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!

Get Intentional About Playing and Moving

Are you suffering from circumstantial depression?

Are you too tired to move?

Too worn out to play?

Or maybe you never learned to play as a child?

Some seasons of our lives, we just don’t feel like moving.

Why get intentional about moving and play?

One thing we have to get intentional about is playing and moving. We moms can get so caught up in the doing, that we forget about being. I’m not talking about vegging on Netflix or Amazon. I’m talking about intentional play for you and your children. Play builds brains, fuels logic, and gets bodies moving.

Play Therapy was developed in the 1970s to help families learn how to do intentional play with their children. It’s an important part of parenting. It stimulates brains and the relationship part of the playing grows the brain. Did you know that? Relationships grow the brain. So, the play I’m talking about is interactive.

  • A walk on the trail picking up nature and identifying it together.
  • A tea party.
  • Playing with Play doh.
  • Archery practice.
  • Board games.

All of these activities are work for children. We all have jobs. A child’s job is to find out how the world works -what the physical laws of nature are, how relationships work, how to get along. how to win, how to lose, how to build character.

These are all done through play/work. 

Have you ever thought of play this way before?

I’m not talking about “go to your room and play by yourself.” There’s a place for that. In fact, kids are more willing to play by themselves after their emotional tank is full. We mom are the gas that fuels their tank. If you have boys, the last sentence should hit your funny bone. We co-regulate with our kids, we teach them how to play.

YOu’re never too old to Play

Some of us don’t know how to play well as adults, because no one taught us or we think we are too old for play. We’re never too old to play. It’s okay. We can have fun. We can make a mess. Remember Moms, we are the boss and the employee. If the boss says we can have a water fight, we can. Then the employee can clean it up ( that’s us too).

One year, we had moved to a new town and didn’t know anyone. I was suffering some of my own circumstantial depression and God told me to do something fun with each child every day. It was hard. It was fun. We grew closer that year as a family, more than any other time.

We had squirt gun battles, game nights, roller blades on the driveway. Hiked. Biked. Did scavenger hunts at Cabela’s. 

The point is, don’t wait to want to. Do it when you don’t feel like it.

Moving.

Mamas, we have to move. We do a lot of moving with babies, laundry and dishes, cooking and the like, but with all of our servant appliances, we don’t work as hard as Moms of the past used to. We can easily become couch potatoes in between jobs. Couch potato-ing makes us feel sluggish. Our lymph nodes fill with toxins that don’t drain without proper exercise. We get headaches, backaches and cranky attitudes. We need to move. Guess what, it takes the investment of time and energy. You can do it! You can! Find an accountability partner. If you want to see your children grow up, graduate, get married, and have children, you have to start working on moving today. Not some day when you have the time. Now is the time to move and play.

Marcy Holder and Heart Connection 101

Marcy Holder joins Kathleen for a lively discussion on what happens when women are overwhelmed with the issues of life. Marcy is a Spiritually-Focused Personal Coach. In January, Marcy is hosting a four-week growth opportunity for women drowning in the details their lives who want to love their people well and live from a place of purpose but experience anger and anxiety they just can’t seem to shake, symptoms of heart disconnection. Grab a cup of coffee and join us!

Episode 50

Untitled design (2)Untitled design (1)From Marcy:

In Heart Connection 101 you’ll learn how to cultivate growth and deepen your faith by connecting with your heart.
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My own journey to connecting with my heart helped me sort through emotional and religious baggage that kept me from loving my people well and living a life of purpose.
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Every Friday in January, I’ll send you a video sharing examples and principles that helped me reconnect with my heart. You’ll also receive printable materials for reading and personal reflection. I’ll be available for email support or you’re welcome to work through the material privately. On January 30th @ 7:00 we’ll do a group wrap-up zoom call. You’ll also receive several fun printables and a playlist to encourage your journey.
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I’d invite you to message me with questions or more details.
Life can be overwhelming, busy, and messy but when it comes to choosing, Relationships Matter and Lists can Wait. Our relationships with both God and the people we love most become healthier and more rewarding when we’re connected to our hearts.
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 You can find more info and sign up here!

You can follow Marcy on Instagram here.

Connecting While Correcting

Do you feel as if you are always yelling at your children and they just don’t listen?

Do you feel distant from your children? As if you are wounding their spirit every time you correct?

Are you wondering how to navigate this road of parenting without anger? Without that feeling of distance? 

Do you want to connect and correct at the same time?

If so, this is for you…..

“There is no such thing as adoption or foster care without loss.”

“As a result, our children have some unique histories and unique needs, and because of this they will need parents who have a unique approach in order to help them connect in a relationship and begin to heal.”

Your child needs a high degree of structure and a high degree of nurture.

The authoritarian parent offers a high degree of structure with a low degree of nurture.

The permissive parent offers a high degree of nurture with a low degree of structure.

The best is a balance of both.

How do you know which way you lean? Here’s a short check list from The Connected Child to help you determine.

You’re Too Permissive and Lenient if…

  • You make rules and promises and don’t enforce them
  • You nag, nag, nag but don’t enforce.
  • You wait too long to enforce and then explode in anger.
  • You beg your child to cooperate.
  • Your child is the one who decides if and when things get done.
  • You ask your child “What do you want?” more often than you tell him what has to happen.
  • You allow your child to physically harm you or others.
  • You often pretend you don’t notice misbehavior or disrespect.
  • Your child encounters no negative consequences for cursing or bad-mouthing you.
  • Your child doesn’t take your word seriously.
  • Your child talks disrespectfully to you.

You’re Too Strict and Controlling if…

  • You tell your child “No” more frequently than you praise him.
  • You tell your child “No” more frequently than you show him affection.
  • You constantly tell your child what to do and don’t give him the opportunity to make choices or compromise.
  • You shut down your child’s expressions of sadness or disappointment .
  • You ignore or belittle your child’s point of view.
  • You use punishments, shaming and insults to gain your child’s compliance.
  • An hour doesn’t go by without you finding fault with your child.

control

Obviously, your child needs correcting. We can be too permissive and let our child run all over us. A parent out of control is a child in control. Kids need adults who are in control. It makes them feel more secure. If we connect and correct at the same time, it’s possible to attach securely. What does this look like? First and foremost, there should not be any anger in correction and save your yelling for when your child runs toward the road or a swimming pool with no floats on. Your child will take it more seriously then. Plus anger and yelling wounds an already wounded spirit. Or for those street smart kid, stuck in survival mode, it gives him the upper hand. He knows he can control Mom or Dad. Then it becomes a battle of the wills. Or a battle of his past with your’s.

When you need to correct, take a breath. A long deep one and think, is this a mountain or a molehill? Do I need a gnat gun or an elephant gun? Does this need a “try that again with respect ” or “are you asking for a compromise?” Think about your goal, do you want your child to succeed and make progress or do you want him to feel punished? If it is punished, then expect the opposite of connection on his part (and your’s too). There are days when we cycle through separation and connection. I understand that. We can’t control our children’s reactions to our parenting, but we can control how we parent.When we have to correct with a command, we can follow it up with praise. We don’t have to withhold our love or frown when correcting. Not every command requires a mean face.

The best way to look at it is through the lens of our relationship with God. Ever since sin entered the world and separated us from Him, he has tried to reconnect. He offered the life of His Son so we could be in relationship with Him. That has always been His goal. He connects and corrects, always offering a path back to His loving arms. Back to relationship. He says, I am here for you, no matter what. That should be the message we send to our kids. We are here. Yes, you needed some correction, but the connection is not lost because of that. It is possible to connect and correct.

 

 

 

 

Why the Church Needs to Adopt/Foster Children

The Orphanage

It’s in the dark, pre-dawn hours. The orphanage is quiet and I am awake. I can’t get back to sleep. I fluff my pillow and sit up in bed, leaning against the iron frame of the bed. Sleep hasn’t come easy this month that we have lived in the orphanage. I am running on adrenaline and my heart is in overdrive.

Hubby Jerry and I flew to Poland and then rode to Sulejow to adopt a sibling group. This was a small village, destroyed by the Germans in WWII, just 15 km from the first Concentration Camp in Poland. We moved into the orphanage after living a week in a castle turned hotel.

The Emotional Burden

At least there was real heat in our quarters in the orphanage as opposed to the frigid castle. I still couldn’t sleep. You see I wasn’t prepared for the emotional overload. My mind skipped back and forth between joy and grief. Overwhelming joy that we were adopting. Overwhelming grief that I couldn’t take every child home. It ate at me. It gnawed at me. I played games with these kids. Hiked into the village with teens. Watched them smile while they played with my video camera. And I couldn’t take them home.

The interesting thing about orphans is they look appealing from a distance. We can form all sorts of platitudes, we can quote James 1:27 and intend to raise money for orphans. We can intend to adopt someday. As a church, we can vow to fulfill the mandate “to care for widows and orphans” while we sit in comfortable pews and take communion and remember the death and suffering of our Lord. but, up close, you can’t ignore suffering.

The interesting thing about orphans is they look appealing from a distance.

Orphans are humans who need connection.

I couldn’t. I wasn’t prepared for the faces of neglect, swarming around me vying for attention. It’s nothing like in the movies. I couldn’t just smile and move on. Poverty envelops those children and strips them of the most basic of human needs – connection. They want to matter, just like every human being on the planet. They want someone to look them full in the face and say, “YOU MATTER. YOU ARE VALUABLE. YOU ARE LOVED.” Neglect says, “You don’t exist.” Abuse says, “You don’t matter”

Every life Matters no matter what Politicians say.

While Hilary Clinton, looking weary and worn down, states on camera that an unborn child doesn’t have  Constitutional rights, she devalues life once again. Life is valuable. Everyone with a beating heart and breath in their lungs holds value. You cannot set a dollar amount on life. The Constitution or rulers don’t set the value. It is there. You cannot snuff it out.

The Church should be adopting orphans and/or fostering.

The church should be adopting orphans quicker than they bag their groceries at the self check out. We should be proclaiming from the rooftop the value of life, that Christ died that each child might have life and have it more abundantly. We should not be participating in stealing, killing and destroying life. That is the enemy’s work.

We must first recognize our own value.

Why don’t we see the value of adoption? The importance of it? Because we first don’t value ourselves. We see ourselves as sinners instead of saints. We see ourselves as beggars instead of sons of God.

We don’t recognize our own adoption. We don’t realize that we have received the Spirit of Adoption by which we cry  “Abba, Father!” We don’t know that before the foundation of the world, God chose us, actually picked us out, destined us to be adopted as His own children (Ephesians 1:4,5). Read that again. Let it sink in. YOU ARE CHOSEN. YOU ARE LOVED. YOU ARE A SON OR DAUGHTER OF GOD.  You are not an orphan, wandering lost, looking for acceptance. You have it. You have been pre-approved.

Go into all the world.

With that truth settled deep in our spirits, we must go into all the world and preach the Gospel which has the power to save souls. We should be sharing this news with those who need it most, the spiritual and physical orphans.-those who have been rejected, neglected, abused and abandoned.

 

If you don’t have a heart for the lost or the orphan, then go visit them in the midst of their pain. Go participate in their circumstances. You can’t watch suffering on a screen and understand. You cannot have empathy for something you have not lived through yourself. Ask God to give you the gift of understanding the suffering of others and the hands to do something about it.