We Adoptive Parents Must Parent Differently Than Traditional Parents

Sandra Flach, of the Orphans No More Podcast, joins me again this week as we discuss another point in the book- Five Things: A Tiny Handbook for Foster/Adoptive Families. Grab your free copy here.

We adoptive parents have to parent differently than traditional parents. We may seem to the outsider over strict or over protective.

“It’s okay, the boys can stay here. Let them stay.”

I was in a standoff on a back porch with a close friend. Two of my boys (13 and 14 years old) had gone home from church with this family without asking. It wasn’t the first time. And I was standing my ground even though I felt like melting into it.

“No, they need to come home. NOW.” I felt my face and neck flush red and tears brimming at the corner of my eyes.

“But, they’re having a good time. They’re no problem.”

I peeked the house and saw my boys making themselves at home in the family room, eating, leaning forward towards the large TV.

“No. They must come,” I said firmly and marched back to my car.

Two boys walked out of the home minutes later with heads high and stern faces.

“Why did you make us go, Mom?” one spat, “they said we could stay.”

THe Bad Parent?

I felt like bad parent. You know, the one who doesn’t let her kids do anything. And that was exactly what was being insinuated. I wouldn’t let them have any freedom. I drove home, all three of us with eyes forward. All three of us angry and hurt.

Which brings me to number four:

We adoptive parents have to parent differently than traditional parents. We may seem to the outsider over strict or overprotective.

I wasn’t being overprotective, I was putting up boundaries, or better repairing a breach. I had worked long, hard (yet happy) hours to take the old culture out of my children. It was tough work keeping those boundaries secure. One or two broken sections could cause disaster for the children.

Yes, the boys could have stayed and had a good time. I could have gone home and picked them up later. This was the home they wanted to be at. I could forgive (I did) and forget, but what of the cost? The cost would be the boys setting their own rules, sinking back into survival mode, doing what they wanted, when they wanted, with no regard for rules.

Traditional Parenting

In a traditional family, parents raising children who have not come from hard places set boundaries and give natural consequences. This is good. Adoptive parents must work harder on these boundaries and helping the child to attach to them. It may make them seem overprotective or strict. They’re not. They are working on attachment skills.

Cause and Effect Thinking

For example, if a child lacks attachment skills and his parents let him roam the neighborhood because they think he is a good kid, the next thing you know the kid is in trouble or has done something dangerous. I know all kids get into trouble, but kids whose brain development has been delayed and the cause and effect thinking is not there, lives are at stake. These kids: climb too high in a tree, do something dangerous another kid has dared him to and risk life and limb, start a forest fire (true story) or rob a neighbor.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that hurt children are BAD. I am saying they need more guidance. More parental presence than others. I’m not saying to lock them down in the house. I’m saying do things with them. Take them rock climbing and let them fall a few feet with you there. Take them to the bike trail and let them feel the wonderful feeling of riding twenty miles. Hike on the trail with them. Pick up wildflowers and identify them. Build stuff. Plant stuff. Paint stuff. Go creek walking and let them feel how the world works so they can work in the world when they are older and know its boundaries.

Please be kind to adoptive parents. Don’t question their methods. Back them up. Don’t take their kids home without making sure you hear an “ok” directly from the parents. * This is an excerpt from Five Things: A Tiny Handbook for Foster/Adoptive Families – grab your copy here.

another resource mentioned on the podcast

“Instead Of” tips

Episode 182 – Yes, Adoption is Positive. Positive Things Require Effort.

Join Sandra Flach, of Orphans No More Podcast, and me as we spend this month talking through the tiny handbook Five Things. You can grab your copy here.

1.1 Adoption is hard work.

Yes, adoption is positive. Positive things take effort. Thinking positively takes endurance and the strength to persevere. It takes time forming new grooves in the brain to think differently -it is positive work. It is still hard. Grueling. Taxing. Adoption is like that. We adoptive parents must form new grooves in our brain to account for going about process of family-building a different way than our peers. We fill out paperwork. Pour out our life stories for the home study. We are studied. Our homes are studied. Our lives are on display. Our habits and monetary value, our standards, morals and values are all scrutinized.  We take classes to teach us how to be a parent and how to parent hurt children. Friend Jeanette and her family are “jumping through the hoops” in the stages of fostering to adopt. She’s weary and hopeful at the same time, last week in an email, she changed “hoops” to “jumping through fiery hoops.” Another family on the shores of their second adoption, had several adoptions fall through before they got call number three. Jerry and I met them for dinner and we talked about things adoptive parents need to. The husband set his mind and said, “Adoption is a sure thing. if this one doesn’t work out, God will send another one.”

So, next time you ask that future adoptive parent, ‘When are you going to get your kids?” or “Are you sure this isn’t a hoax to get your money?” (both questions I was asked more than once). Instead, ask, “How can I help?” “How can I pray for you?” Or send the waiting family a card, invite them over for dinner. Encourage them.

When Jerry and I came home from our first trip to Poland (without our adopted children) and settled in to wait for the return trip, wonderful friends and family had set up our Christmas tree and decorated it. Cleaned our home. Baked us Christmas goodies and family poured in for the Christmas holiday making it much more joyful while we waited.

And adoptive parents- don’t be afraid to ask for help.  I know. That’s the last thing I want to do. I like to handle everything myself. Those five weeks I was in Poland, it was hard for me knowing someone was coming into my home and digging through that mess of Christmas decorations and seeing my dusty,messy boxes. It’s that way with our souls too. We don’t want to ask for help because people will see our weaknesses. They will see that we don’t have it altogether. Guess what, none of us do. And during this stressful precious time, ASK. ASK. ASK. If someone rebuffs you with the comments or questions I mentioned above, move on and ask someone else. Don’t shut down. You are not responsible for other people’s reactions. Their reactions don’t define you. Jesus does.

Holley Gerth says the belief that we need to change is “if we need help, we’re a burden. Because the opposite is true. In the kingdom of God, it’s more of a blessing to give than receive. So when we’re in need and we let someone help us, we’re blessing them.” (You’re Loved No Matter What)

This is a hard pill to swallow. Read that again and let it sink in.  If is hard for you to believe that, write it down somewhere and look at it often. James 1:27 is for everyone in the body of Christ. However, not everyone is called to adopt. So, in essence if you adopt/foster and you are asking non adoptive/foster families for help, you are helping them fulfill the mission.

Ask yourself, “what do I really need?”, Holley suggests, and then answer that. If you need a coffee date with a friend, then ask for it. If you need help with paperwork, or someone to come shopping with you to buy things for the child you are waiting on, ask.

And the flip side of this, if you know someone who is jumping through the fiery hoops of adoption/foster care, ask them what you can do to help. Most of the time it has nothing to do with money, just time, encouraging words and maybe putting up a Christmas tree.

*This is an excerpt from the book

FIVE THINGS: A TINY HANDBOOK FOR ADOPTIVE/FOSTER FAMILIES

Grab your copy by clicking below-

Episode 179 – There Are No Perfect Parents

Are you Aiming for Perfection

Last week on the podcast, I asked – Do you think having obedient kids makes you a good parent? We must let go of the myth that perfect parents exist.

GOD’S FIRST CHILDREN DISOBEYED HIM

Does that make you feel better? It did me. When I first realized that God, the Father Himself, who is perfect, had disobedient kiddos, I breathed a sigh of relief. You can read the rest of the post and listen to the podcast here.

This week, I moved on to the next step –

Have a reconciliation Plan in Place

If we follow God’s pattern of parenting, we will have a plan in place to follow disobedience. If we have the understanding that our kiddos aren’t going to be perfectly obedient, it gets a bit easier, especially if we have a reconciliation plan in place. God had one. He knew Adam and Eve would disobey Him. Before the foundation of the world, He had chosen to adopt us (Ephesians 1: 4,5). He already planned to send His Son to come to earth as a man and sacrifice Himself so we could reconnect with God. That’s the goal of a reconciliation plan. It’s a fancy way of saying – What will you do after disobedience? The goal of the plan is to get back to connection. At the end of whatever consequence you choose, there should be a reconnection. Keep in mind, all of this depends on the child (and your attitude).

Just a note – Kids who have experienced trauma or who have a capital letter syndrome my not have great executive function. They are impulsive. Sometimes these behaviors aren’t disobedience, just a faulty neural pathway.

Some Reconciliation Tools

So how do we reconcile with our kiddos and make sure they are learning and growing in character at the same time?

First of all, we often think of parenting as something we are “good” at “bad” or “meh” at. Instead, we need to think of it as a skill we can’t get better at. We shouldn’t stay static. Think about it, when we go on a job interview, we’re asked what our strengths are (more on that in a couple of weeks when I talk about our parenting strengths). When you have a profession, like parenting, you can use tools to accomplish what you need to. However you approach your reconciliation plan, it should include reconnection at the end. Here are just a few tools or “Instead Of” Tips.

“INSTEAD OF” PARENTING SUGGESTIONS

  • Instead of a lecture, use simple language (8- 12 words total).
  • Instead of waiting for behavior to intensify, respond quickly.
  • Instead of giving orders, offer simple choices.
  • Instead of just correcting, give immediate retraining and a “re-do.”
  • Instead of expecting a child to know, clarify expectations.
  • Instead of isolating when a child is dysregulated, keep the child near you.
  • Instead of only noticing the “bad” behaviors, offer praise for success.
  • Instead of taking it personally, remember there is a need behind the behavior.

Want to learn more?

Click HERE to read the whole “Instead Of” Tips article and HERE for your free downloadable infographic.

If the these tools for parenting are all new to you, take some time and read the article, maybe print it off and hi-light some tools you’d like to try. Hint – Don’t try all at once and all of them won’t work for every child. Also, print the infographic or save it on your phone to refer to!

Listen to “There Are No Perfect Parents” below:

Investment Parenting with Co-Regulation

Susie, a friend of mine (plus foster and adoptive Mom), shared a conundrum she had recently while teaching four-year-olds during Sunday school class. A new little one melted down and hid under the table. She had no special instructions for the little one and wasn’t sure how to handle it. You see, there is a big difference between disobedience and a reaction based on past trauma. Turns out the little one was a foster child who was placed in the home just the night before. Susie would have been better equipped to help him if she had only known. I could do a whole post on taking a fresh foster or adoptive placement to church, but I’ll save that for another day. I’d like to focus on trauma and its effect on self-regulation.

The Signature of Trauma

 Trauma produces children from hard places. Children from had places have altered brain development. The main outwards sign of past trauma is what we often refer to as “bad behavior” or the inability to self regulate (if you want it to sound more science-y and less critical).  The truth is, when it comes to behavior, we must remember that every behavior expresses a need.It's Can't

When it comes to a child from hard places ability to self-regulate, it’s CAN’T not WON’T. In simple plain language that means, he cannot calm himself. He can’t help but be overwhelmed to the point that he is either hiding under the table (flight), not responding to what you are asking of him (freeze) or running away from the situation (flight). He CAN’T. Not physically able. Not emotionally able. In this scenario, the adult must take the reins and help the child by co-regulating. Co-regulation helps a child develop a new pattern for stress regulation.

“The early developing right brain, where attachments develop, is largely dominant during the first three years of life (Schore, 2003). It contains the initial and lasting template for stress regulation. Revisions to this template will require intentional efforts.”-Deborah Gray, Nurturing Adoption

What Does Co-regulation Look Like?

Think of a two year old being tired and falling on the floor having a meltdown because she doesn’t want to take a nap. Clearly, she needs one, so Mom takes control of the situation. Mom takes the little one to her room and reads her a story and rocks her to sleep. She takes a nap. Mom is co-regulating because unless you have a rare toddler, she is not going to recognize her need for a nap and put herself down for one.

Filling in the Gaps of Missed Co-Regulation

With a child from a hard place, no matter what their age and size, we must co-regulate when they cannot. A twelve year old who cannot recognize his body’s signals to eat or drink, must be provided with a snack and water every two hours or he will enter the flight, fight or freeze zone. A nine year old who has sensory processing issues may lose the ability to voice his need to escape the noise and over stimulation of a loud birthday party. Mom and Dad must be watching for cues and either leave the party or take the child to a quieter place. It’s important to remember that a child from a hard place is emotionally at least half his physical age, sometimes more. His regulation skills may be that of a two year old while he is teen size.

The good news is, as we connect and co-regulate, we change the brain chemistry, wiring and development. Scientists tell us that relationships and experience shape the brain. Think of a developing brain like a multi-storied house under construction. At birth the downstairs brain is developed. This is the part that tells the child when to breath and keeps the functions of the body on track. This is also where survival mode resides, the fight, flight or freeze mechanisms. The upstairs brain is the higher functions of the brain. It is more sophisticated and houses reasoning, speech, regulation of emotions, the ability to be flexible and adaptable. Trauma skews the wiring of the brain. Trauma triggers the amygdala, the watchdog of the body. If the brain stays in this state too long, it rewires to stay stuck in fight, flight or freeze. Chronic stress takes a heavy toll on the prefrontal cortex. It is involved in impulses, aggression, anxiety, decisions, changing gears and self-regulation.

At this point, you may be thinking, I thought you said there was hope. There is! The Hebbian Principle says –what fires together, wires together. That is the more you experience something, the more your wires go that direction. So, how do we rewire a child’s brain that is stuck downstairs in the survival (fight, flight, freeze)? With co-regulation and fresh new experiences that show him he can trust us. We call this felt safety. When a child feels safe, his adrenals calm, he produces less cortisol and he is able to function in his upstairs brain.

I know, I feel like this is all over the place, so let me end with three reminders.

If you are parenting a child or teen from a hard place:

  1. Expect to co-regulate a lot more than your peers with bio children (who aren’t from hard places, because some are). Don’t base your expectation of whether you need to help them regulate on their physical age and size. “Many children who do not have early experiences of proper care also lack proper physiological and emotional regulation. This is because both of these regulation systems are developed through an attachment relationship.” (Nurturing Adoptions)
  2. Make sure your children feel safe. It’s not about really being safe. It’s about feeling safe. If they feel safer with a light on, not going to the noisy party, staying near you at a function, comply, don’t complain.
  3. Keep the positive, connecting experiences coming. “The brain is also “experience-expectant.” We come hard wired for connection. For eye contact, touch, playful interactions and co-regulation.These fill up the kid’s emotional tank and help their brains rewire. Blow bubbles. Ride bikes together. Make cookies and eat them. Read a favorite book fifty times. Swim with them, don’t just watch them swim. Hike with them. Take the time to invest positive experiences. This is investment parenting. Just a note -this practice applies to teens as well. If you are filling in the gaps of missed co-regulation, an older teen may still want you to watch them jump on the trampoline, ride bikes with him, play board games, or watch movies. Many teens from hard places may have no interest in what their peers are doing and want to hang out with Mom and Dad.

If you see your children struggling with regulation, which parts of this article resonated with you? Are you willing to try to do a few things differently? If you do, please share your stories! I’d love to hear from you!

Journaling Your Child’s Triggers Part 2

Love is Enough

“Love is enough” is a common misconception among parents in general, but even more so with kids who have experienced trauma. Kids who have had trauma seem to have a built-in button-locating radar. They find our buttons and push them over and over. It’s natural that we parents may think they are pushing our buttons or misbehaving to make us mad.

In reality, their behavior stems from early trauma and its effect on them. Most children that come into foster care, orphanages, or other institutions are disorganized in their attachment and stuck in dis-integration. The people who were supposed to care for them hurt them. This sets off a constant warning bell in the brains of these children. We call the result a stress-shaped brain.

Early Life Experience

Early life experience has shaped their brains to expect the worst and be on high alert all the time. This response is known as hypervigilance. The hypervigilant child jerks at every sound.  They don’t recognize their body’s own signals of hunger, thirst, and rest.

Normally, parents seamlessly teach regulation. When the child is hungry, the mother feeds him. If he is cold, she wraps him in a blanket. If he is tired, she rocks him to sleep. This pattern continues, with the mother regulating for the child until he begins to regulate for himself. He asks for a drink when he is thirsty. He puts on his sweater when he is cold, or grabs his blankie when he’s ready for bed. 

Kids who haven’t had this early regulation don’t know how to regulate. This doesn’t just apply to hunger and thirst, though those are the biggies. It also applies to behavior. Behavior is what we see externally, but it’s not the whole picture. We need to learn to watch the external behaviors as a clue to whether the child can regulate internally or not.

“Tantrums, meltdowns, aggression, and most other challenging experiences of parenting – and life- are a result of a loss of integration, also known as dis-integration.”

The Whole-Brain Child

Neurons that fire together wire together. In plain English, the more a behavior is acted out or a trigger is acted upon, the more it becomes a pattern in the brain. It is as if the road is dug out, graveled, and paved by repeated experiences. The paved road then becomes the primary travel route.  

Adoption is messy. Children who are adopted from hard places have trouble verbalizing their feelings. They struggle with self-regulation and want to control everything and everyone around them. Trouble is, if we parents aren’t careful, we end up focusing on the behavior instead of digging deeper into the root of the problem. It’s quick and easy to think the child is misbehaving to get on our last nerve. We tend to think the child wants to make us angry.

The poor choices in behavior speak what the child is unable to state verbally.

Put Yourself in Your Child’s Shoes

Have you ever been in a situation when you felt anxious or afraid for no apparent or logical reason? Instead of considering a situation your child was in, think of a situation that you have been in. Think of a time when you should have felt safe but instead you felt anxious.  Go back to that feeling for a minute, and as terrible as it is, let it wash over you. Imagine feeling like that all the time. That may be how your child is feeling. 

Five Bs Affected by Trauma

Science says there are five Bs affected by trauma, and we cannot overlook them. In kids from hard places, behavioral disorders are a symptom of the effect trauma has had on their development. 

Negative behaviors will be taken care of once a child is securely attached. To achieve that, we must start with the five Bs and work our way out from there. Take a few minutes and read about the Five Bs – start here. Listen to the podcast series on each B. There is a lot of information to read/listen to. Take your time. It will still be available long after this series is over. Maybe start with one B. Armed with this information, write down some of your child’s triggers with this information as your foundation.

*This is an excerpt from the course How to Have Peace When Your Kids are in Chaos.

Interested in the course? Read more about it and try a free module!