Six Risk Factors

“A scar is evidence of a wound, but also evidence that we can heal.”- Scott McClellan

I didn’t think it would be this hard.

My child’s behaviors are out of control.

He got kicked off the school bus AGAIN.

He keeps punching kids in line.

The whole house is like a war zone.

I thought I could do this, but I don’t know if I can. It’s just too hard.

 

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I’ve heard these statements along with pleas for help from countless parents. I have offered to come into the home and do some observation, as well as get some parenting tools that work into the hands of the parents. It seems as if every time, the parent says, “Oh, he/she is so manipulative, I don’t know.” As if the child will pull the wool over my eyes (as he may do with some professionals or teachers) or their situation is so unique, so individual that I won’t be able to grasp it. It is this pit of ‘aloneness’ that foster and adoptive parents feel. No one else struggles like you. Nobody understands. We adoptive/foster parents may feel as if we have slipped an Alfred Hitchcock are captives who will never escape.   To move forward with understanding, we must first have knowledge.

Every behavior is a need inappropriately expressed.  Foster/Adopted children have had trauma in their lives. Trauma changes the neurochemistry of the brain in these children.

In adoption/foster circles we hear the phrase ‘children from hard places’. As Ryan North, Executive Director of Tapestry Ministries, reminds us, this is not a geographical location. As explained in The Connected Child, there are six primary risk factors that characterize children from hard places:

  1. Prenatal stress and harm-over 80% of children adopted/foster care have been exposed to drugs or alcohol, cortisol crosses the placenta and alters the structure of the brain and damages the immune system* story of the woman stressed in pregnancy- measured her cortisol levels and those of her infant six months after delivery.
  2. Difficult labor or birth Twin example- one born at home, one at a hospital after a 45-minute ride to the hospital
  3. Early medical trauma Hospital stay, surgery, etc.
  4. Trauma- a house fire, natural disaster, auto accident, death of a parent
  5. Neglect-  says “You don’t exist.”
  6. Abuse – says “You don’t matter.”

Five things are impacted by early trauma (any one of the six risk factors)

  1. Brain- altered brain development, overactive amygdala. It’s as if the child is chased by a bear all the time. Our experiences shape the connections in our brain. Hebbian principle- what fires together wires together.
  2. Biology- Neurochemistry is altered. Hormones altered. Serotonin is often low. Dopamine is low or high. Some young children have the adrenals of a ninety-year-old.
  3. Body- Learning delays, developmental delays, sensory issues
  4. Beliefs- What’s one firmly held belief that you have? What would it take you to change that belief? Kids from hard places often believe: People don’t love me because I’m not worthy. If I was worth something, people won’t treat me this way. Everyone leaves.
  5. Behavior Regulation. Co-regulation. Self Regulation. – A child from hard places has difficulty regulating because he has not had the natural progression. Remember, a behavior is a need inappropriately expressed. Fight, Flight, Freeze mode is often what kids from hard places get stuck in.

Traditional parenting doesn’t work with these kids. In the ETC course for adoptive/foster parents, we teach 25 parenting tools to help these kids have hope and healing. The tools are based on the model TBRI- Trust-Based Relational Intervention, created by Dr. Karyn Purvis and Dr. David Cross at TCU in Texas. This approach was turned into a training curriculum by Michael Monroe and Dr. Purvis called ETC Training for Adoptive and Foster Parents. 

If you’re struggling with helping your adoptive/foster child heal and make progress, check out ETC Training, find one in your area here.

If you are local and want Kathleen to come do a training for parents or professionals- email her at Postiveadoption@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Adopted Children Adulting

My eldest son had come over for a few hours and helped me hang some outdoor lights for a party.

“I want to move back home and go to college.”

This wasn’t the first time he had brought this up. He had been renting a house with roommate and working in a respectable job and being diligent. He just felt stuck. I had been praying for this moment for years. Not that I think everyone needs a college degree to be successful in life, just the fact that he wanted to better himself. To move forward in his adult life, so he was prepared for marriage and a family.

Adopted children often get a lot of flack for not entering the world of adulthood at what society thinks is the proper time or missing it altogether. I think there is a great deal of misunderstanding when it comes to what adopted children can or cannot do. They can become independent barring, any severe neurological or physical challenges. The misunderstanding or flawed expectations come when raising a child from a difficult beginning, understanding that the child is half his chronological age emotionally and then blatantly expecting that child to magically adult at eighteen, nineteen or even twenty.

Children from hard places find it difficult to push through physical or emotional pain to success. This is often because pain before (emotional, physical or mental) has only yielded more pain or more negative circumstances. Like a young girl I knew who cleaned her family’s whole house regularly and meticiously , but was not allowed to sit at the dinner table with the rest of the family because her step-father said she was not his ‘real kid’. Do you think she had a positive picture of sowing and reaping at home?

Or the child who was beat up in the middle of the night in the orphanage. He may overreact to someone grabbling his elbow or a sweat bee sting. I’m not talking about sensory issues, I am referring to the ability to push through minor pains for major victories. It may be the pain of sore muscles for awhile when a kid joins a sport team. Children from hard places may view the pain as a message in their brain that reads, “I can’t do this! I shouldn’t do this!” or may assume because they can’t do things perfectly the first time that they are a failure.

 

Here’s another example of my teen son with a power washer. He had the machine set up and ready to go. I had done all of the power washing of the patio around our pool and asked him to do a small section. I thought he would enjoy it because he is meticulous when it comes to detail. He struggled with a few issues, the hose fell in the pool, the electrical cord was headed in the same direction. The machine shuttered because it hadn’t had time to build up pressure.

“That’s why I don’t do this! I shouldn’t do this!”

I explained that I had the same issues with the power washer. Kids who struggle with pushing through because of the foundation of their past don’t need talk therapy, they need affirmation therapy. Don’t ignore your child’s fear of pushing through. Acknowledge it. Talk about it. Recognize it and put it it’s place. Help them move from flight, fight or freeze in the downstairs brain to the upstairs where sense and reason reside.

Help them with time and patience come to conclusions such as:

  • Nobody can do things perfectly the first time.
  • My muscles hurt from swimming laps, I’m not dying.
  • It’s okay to make mistakes, it is how we learn.

It is through reaffirming that the child is feeling pain or stress (yes, I’m sure your arms do hurt, you swam for a long time) to a reasonable and logical understanding (your arms hurt, but you aren’t dying, you will get stronger). These concepts move a child into his upstairs brain and need to be reinforced in the early stages of adulating which begins at home. Yes, your part time job is hard. You have to sweep floors and that takes time and energy, but you did it. You can keep doing it. Or that online class is giving you a lot of work to do, but let’s not quit. Let’s break it down and decide what to do first. This translates into college or moving out of the house years when you say, yeah, you have to pay the bills first and then you can go out to eat. These sound so simplistic and so easy to grasp, but for a child from a traumatic beginning, they are not. The concept of cause and effect is muddled by early experiences. The ability to push through to victory must be coached and affirmed in the same baby steps that would have occurred had they been with you from the very beginning. You are going back and filling in the gaps and redefining the world with your child. Be prepared to continue to assist for years to come. Don’t stress or compare. Enjoy the journey and celebrate victories!  Adulting is difficult for all of us and a child from traumatic beginnings need encouragement and understanding. He may need help longer than other adult children.

Linking up with Kristin Hill Taylor! Join us!

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Should You Attend the Empowered to Connect Conference?

Remember that old commercial, “Silly Rabbit, Trix are for kids!” That rabbit never gives up, he keeps trying to capture his share of the sugary cereal.

That’s the same scenario that plays out when people see the banner, post or tweet about the Show Hope’s Empowered to Connect Conference (April 8th and 9th) They think, “Silly me, that conference is for foster and adoptive parents!” It’s not just for for adoptive/foster families. It may be for you:

 

If you counsel  families and children….

 

If you are a teacher…

If you are a judge….

If you are a psychologist, teacher, therapist, have a special needs child, have a specialization in child development, work with children on the spectrum or work with children on a daily basis, this conference is for YOU.

If you are scratching your head, wondering what T.B.R.I. (Trust Based Relational Intervention), watch this intro video and share!

If you are interested in attending the Show Hope Empowered to Connect Simulcast and you live in the Fairmont, Clarksburg, Bridgeport, Morgantown (WV) area, you can find more info here. If you would like to attend and live elsewhere, click here to find a location near you. Hope to see you April 8th and 9th at the Empowered to Connect Conference!

*For CEUS, make sure you register here. This is a separate registration than regular attendance and MUST be done online.

WHEN YOU ARE NOT ABLE TO PARENT AN ADOPTED CHILD, IS IT YOUR FAULT? Part 2

Last Monday, I made the point one is not able to parent your adopted child because you need to be parented oneself.(Read more here) You cannot take your child somewhere you haven’t been yourself. This week in part 2, I’d like to talk about some of the child’s reasons.

First of all, the parent must accept the fact that the issues the child has, behavior, learning challenges, sensory issues, RAD, FAS or _________ are not the parent’s fault. The factors that created those syndromes or delays were not on the parent’s watch.

The tendency of the adopted parent is to pretend their are no issues.The child joins the family and the parent enrolls the child in school or daycare (or homeschools) and chalks every behavior up to ‘being a kid’ or ‘everyone does that’. Time passes and the child’s behavior gets worse and his peers move on, maturing, making better grades in school, learning social graces. The parent stands there scratching his head, wondering what he did wrong and what’s worse, friends and family blame the parent.

I could write  a book about it (actually, I am, it is in the revision process right now, updates at a later date), but for today, I want to make two points:

  1. Acknowledge your child’s past. Denial hurts the child and prevents healing.

“Protecting ourselves by denying the true issues that the child faces keeps the issues alive and prevents healing.”- Parenting the Hurt Child

Children who have not had basic needs

Children who have not had basic needs met find it hard to form attachments to parents or caregivers (tweet that).

It’s painful to think about what my child went through before he came ‘home’ to my family. Hunger. Thirst. Abuse. Pain. Neglect. I don’t to picture my children suffering. Yet, I can’t erase the past and neither can you. The mere fact that your child was eligible for adoption means he had a life before you whether it was growing in another’s womb. being abandoned at a hospital, placed in an orphanage or foster care. All of those dates mean on the time line of his life, you did not come in a the zero point.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about excusing the child’s behavior. I’m also not referring to talking about it relentlessly questioning your child about his past. Neither of those practices is helpful. Instead, keep the past in the back of your mind while you parent.

2. Learn a new parenting style. You cannot parent a child from a difficult place the same way you parent a securely attached child(tweet that). Truth is, your child may not want to be parented. He needs to be parented. He needs to attach for himself and for his future.

“Traumatized children are afraid to be cooperative, compliant, and receptive. To them, such behavior represents giving in which translates to losing. They have learned to oppose anything that is suggested by others…they are experts at counteracting anything directed by others….they refuse to respond to anything that someone else wants. Consequently, they choreograph battles over the most insignificant issues.”- Parenting the Hurt Child

Sound familiar? Do you feel as if you are living in the middle of a war zone? Is your child rejecting your parenting? There is a reason. He is not fighting you. He is fighting to survive. He believes that if he gives up control, then he will die. Sounds drastic,  but just as a three year old believes there is a monster hiding under his bead, a child who has experienced breaks in attachment believes he must maintain control of his environment.

The child becomes stuck

The child becomes stuck in the first of Glasser’s five needs, survival. He cycles through the broken cycle of attachment and it falls short.

How do you parent this child?  You meet him where he is. It has often helped me to picture my child as half his age or more. It gives me a better perspective of his behavior and how I react to it. Also, here is the hardest advice of all, you cannot parent in anger. At all. It makes these kids shut down. When a child is in a cycle of misbehavior and he is only getting reprimanded (yelled at), he will stay stuck and so will you. Trust me. Been there done that.

Attachment parenting is a whole series of posts and I will get to that. Take heart if you are not able to parent a child and you have been parenting yourself. Remember the assignment in the first post of this series? Write a list of things a great parent would do and do them? Now, begin to do them for your child. Spoiler: your child may (will) try to sabotage your attempts. Do the activity anyway. Ignore the smart remarks, the child sliding under the table while playing scrabble or stomping off to his room after two rounds (true story). Keep trying. Keep doing the things on the list. Right now, you child may be frozen ground and you are a post hole digger trying to find a way into his heart. Eventually with time and connection, he will soften. You will have a moment. Maybe a second of softness and that will make the difference of a life time.

 

Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You Part V

Hi, thanks for joining me for the series “Five Things Your Adopted Children Would Like to Tell You.” If you missed the introduction, you can find it here. Last month, our focus was PLAY and ways to play or use home therapy for free. We’ll have more posts on that in the future, but the theme for the month of June is “Adoption.”

“You can’t take my games away!”
“I’m not going! I hate you!”
“I wish you wouldn’t have adopted me!”

These are some of the words I have heard in my home from the more verbal children. Some kids don’t ever get to the stage of being able to connect words to feelings. They lash out in other ways. Broken toys. Knifed couches. Biting. Head butting. Hurt kids have an emotional state as fragile as a dandelion gone to seed. 15738141450_d335362e31_o We parents can mistakenly assume that these children don’t want to be loved. They push everyone away. Think of it as “opposite land.” The more a child pushes away, the more his need to connect. Every word spoken in defiance, every fearful act, every act of violence means this:

  1. I do want to be loved and accepted. It is my deepest desire, just like anyone else on the planet, but I don’t know how to get there. Will you help me?

Being a parent of hurt children is a tough almost impossible job. It’s as if we are reading a road map in a foreign language. We must learn this new dance of attachment in order for the child to survive and then thrive. If we keep reacting to the behaviors in traditional parenting, parent and child will suffer, again and again, we will traipse around the mountain of disconnect until we have worn the trench so deeply we cannot see the light. We must train our ears and our responses. Connection is work. It’s not sweet-sappy-let-you-get-away-with anything-work. It’s ignore our own feelings work. Our right to react must be squelched. It must be us parents who make to the leap over the chasm the child has created and connect. How do we do this?

1. Stop reacting emotionally. I know. This is the painful truth. We must not participate in the luxury of a reaction. Think of connecting with your child as a full time job with benefits. The benefit of an eighty hour work week (of not reacting emotionally) may be a pinprick of light. A tiny smile. A hug. A cuddle. A conversation. If you are confused about what I mean about reacting emotionally, just think of something your child does that makes your blood boil and follow your thoughts to your last reaction. Did you yell? Threaten with grounding forever? Promise never to take that child anywhere again? Or buy him anything again? (Guilty of all of the above.) Guess what happens in these scenarios? The kid has got our goat. All of the goat is in his pen. He won. We lost. That battle is over. No growth. No connection. Now think of the same action or word that make your blood boil and while you are not angry, think of a logical consequence. Write it down if you have to. Here’s a simple one for me:  My son leaves his shoes beside the shoe cubby in the middle of the floor. I asked him a bazillion times to pick them up. He ‘forgets’ every time. So, I charge him a dollar for my labor of picking them up. And I told him that bit of news calmly. Now, when he forgets and sees me heading toward the shoes, he jumps up and races me for them. And we laugh. That’s a simple example. but you get the idea. Most of the time, the behaviors of hurt children are much more serious in nature. The principle is the same. Decide ahead of time how you will react. Give a consequence without anger. Keep your goat. Dr. Purvis quote 2. Do something fun with your child while you are angry. We cannot make our emotions go away. If your child breaks something in an angry fit and you have followed the last suggestion and given him a consequence. You are firm, but not a crazy, yelling, mad momma. You deserve a medal. Here’s the catch. You may still feel mad. You will still feel like you’re going to blow a gasket. And you will want to stay away from the child. You may need a few minutes to hide in the bathroom and pray or text a friend and pray. Then come out and do something fun. This is the time to connect. You can do it! Every time you don’t engage in anger, you build a connection opportunity. When you do something fun with your child after he has a meltdown, you are communicating love at his level. You are saying, “You are valuable. You are worth loving!” You are connecting and that is every human’s deepest innate desire.