starbucks earlier this week and stood at the counter, it was the first time I’d been at this particular store, but I had ordered this particular drink dozens of times, yet I froze. What was it that I order every time? See, it happens to all of us…I think.

So, there’s a good chance your child is intelligent, it just may be hiding underneath a lot of pain, or you may see it and wonder how your child can be so smart, yet not obey simple rules. I hope this gives you some insight into your child and what’s going on inside of them.

These links may be helpful in learning more about a child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized:

detecting attachment issues
why consequences and rewards don’t work 

You can receive all posts made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner of this page. You can also follow me on social media sites to receive other helpful links.

why consequences & rewards don’t work for hurting children (adoption/foster)

consequences

You can listen to a recording of this post, just scroll down to the bottom of this page and don some earbuds. 🙂

“My child doesn’t respond to consequences, I can take away anything and he doesn’t care.” “Rewards mean nothing to my daughter, I can offer an ice cream at McDonald’s or a new Wii game, it doesn’t matter to her.” I hear these stories ALL. THE. TIME. It’s as though all of us who have children who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized live in the same house! Yes, every child is unique, but there are many similarities in hurting kids.

One of the similarities that’s common in hurting children is their response to consequences, discipline, and rewards. At some point in your journey, you may have been encouraged by other parents to read Love and Logic or attend one of their seminars, other parenting advice may be thrown at you, saying, “I promise, this works.” The problem is, there’s a missing link, their child probably didn’t experience trauma, neglect, or abuse, or at least it didn’t have the same affect on their child.

Love and Logic, Have a New Kid by Friday, as well as other parenting books and classes have some great information, but they aren’t the cure-all for a hurting child.

When we were struggling with our daughter’s behaviors a friend of mine (she had adopted domestically) suggested I read Have a New Kid by Friday. She said, “It works. Find something she cares about and remove it if she makes a wrong choice.” I said, “I’ve tried that.” She replied, adamantly, nodding her head, “There’s something.” I read the book anyway, there were some good ideas, very helpful ones for children who aren’t hurting. But, why don’t consequences and reward systems work for kids who’ve been neglected, abused, and traumatized?

Because many adopted and foster children don’t care about the material world around them.

Often they don’t have a favorite toy, stuffed animal, or blanket when they’re young, they aren’t connected to anything, so removing it doesn’t make any difference to them. Neither are rewards important enough for them to turn off their strong emotions and behaviors for them.

The logic part of Love and Logic doesn’t work because hurting kids don’t think logically, their brain isn’t calm enough or reasonable enough to do so.

Their brain looks different than a child’s who has been loved and cared for since their birth. This DOES NOT mean they aren’t intelligent, oh no, most children who’ve been through trauma are very smart (all about that in another post), but logical they are not. Not until they’ve made significant attachments.

These kiddos are constantly in fight or flight mode. There are three responses that children have to trauma – fight, flight, and dissociation. When looking at the trauma response in adults, Putnam says, “Among the constellation of symptoms associated with the trauma response in adults is dissociation. Dissociation is simply disengaging from stimuli in the external world and attending to an ‘internal’ world. Daydreaming, fantasy, depersonalization, and derealization are all examples of dissociation.” Putnam goes on to explain what happens to a soldier during battle and how dissociation can take affect, and he concludes, “It is this very ability to dissociate which can keep soldiers alive.”

It is much the same for our children. They have connected to the world around them; what’s going on, where they are, and who is present, not a person or item. They were in life preserving mode before they came to us, and it’s going to take a lengthy amount of time to learn that their new parents and caretakers can be trusted.

It will take more than a few months to learn they don’t have to fight, flee, or dissociate from their life any longer. I’m not encouraging you to throw out all consequences or rewards, we need to use them to lay a foundation for their future. Your child still needs to know they can’t get away with hitting, tearing apart the house, or yelling.

Some ways to begin to curb your child’s behaviors are through time-ins.

Time-ins are time with you, if your child is small enough, that means sitting on your lap, preferably while rocking (make sure you are safe and not harming your child). If your child is bigger, you can have your child sit in a chair near you. You can also have your child do something with you, preferably not something fun if this is being utilized as a consequence.

Using natural consequences lays that foundation I mentioned earlier. An example of this is if your daughter draws on the couch with a marker, she can’t use markers or crayons for a set period of time. (I don’t recommend using natural consequences with food related instances.) Remember that you may not see a difference in your child’s behavior, they have to make attachments, then their brain will calm down and heal so they can think logically and care about those around them.

When you have a child who’s come from a neglectful or abusive situation, your parenting techniques need to be tweaked.

Dozens of times I’ve seen parents of older biological children say, “My other kids turned out great, what’s the problem? It can’t be me, because I did it right four times.” What they don’t see is that parenting a hurting child and one who’s been loved consistently is vastly different. Parents think they can implement the same techniques they used with their biological children with their hurting children and it will all turn out the same. Sadly, they’re wrong.

Hurting kids come with a whole different set of rules, and many of those rules are difficult for us to understand. One big one is that it takes time. Lots of time. Are you willing to be patient with your children? Are you willing to show them love, read on this website about how to parent your child, and be consistent?

  • A child who’s been neglected, abused, and traumatized will react differently than a child who has been loved consistently to consequences, discipline, and rewards.
  • Hurting children aren’t connected to the material items around them, so removing them won’t make a big difference immediately. You can use these discipline techniques, but understand you are laying a foundation for later.
  • A hurting child’s brain looks different than a child’s who has been loved and cared for consistently.
  • A hurting child doesn’t think logically because their brain isn’t calm. This doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent!
  • Often dissociating is what kept our children alive in their neglectful, abusive environment, and this will carry over to their new environment – your home. It will take time for them to heal.
  • Use time-ins when behavior is unacceptable. CHOOSE your battles. Use consequences and rewards to lay a foundation.
  • Parenting techniques for hurting children need to be modified.

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Be sure to check out my CONTENTS page for more posts on how to help your foster and adopted children and your family.
You can receive every post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. If you’re on a mobile device, this can be done on the web version. For more helpful information and links you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter, and Pinterest.

give negativity a noose (adoption/foster)

original photo by anitab0000 via sxc.hu
original photo by anitab0000 via sxc.hu

You can view the first post in this series: negativity is contagious

You know who had a right to be negative, angry, opposing, and downright contrary? The Giving Tree. You know, the children’s book by Shel Silverstein? The Giving Tree is just that; giving. His owner, however, is selfish and takes everything he can from the tree to make his life better. The tree gives freely, never denying a request or complaining about its loss. In the end only a stump remains, and the boy comes back old and weathered, and sits to rest on the tree’s trunk. In the end, both were happy.

If we are to be like the Giving Tree, it doesn’t mean that we allow our hurting kids to pummel us into the ground, there are consequences for inappropriate actions, there are times when we say no, there are boundaries, consistency, and routine, but in the end it’s relationships that are of utmost importance.

“The capacity to care, share, listen, value, and be empathetic – to be compassionate – develops from being cared for, shared with, listened to, valued, and nurtured.” ~ Dr. Bruce Perry

If you are consistently sucked into a world that is negative, it’s nearly impossible to care, share, listen, value, and nurture regularly. If you have a hurting child who isn’t attaching and bonding, it’s because they didn’t receive that reciprocal, caring relationship Bruce Perry is talking about. It’s now up to us to step in where others dropped the nurturing, and to do so we need to stay out of Negative No No Land.

To do so, we need to know where negativity comes from:

  • Negative attitudes can develop because parents tire of the horrible behaviors, the lying, the potty training issues, the control. They want it to change, and they want it to happen now. When it doesn’t, they become pessimistic, and that pessimism can stop our child’s progress.
  • Negative outlooks expand when we fail to see our child’s possibilities. Jon Acuff said, “Fictional regret often cripples us from factual action.” I would like to change the second word in that phrase so it applies even more to parenting a hurting child, “Fictional [worry] often cripples us from factual action.” When we worry and feel negative about what our child’s future (even their tomorrow) looks like, we forget to live in the moment. And, this moment is the one that will help your child move toward healing; the hug you’re not giving, the praise you’re not sharing, the play you’re not engaging in, the interest you’re not showing because negativity is taking away moments you could be using to help your child heal.
  • Negative mindsets grow when we’re in community with others who constantly complain about their life. This can be people who speak disapprovingly about everyone and everything around them or a community of adoptive/foster parents who complain about their children. I do see a place for groups of parents who’ve adopted or are fostering. I think it’s great to have a place to vent our troubles, but with Facebook and places like Cafemom, it’s become all too easy to get sucked in and focus only on the unfavorable qualities of our loved ones and others.
  • Negativity can come from our own guilt, thinking we don’t do enough for our hurting child. Some parents constantly question whether they’re doing the right things with their child who struggles. (To put your mind a little more at ease, take a look at this: We Are Our Childs Best Therapist.
  • Negativity can creep in through others perceptions of us. A family that has a hurting child functions differently than the typical family. Friends and relatives don’t understand why you live the way you do. You are excluded, questioned, and sometimes scorned.

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Negativity can come from anywhere and everywhere; as an avalanche of boulders or as pecking stones. In turn it can cause us to be negative, and the way you feel as a parent is always projected onto your child.

Our negativity about our children affects:

  • The way we feel about them.
  • The expectations and hopes we have for them.
  • Our ability to empathize with them.
  • What we say to them.
  • What we say about them.

As Dr. Bruce Perry said, our kids need US to be the catalyst for positive change. Our children CAN heal, but not without our help, and we can’t offer them all of us (think Giving Tree and remember why you adopted in the first place) if we are full of negativity.

The question now is what do we do? Well, I struggle with negativity, so I feel less than qualified to tell you what needs to be done. However, I can share with you what helps me have a more positive perspective.

#1, and MOST important: When dealing with a child’s Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), attachment issues, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mood disorder, and my son’s Autism, I had to focus on the positives in my children.
Find the good qualities in your child. Is your son a good artist or ball player? Does your daughter like to be around you? What’s one thing your child does without a fight? Does your daughter do great with younger children? Find that positive attribute, even if it’s only one, and focus on it.

  • Remember where your children came from. Dr. Bruce Perry also says that by age four, your brain is 85% the size it is when you’re an adult. How much did our child’s early life affect their brain? Significantly. ADD LINKS How long will it take for our children to heal and form healthy relationships? More than a few months, more than a year.
  • Praise your children when they’re doing well. Be specific and tell the truth.
  • Focus on any progress your child has made. Think in small increments if needed. Did your son clear his plate off the table today? Did your daughter unplug her curling iron before leaving the bathroom?
  • Find joy in your everyday life. That post is a must read if you feel there’s no joy to be found. We don’t have the same struggles, but I’ve found it difficult to find the joy too, my friend.
  • If there is something you wish you were doing with your child, but you’re not, do it. Then throw away all the guilt.
  • Forget about all the negativity and misconceptions coming from family and friends. This is your family and they’ve never lived your life.

There, that should make you feel better! Actually, what would make you feel better is some hot chocolate, a good book, and a warm bath, but I can’t hand that to you over a blog, or as my father-in-law would say, the World Wide Web.

I hope this helps you see where negativity can come from, how it invades our existence, and how it affects our kids.

Do you see areas of your life that are full of negativity? Maybe just a little? What can you do to change your view?

If you would like to see more posts like this, be sure to check out all posts on the Content page. If you would like to receive each post made here on Lovin’ Adoptin’ you can subscribe on the right side of this page near the top. For more helpful information and links, you can follow me on Facebook and Twitter. Have a great day, evening, afternoon, or morning wherever you are!

HARD is the BEST thing I’ve ever done

original photo by kaniths via www.sxc.hu
original photo by kaniths via http://www.sxc.hu

We shared our adoption story (in short) with our church on Orphan Sunday, Well, since this post is all about honesty, I should say, Justin shared and I stood by. I had the easy part. Afterwards, we welcomed questions from anyone interested in fostering or adopting. One of the women who chatted with me, let’s call her Kaylee to protect her privacy, is an adoptee and was exploring this option of adoption for herself and her husband.

We talked, she asked questions, I had some answers, and I shared more of our story. She went away from that conversation thinking something very different than what I expected. She hadn’t decided to move in any direction of adoption, nor had she closed the door, but she was overwhelmed with emotion as she realized what her adoptive mother had given her and gone through for her. Before we talked she had a deep and profound respect for her mom, but when we finished there was something more that she had come to comprehend; it hadn’t been easy for her mom.

Why hadn’t it been easy for her adoptive mom? Because her mother is very me&P2012sensitive. I can relate, because I am extremely sensitive. Every day it’s hard for me to be in relationships with others, every day it’s hard to put myself out here on a blog, every day confronts me with pain. Then why did I do that foster and adoption thing that was so hard and seems impossible for the sensitive like me?

As Kaylee and I talked, she mentioned what we do. She said, “It’s not that it’s great that someone else is doing this (something Justin mentioned during his memoir spiel), but it’s WOW, that’s amazing. I’m not putting you on a pedestal, but what you’ve done is admirable.”

I’m not like some other adoptive parents who dislike hearing this, but I did want to tell her my truth. My truth is that I am flawed, deeply. My truth is that I am extremely sensitive. So, you would think I’d have avoided foster care and adoption like the plague.

But no, I had jumped on that plane headed to China immediately, well figuratively, but I wanted to hide in the baggage compartment when it came to foster care. Why? Because it looked hard, it looked impossible for the sensitive; me. When husband brought up the option of fostering while we waited to begin the process for China (I wasn’t old enough to apply), I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to jump in and get my feet muddy. I didn’t think it would change me, I didn’t think I could handle all it involved.

Payton&Jeremiah2012Was I wrong? An emphatic YES! Because when we really ponder what brings out a better us, what teaches us compassion, what changes us from the inside out, it isn’t the easy, it’s the HARD. If we think of world changers, I would bet their lives haven’t been cushy. I bet something happened to them, something moved them, or else they are consistently placing themselves in the middle of HARD.

I don’t mean that I have come out at this end (because my life is still being transformed by special needs) an awesome person. What I mean is that before I began this journey, I thought I knew about God, love, and faith. I hadn’t arrived, but I thought I was getting a handle on it. I didn’t. That handle I was grasping fairly burned up in my hand and I dropped it. I have found that I didn’t know much about God’s power, loves abilities, and faith’s transformation. It has all come crashing in on me, in a good way. I look at life in a new way. I see people in a new way, or I am still working on it anyway.

People don’t want HARD. But what if I told you HARD will be the best thing you’ve ever done? I love this quote by Brene Brown, “When we spend our lives waiting until we’re perfect or bulletproof before we walk into the arena, we ultimately sacrifice relationships and opportunities that may not be recoverable, we squander our precious time, and we turn our backs on our gifts, those unique contributions that only we can make. “Perfect” and “bulletproof” are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience. We must walk into the arena, whatever it may be–a new relationship, an important meeting, our creative process, or a difficult conversation–with courage and the willingness to engage. Rather than sitting on the sidelines and hurling judgment and advice, we must dare to show up and let ourselves be seen. This is vulnerability. This is daring greatly.”

I want to go back to my sensitivities. My heart is fragile, just ask my poor husband, he could write a series of books on it. Yet, I have seen how God has put an armor around my heart, not so I can’t pour out love, but so that some of the hurt my children can cause doesn’t make it through. What have I been through with them that could have hurt me beyond repair? Well, my son and daughter both bonded with my husband long before they did with me. Consider my daughters diagnoses and my son’s Autism. We also went through fostering them. My heart could have been pounded into the floor, but it wasn’t. Yes, I’ve been hurt, and yes it’s been hard, but it hasn’t had nearly the effect someone who knew me before all of this would have imagined.

When Kaylee shared about her adoptive mom, she told me how sensitive she is. Kaylee said, “I never told my mom, ‘You’re not my real mom!’ I think that was God’s way of protecting her, He kept me from making such hurtful remarks.” I believe she’s right. There can be so much about this journey that’s hard, but God is God, and when we trust and believe He will help us, He will. We are not on this journey alone

After writing the rough draft of this post, I read the November 2013 issue of Payton11.2012Adoption Today, in it Lisa Harper wrote, “If we didn’t have dark nights, we couldn’t experience the peachy glow of sunrise. If we didn’t ache, we couldn’t experience relief. If we didn’t suffer brokenness, we couldn’t experience restoration.” She’s right, and she should know because catastrophe struck her three times in one day. Now that’s living through HARD and still having the courage to move forward.

Has something in your life been HARD and changed you? I would love for you to share.

making Halloween happier (adoption & foster care)

happierhalloween

How do we stay sane during Halloween? It can be hard, even with kids who don’t have sensory issues, or attachment issues. The first goal is to make it fun for your child. For children with attachment issues, I don’t agree with the approach of removing everything fun in their life. If there’s no fun, there are no opportunities to grow as a family, nor do they feel they will ever get to do anything, so why try to be good? Let them do something for Halloween, and I don’t just mean attending a school party.

Even though you’re letting your child participate in Halloween, that doesn’t mean all expectations go out to the trash with the candy wrappers. Have guidelines before you go out; what you will be doing, what you expect them to do, and how you expect them to act. That doesn’t mean it will happen, but you need to set a precedent.

A major component of Halloween is costumes, and they can be a catastrophe. Mom has expectations of what her child will wear, how cute it will be. She puts the costume on her adorable daughter, and daughter promptly removes it saying, “I hate the wig, it itches.” I’m not veering too far off our last costume trial. There are still some of us who still live in LaLa Land where cute children wear adorable outfits, where we spend too much money and are disappointed when our child doesn’t want to wear what we planned.

This doesn’t mean we come up with a new ensemble, no. But it does remind me that Halloween is for my child to get some candy and hopefully have fun. Battling the costume makes it fairly miserable for everyone.

If you adopted and your child was neglected or abused, there’s a chance they have sensory issues. In short, sensory issues means a person has heightened sensitivities to everything, and Halloween can bring on everything. (Sometimes people who have sensory issues need sensory input, but this night is usually a sensory overload.)

Bright lights, cold weather, hot costumes, screaming, laughing kids, blaring music, skeletons that make sudden movements, scratchy, itchy outfits. It’s a lot for a typical person, but add sensitivities and it can be an irritating, maddening conglomeration. So don’t fight the costume. If this is the first time you’ve become aware of sensory issues and notice them in your child (you can read more about them HERE), then go ahead and buy a different costume with comfort in mind.

We have a friend whose son has Aspergers, and he wore a sheet (ghost) for a couple years (he’s seven, so you know he’s not a teen who just wants easy so he can bag some candy). By the end of the evening last Halloween, the ghost was a ghost no more, the sheet was off. Wearing anything was irritating to him, and even the sheet was too much by the end of the day. His parents opted for a good time rather than a battle. They recognized his sensitivities and went with it.

Our son who has Autism has some of those same sensitivities. Last year he loved Cat in the Hat, in fact one of the few words he said was, “Go, go, go…” from the show Cat in the Hat on PBS. At the last minute we ran to the shop and purchased costumes, and they had THE Cat! Perfect. He also had an obsession with hats at the time, so we thought this costume was a dunk in the tank. Well, he wore the hat for two houses, and it was off. It’s okay, we were lucky he wasn’t tearing off the remainder of the outfit while he traversed the streets in his wagon.

J&Phalloween12

The wagon… while trick-or-treating, the adults on the other side of the door asked several times if he wanted candy, and they looked at him with a forlorn expression, feeling bad that our poor child was stuck in a wagon while his sister (who is the same size) walked to each door and collected her stash. What those people didn’t know: Jeremiah had no idea what we were doing, he would’ve fought going to each door (because he didn’t know what we were doing), he didn’t eat candy (not the kind they were handing out anyway), and he was comfortable in his safe wagon. That last point is most important. If we are going to let Payton have a good time trick-or-treating, then Jeremiah should be kept comfortable, and he was.

During trick-or-treating, or any event that includes walking farther than one-hundred feet, our son, Jeremiah, rides in that wagon or a stroller. (That doesn’t mean he’s inactive, on the contrary he’s VERY busy, but this is for his sanity, as well as ours.) This year his wagon will go as Lightening McQueen from the movie Cars, and he will be “driving.” He loves the movie Cars and any of the little Cars vehicles that have eyeballs attached. Even though he may not notice what he’s riding in, we know we did our best to give him what he likes and what’s most agreeable to him.

Don’t let costumes add to your battles, there are enough. Make an effort to have fun, and know that it may not work out, but if it does, that would be awesome, wouldn’t it? Have a Happy Halloween.

You can receive each post made to Lovin’ Adoptin’ by subscribing in the upper right corner. If you’re on a mobile device, this can be done on the web version. You can also follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest for more helpful information and links.